Social media is an interesting beast, most particularly for how each form appeals and responds to users in entirely different ways. This is fascinating stuff for us communications types.
I’ve found kindred spirits on all three of the platforms I like best – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But they’re not the same kindred spirits. The people I want to know and connect with on one platform are not the same ones I want to connect with on others. The feel of each platform and the reasons for using them are so very different.
Facebook, for instance, is the place where I’m most likely to connect with my real friends and family. It’s where I share photos of my grandkids, keep up-to-date on which of my acquaintances or cousins or whoever has gone travelling in Italy, had an injury, lost somebody close to them, taken their dog walking someplace cool, and so on – kind of like a virtual coffee shop for catching up with pals across time and distance on a personal level.
What it’s significantly less good for, however, is for engaging people on the issue I care most about. I can draw 200 or more “likes” for a particularly charming photo of a dog we’re looking after or a new profile picture, but my posts about sex workers’ rights – the issue I feel most passionately about these days – routinely fare very poorly. I have a few Facebook friends who share my passion and can be counted on to like and share my sex-work-related posts, but essentially I’m preaching to the choir.
A very small choir.
I’m guessing my inability to connect around sex work on Facebook is because on that medium, I mostly interact with people I actually know, or we at least move in similar social circles. But while we may know each other in real life, that clearly doesn't mean that we share the same philosophies or passions. So do I give up trying to get the people I know on Facebook to care about sex workers' rights, or stubbornly keep posting in the hopes that eventually some will? The big question.
I resisted Twitter for a long time, unconvinced that I needed a whole lot of 140-character thoughts from random people cluttering up my day. Oh, how wrong I was. Twitter is now a favourite of mine.
From a staying-current perspective, it’s much like having hundreds of people out scouring the planet on your behalf for interesting news and developments (presuming you’re following the right people and organizations). The hashtag system also means you can easily find the latest tweets pertinent to the issues you care about.
Few of the people I’m friends with on Facebook appear to be active on Twitter, so I’ve found a whole other community there - one that stretches around the world, loves a good debate over tough issues, and interacts with other members of their “community” based on the issues they tweet about rather than any personal connection.
Because the Twitter connection is around issues rather than friendship, I decided from the start that I would concentrate on tweeting about sex workers’ rights. I jump in on other issues every now and again, but I’d say that 90 per cent of my Twitter use is related to sex workers’ rights. Twitter has turned out to be totally amazing for connecting to like-minded souls on that issue.
Yes, it does pose that preaching-to-the-choir problem. But on the upside, being among an entire world of people who think like me on this one keeps me hopeful and engaged on those dark days when you think, good grief, why can’t people get this? My fellow tweeters also keep me so clued-in on everything that’s happening around the world for sex workers’ rights that it makes me a much better informed activist and advocate for the rare times when I can actually catch the ear of the uninterested and possibly hostile majority.
Would I post a grandchild photo on Twitter, or a pretty scene from my morning walk? Nope. I doubt that any of my Twitter followers give a hoot about how many grandchildren I have, and they definitely don’t want to see what I had for lunch yesterday. But I feel the same way about those I follow, too, so it all works out nicely. We don’t want to be friends, we want to be comrades in arms.
Then there’s Instagram. I resisted this one for even longer, but this year decided I wanted to see how non-profit organizations were using it. I quickly became an enthusiast of the form for personal use, though remain skeptical of its effectiveness for non-profits unless they’re skilled at telling their stories via powerful photos with very few words. (Humans of New York style.)
But as a medium for sharing photos of the weird, wonderful and breathtaking scenes one might see in the course of an ordinary day, it’s really fun.
Once again, I’ve found myself resistant to automatically following the same people I’m connected to on Facebook, as much as Instagram encourages me to do so. I don’t want to repeat my Facebook experience; I’m looking for something different from Instagram. That said, I’ve sometimes seen a totally different side to some Facebook friends who I now follow on Instagram, and who also get that there are distinct reasons for choosing one or the other medium.
Wearing my strategic-communications hat, this is what it all comes down to for me:
- Use Facebook to connect with real friends and allies in warm and fuzzy ways, but don’t count on it to drive issues forward or effectively challenge societal assumptions. Useful for calling out people to events, but I suspect you are still only calling out to the people who probably would have come anyway. As an aside, I also wouldn’t advise using Facebook as your main news platform, because people use the craziest sources and are very lax in checking whether the stories they share are real and recent, or six years old and virtually fiction
- Use Twitter to find great news from around the world that you care about by following people and organizations that know how to find legitimate and dependable sources. Pick an issue or theme that you want to specialize in so that people interested in the same things can follow you, and be equally stringent about your own sources. Find the hot hashtags for your issue and use them religiously to build followers
- Use Instagram to share interesting photos with other people who also like looking at and sharing interesting photos. Sure, you can use the medium to share personal photos with your family and friends, but for broader use remember that you’re going to be up against a world of staggeringly compelling photos if you hope to get noticed.
- If aiming to raise awareness for a cause or issue via Instagram, ditch the inspirational memes and follow the lead of the Humans of New York project, which in my mind leads the micro-story format with their brilliant photos and minimal writing.
- Write blogs when you really need to say something. Not only do blogs give you more room and create a permanent, searchable space for your thoughts, they provide those all-important links for sharing on all your other social-media platforms.