No 2: Curating and Committing to Social Media (or Playing the Dating Game with Snapchat)

Activity for 1/7/2019-1/8/2019

Over the last few days, I’ve been in social media planning mode. This reality is in large part due to a VERY public launch of the Social Energy Atlas in the coming weeks. In addition to this professional reality, the hubby and I have had a great many conversations around my ongoing job search and our reality dealing with the two-body problem. On the surface, these two forces would not appear to have much of an effect on one another. However, that assumption would be wrong, as this environment has led to a perfect storm of realizations for both of us regarding our shared philosophy regarding the place of science, research, and academia in the public sphere. After a few days in this headspace, I have realized that a big part of my personal “why” is directly related to the duty and responsibility I feel to make my work more public and legible to all of the audiences and communities that I serve. Such a statement seems rather grandiose (and it is), but it is something to which we should strive and put forth the hard work that it requires.

Fortunately, my work project right now dovetails nicely with this professional need: social media. Whether or not you like it, participation in social media is almost as essential of a part of living as going to the grocery store for some people–and yes, there are ways of avoiding that too. šŸ˜‰

Let’s be realistic, regardless of the industry you find yourself in, maintaining a profile and actively engaging with your friends, family, peers, colleagues, and strangers on social media is something that we pretty much all have to do. And I’ll be honest, this is an aspect of both my personal and professional lives where I’ve been slacking since the baby was born a year ago. Social media is a commitment to all of the audiences and communities of your life that use it as a tool for connection, and I’m coming to the realization that I need to re-commit myself to all the communities and individuals with whom social media is a part of our established communication relationships. If you are in a similar situation of not having watered your metaphorical social media plant, know that you have a friend in me. At present, I am a failed mom/daughter/granddaughter because I am HORRIFFIC at taking and sharing images of my daughter with my family, giving updates as to what is going on in my life to my friends, or sharing the insights from the most recent analyses out of my research projects.

Yes, mom (who will never read this), this mea culpa is for you.

Love, Jacque ā¤ļø

So as a family activity, the hubby and I sat down and strategized social media and personal branding. As usual, I began designing, prototyping, and testing on my husband–it’s okay, he signed a consent form when we got married (it’s called a marriage license). šŸ˜‚

The process with him on Monday was a much-needed distraction after finishing the About page for this website, as I described in Field Note No. 1. The result from this activity with him further highlighted just how brilliant he is (although he will always downplay that) and also gave birth to an amazing online project for him that I’m excited to see come to fruition and will share shamelessly with you all when it launches.

I then repeated the process with myself the same day for both my personal and professional identities, which yielded a much less fascinating plan than the hubby’s–look to the end of this post to see my results.

Today, I performed the same activity again for the Social Energy Atlas since our new Social Media Specialist and Influencer will be joining the team in a few weeks. HOORAY!!!!

After finishing the final analysis and plan for the third “client,” I had not made a manageable plan to guide our social media activities, but I also had inadvertently developed a process for optimizing a person or project’s social media efforts for enhanced brand identity and impact in both interpersonal relationships and research communication.

Reflections and Insights

For a lot of us in the Science and Technical Communication space, we frequently teach/guide/consult others regarding how to do a great many communication activities, but even more frequently we neglect to use our knowledge, tools, and insights to help ourselves or the people with whom we interact on a daily basis. I mean, you all know the old adage: physician, heal thyself. It is tough to turn that mirror on yourself–especially as a communicator–but sometimes it is necessary. I find during these moments that the more operationalized my methods are, the more effective they can be when the client or subject is personal.

Before I dive into the process I used Saturday-Monday, I should acknowledge the fact that while for me and my professional life an online presence is as necessary as breathing, I have a HUGE amount of respect for those folks who abstain from social media altogether. At the end of the day, you are accountable only to yourself and your family for the choices you make, and those choices should be authentic to your integrity and values. For this feral academic and for most others out there like her, however, social media is an obligatory part of doing business. 

Social media can be a powerful tool for those of us in universities who want to leverage our research and use whatever means we can to amplify it and generate the most impact in the world around us. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., give us a direct line of communication to talk to literally any type of person out there who may (or may not) be interested in the same things we are. For those of us who do work engaging the public, social media can be a potent tool for recruiting participants and getting their feedback on the science and technologies we develop. Social media also has the potential to help us grow, complicate, and further develop our research. But most importantly, these channels of interactive communication afford us the opportunity to demonstrate how scientific inquiry, studies of the human experience, and engagement with art and technology help us as a society to learn from the past, thrive in modern times, and plan for positive futures. That being said social media can also damage all of those possibilities and requires a commitment of both time and effort to be effective.

When making the decision to actively engage in social media for both personal and professional reasons, you have to be purposeful. After all, a commitment to social media is often linked inextricably to your offline relationships. Moreover, participation in social media takes time: by this statement, I both mean the time it requires and that these platforms will literally take/requires time from you. Thus, we need to be purposeful in choosing which platforms we want to use. Ironically–or maybe not so much for all of my rhetoric, composition, and communications friends out there–how to choose the right social media platforms for you is quite similar to how you choose what kind of writing is appropriate for which audiences (or for my non-academic friends out there, what to wear to a funeral vs. a pool party). The advice you find out there for businesses regarding marketing on social media is generally pretty good advice for the rest of us:

  1. Define your target audience: Who are you wanting to interact with?
  2. Define your object: What are you wanting to accomplish?
  3. Define your resources: What information/media/skills do I have to work with in order to participate in my communties online?

Most of us will be on more than one social network. Personally, I manage my personal and professional identities on a combined six social media platforms–thank God for Hootsuite–and the Social Energy Atlas will have five channels through which it engages with different groups of people. I don’t necessarily recommend this approach to everyone, but for many of us juggling multiple social media platforms is a necessity. Such obligations require advanced tools and strategies for integrating those networks with one another so that you’re not spending 20 hours a day posting. (More on such tools in future posts.)

As a rule of thumb, if you want to engage the general public with your ideas, then you need to be on Facebook. Despite my feelings about their recent treatment of security breach issues, privacy, and accountability to the public, it still remains the largest social media network and is comprised of EVERY demographic imaginable. As far as a single social media platform can be representative of general humanity, Facebook seems to be the online place where that is fact. Every other platform has more specific user groups that make up their majorities, and for which the features and functions of the application were designed: LinkedIn is focused on professionals and businesses; Instagram is primarily composed of individuals 18-29 and presumes an interest in visual communication and sharing your favorite moments with your community; and Pinterest is primarily composed of women.

Each platform has a different function, identity, and level of engagement that is expected. Much the same way that you need to make sure you have the right tool on-hand during a construction project to meet your needs at a particular point in time, you should only pick the right social media channels for yourself or your projects that have the best chance in achieving your goals. I have found that both personally and professionally it is important for me to be extremely judicious about selecting the right platforms for my personal and professional lives, as well as for my projects. For example, I recently tried adopting and then abandoning Snapchat–with the exception of keeping in touch with old friends who use it exclusively–because it requires a much more extensive time commitment and dedicated integration of it into my consciousness due to its inherent design of messages and images disappearing after a short amount of time. Moreover, since it serves a more casual capacity on social media, it meets fewer of my needs at this time. That being said, I hope that at some point in the future, when I have a bit more time, I can give Snapchat another try.

So for your own sanity, and to get the most impact out of the precious time you will spend away from your offline life by engaging online, here are a few questions that you may find helpful in (re)assessing your social media. This act of curating or purposefully selecting which social media channels you actually need, not what some other person needs, for achieving your personal or professional goals is really important. I know for me, anything that keeps me away from my crazy one-year old better be critical to my success in growing my personal brand and communication presence in spaces where I can have the most impact.

First, start by doing an environmental scan, or checking to see where the different people and groups that are important (or are of interest) to you are most present online:

  1. What social media channels are the majority of my friends using?
  2. What social media channels are the majority of my family using?
  3. What social media channels are the majority of my colleagues using?
  4. What social media channels are the majority of my clients/funders/publishers/future customers/future partners using?

After you do your digging, evaluation of who’s who, phone a few friends, and summarily answer those questions, try mapping out their needs, preferences, and desires for interactions with me by thinking about things for each group. In Design Thinking, you might hear this called the empathy or observation phase. Basically, you’re doing a needs assessment of the people who matter to you:

  1. Would they like to get regular updates on my personal life?
  2. Would they like to get regular updates on my professional life?
  3. Do they want to hear about just big events, or daily summaries (e.g. dinner table talk)?
  4. Do they want real-time updates?
  5. How frequently would they need, want, or expect these updates?
  6. Are there images, videos, or aspects of my personal life that they would like to see or be upset/disappointed if they did not get to see them?
  7. Are there images, videos, or aspects of my professional life that they would like to see, find useful, or that might benefit their research or work?
  8. What are the ranges of ages, genders, interests, and levels of commitment to social media for each of these groups?

After mapping out everything your communities would want or need from you online, I suggest then going through those same eight questions and answer them from your own point of view. Take the time to unpack what level of commitment and exposure you are willing to give for your life, while also making the time to reflect on your daily schedule and obligations to determine what you really can commit to this space. Finish the process by writing out for your own eyes the goal you have for engaging online with these different groups of people through social media. Ultimately, you deserve to make sure that all of the effort required to properly use social media to achieve those goals is genuinely worthwhile to you! Basically, this is a process of social media mindfulness and deliberate decision-making that results in a purposeful commitment to your social media communication strategies.

For me–daughter, friend, science and technical communications guru, design thinking fiend, and director of a crazy-big project–my final list looks pretty typical:

  • Facebook (at least 2 times daily) to keep all of my personal and professional connections updated on the important things that go on in my life, as well as to engage anyone I can about the cool (or at least I think it’s awesome) work I do. I’ve been using Facebook since it was invitation-only to .edu email holders, and it is thoroughly integrated into my daily life;
  • Twitter (1-3 times daily), because there are aspects of my professional life that lend themselves to real-time updates, and because some of my colleagues and work-friends are primarily on that platform;
  • LinkedIn (at least 3 times weekly) to maintain my professional presence, document my achievements, share my technical knowledge, and position myself as an expert and resource for other people in my space;
  • Instagram (1-3 times daily), because I enjoy capturing images of the things that matter in my life, because I enjoy communicating visually, and because a majority of my personal friends in the creative sector use that as their primary channel of communication. Also, it is easy to share the images I capture on here on other social media platforms;
  • Pinterest (at least 3 times weekly)to keep my ideas (again, visual thinker) organized and to share the products and ideas I love with others; and
  • YouTube (1-4 times monthly)to host all of my video media and content for professional purposes that can be then linked on other platforms.

I am taking active steps to be strategic about my posts so as to eliminate excess work: for example, authorizing Facebook and Twitter on Instagram so that any photo I post on Instagram can also be posted to my social networks on Twitter and Facebook should I choose. By being strategic with my platform selections and specific about how I use each channel to achieve my goals, I can allow myself to commit to those social media channels. I can do this not only because I want to, but because I know that I have taken the time to make sure they are the best-fit platforms for me. And while I may have only eliminated one social media application from my list (see you next time, Snapchat), I feel much more confident in my ability to focus and commit to the networks that will allow me to have meaningful experiences, will fit naturally into my lifestyle, and fundamentally will work for me.

While selecting the social media platforms that work for you is just a single part of a more comprehensive social media plan and branding strategy, it is an excellent and simple first step. Stay tuned for future Field Notes where I will quite likely be unpacking other aspects of social media and science communication strategies that are an inherent part of the 21st reality of academic professional life in the age of self-promotion and social marketing.

Resources

For those of you interested in learning more about social marketing and personal branding, I highly recommend the following resources:

If you have additional resources you like, or have found useful, please share them back with me in the comments or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

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