How Funerals and Rats Can Help You Succeed on Social Media


I have a love-hate relationship with social media. There. I’ve said it. I feel so last century. But wanting to simultaneously check your Facebook page and deleting your account doesn’t really have to do with age. Those who have never known a world without likes and instant photos and viral videos are equally, if not more, ambivalent.

College student Amani Brown muses, “I want to let go, but who am I if I do?” While decrying how easy it is to deceive people online, marketing major Jessica Taufer admits, “it’s like a drug…A week off social media is like eating no carbs for a week. For some of us, it’s incredibly difficult.”

I’m certainly not ready to give up pasta, but I think my misgivings about social media have more to do with not understanding how to use it than with worrying about how many “likes” I receive (though I do check, sometimes). This point was driven home to me when I spoke recently to Jake Poinier, a.k.a. Dr. Freelance, about how best to use social media to advance my career. It might have been when he suggested, “Well, you can always use YouTube to leverage your Google ranking.” I have a Google ranking? Or when he said he really should get better about posting to Pinterest. Pinterest? I thought that was for finding bridesmaids dresses and cute baby shower cakes. And don’t even get me started on Instagram or Snapchat or Tumblr (and why is the “e” missing?).

But the doctor was in, and he reassured me about a number of things that were troubling me. Here are the things I learned that lessened my anxiety about social media—I hope they will help you, too.

  1. It’s not all about you. Boy, did I have that wrong. I thought that sites like Facebook and Instagram were all about what a self-absorbed society we’ve become. And we all likely have friends or contacts for whom this may be true. But Poinier says social media is “about relationships.” He likens it to being at a cocktail party, where the best way to be successful at meeting new people is to ask questions about them, “not to talk about how wonderful you are.”
  1. To build relationships, you have to actively participate in what others are doing. This is about reciprocity, which reminds me of this wonderful quote, misattributed to Yogi Berra, “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.” Simply put, if you want others to like your posts, like theirs. If you want others to share your posts, share theirs. Especially when you are using social media to build a professional following, you gain credibility and authority when you participate actively in the online communities to which you belong.
  1. Find your “rat people.” Well, not actually people who like rats, though they do exist. Rather, Poinier likes to quote writer Paul Jarvis’s belief that your “rat people” are those who share similar goals and philosophies. They get you. In business, that translates to finding out where the people who are influential in your career hang out. For government employees, that’s here, on GovLoop. Perhaps there’s also a LinkedIn or Facebook group that shares information you need to know. You may find like-minded people on Twitter. Wherever you find them, follow the reciprocity rule—don’t just shout from the rooftops about what you are doing; give others a shout out, as well.
  1. Only commit to what you will do consistently. You know that treadmill that’s piled with clothes in the corner of your bedroom? That same thing applies to social media—you have to find something you can stick with. Not every platform is for everyone. I recently reactivated my Twitter account, but I’m not certain I’ll keep up with it, so that may not be the best venue for me. “Going on Twitter can feel like walking into a stadium with 5,000 people shouting at once,” Poinier points out. I like the quieter, more formal feel of LinkedIn, though it’s more difficult to carry on a conversation in real time. For me, Facebook is strictly personal. If you are considering a Facebook business page, you may want to read why the answer to, “Should I create one?” is, “It depends.”
  1. Don’t feel guilty. Now we get to the crux of the matter. If I don’t check Facebook or LinkedIn regularly, I feel guilty. If I spend too much time on them, I feel guilty. (This might be a topic for another post, but, alas, this is my last for GovLoop!). Using social media feels like one more thing on an ever-growing to-do list. Poinier has words of wisdom if you feel that way, too. “You don’t have to do everything, and you don’t have to feel guilty about what you don’t do,” he points out. “Do what you can when you want to and have fun with it.” Hmm, have fun with it; that’s something I hadn’t considered. Or maybe I did when I posted a photo of myself to Facebook holding a giant pink flamingo fun noodle. Best. Birthday Present. Ever.

It’s been a real treat to write for GovLoop these past three months. You can find me here, on LinkedIn, and maybe on Twitter. Be well.

Susan Milstrey Wells is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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