While we may be writing for a class called “Professional Uses of Social Media,” the truth is, everything we know about social media we’ve probably figured out for ourselves. When Instagram gained popularity, no one offered a class on how to navigate the tags or gain followers. And yet here we all are, most of us with hundreds of posts to our names on some social media platform or another. We’re “digital natives,” so we can handle any social media with ease, right?
Well, yes and no.
For those of us who have struggled to understand a platform our friends eagerly adopted (Twitter, Tumblr…) we know there’s a learning curve to everything, and having an account with a lot of posts doesn’t mean you’re using that platform to its fullest potential.
Since most of us will probably list social media as one of our resume credits anyway, it’s time to think seriously about mastering social media. Here are some introductory tips for breaking into a new platform and making the most of it.
- Look for Tutorials
Let’s get the obvious step out of the way. In her blog post “3 Ways to Teach Yourself Anything You Want to Learn,” Alexis Grant suggests what most of us already do: Google it. While you won’t become the master of social media through Google searches alone, it’s a good place to start. Look for tutorials and learn the basics. Check common resources like Youtube and relevant blogs for tips and different stylistic approaches. It will give you a background knowledge of how each platforms works and where to start.
- Holistic Learning
Shout-out to Scott H. Young for championing one of the most powerful learning tools you can use: holistic learning. Think of it this way. It’s difficult to memorize information and apply new skills in a vacuum. You meet Jane Doe at a business luncheon, but when you see her at a conference two months later, you’re embarrassed to realize you forgot her name. Then it clicks: when you introduced yourselves, you noted that her initials were JD, just like your favorite character from Scrubs. Jane Doe! As she smiles and makes her way over to your table, you’re ready to greet her because you made a seemingly random association.
As Scott H. Young explains, making these connections supercharges your ability to retain and apply anything you learn. In terms of social media, that means taking what you already know and integrating that into your new platform.
At our Social Media panel last week, Sherrie Flick described how she created a blog to generate interest in her book. But she didn’t start a blog about the writing process, or about her short stories. Flick started a blog about cooking and food, because that’s what she already knew and loved. She took an unfamiliar platform and connected it with a subject she thoroughly understood and enjoyed, making the learning curve much easier to tame. Food and short stories may seem like a random association, but it worked.
To use holistic learning with social media, take any platform you haven’t explored and link it with a subject you already care about. Practice! If you’re not sure how Twitter works, pick your favorite TV show and follow the Twitter accounts of its actors and writers. If you followed Step #1 and already looked up Twitter basics, you’ll know to look for common hashtags associated with the show. Try writing a few tweets about tonight’s episode using the hashtags, retweet one of the actors, then rinse and repeat. As you get the hang of it, you can ease into the complexity of each platform. The key is anchor it to something else in your life that you appreciate, whether that’s fly fishing, awards shows, competitive knitting — whatever you’re into.
If you’re really serious about tackling social media, treat it like any other responsibility in your life. Dustin Wax over at LifeHack not only repeats the wisdom about doing your homework on the subject and using holistic learning (or a “feeling for connectedness”), but also recommends imposing structure on your progress. It can be as simple as ‘I will tweet once a day’ or ‘I will follow 50 people by February 24th.’ Keep yourself accountable. Write it in bold red marker on your calendar, set reminders on your phone, or reach out to friends already using new platforms to look for your updates and encourage you.
Associate it with something else you already do regularly — ‘I’ll make a new post every Tuesday before night class,’ or ‘I’ll tweet at least once when I watch the new The Walking Dead episodes on Sundays.’ At regular intervals, step back and look at your progress. At the two week mark, how many followers did you gain vs. updates you posted? At four weeks? And so on. While it may seem like overkill for platforms like Instagram — hold on a sec, I have to meet my ‘posting cute pictures of my dog’ quota — it’s a great way to push yourself into new territories you might otherwise avoid.
So check out some tutorials, tie that platform to something you love, and schedule yourself for practice. Lastly, remember to be social: whatever you post about, take the opportunity to @ people on Twitter, tag people on Facebook, and re-pin your friend’s atrocious crafting project on Pinterest. Good luck!