An introvert's guide to social media
Updated: Apr 22, 2019
Note: This post has been edited for clarity. If you'd like to see the previous version of this post, let me know.
I chose to go freelance for various reasons, and one of them was to force myself to get out of my comfort zone. It's easy to revert to familiar patterns, but if the last month has taught me anything, it's that staying comfortable isn't great in the long run if it means that there's no chance to grow.
That being said I've always been ambivalent about hustling, but now that I'm a freelancer I have absolutely no choice but to hustle. And the first step is the dreaded N word -- networking. So how do you network if you're naturally reticent, painfully awkward or have trouble reading social cues? For me, the obvious answer was social media.
I'm by no means an expert but while I try to git gud, I've come up with a few guidelines on how to navigate popular social media platforms for anyone who's still traumatized by the epic flame wars of yesteryear. By sharing my observations and mistakes, I hope I can help introverts like me steer clear of the shoals of social media.
Choose the right platform
Before you put yourself out there, find out if people will be reasonably receptive to what you want to say, and this is where demographics can come in handy.
For instance, the conventional wisdom is that Facebook is for older users, while more visual platforms like Instagram and Youtube appeal to younger users. Twitter users are generally considered to be a mix of both. For a more informed choice, read this 2018 study from the Pew Research Center to find out which platform is the right one for you.
LYMN is on Twitter and Facebook, but most of my views are coming from LinkedIn. The choice was pretty straightforward for me because that's where my friends, peers and colleagues are. Also because I write, I can produce content for these platforms on a reasonably regular basis. I've held off on YouTube and Vimeo because I don't make videos, though there is one of me talking about webforms and ponies in case you're interested.
Find your voice and stick with it
Authenticity is currency, and to be authentic you must be true to yourself. But how much or how little of your true self you can reveal will depend on the platform and your reasons for being there.
For instance, discretion is probably the best policy anywhere you would have to use your real name and interact with people you actually know. However, on sites like Reddit where you can adopt a username, you would be free to reveal fairly sensitive details about yourself say, if you needed help from r/legaladvice.
Another way to find your voice is to acknowledge all the different facets of your personality and figure out which one is the best fit for what you are trying to communicate. You can be business on the front, party at the back! but if you are in fact running a business and need to assure clients that you are competent and reliable, then it's best to choose the former.
Once you have found your voice, stick with it. I once let one of my posts be rewritten by my boss - I should have let him put his name on it instead of making me sound like I was being a bossypants.
Have something useful to say
The easiest way to pique interest is to say something that is meaningful and relevant to your audience. On LinkedIn, my most viewed post was about business cards which is not surprising given that everyone uses them.
It also pays to be original. If it seems like every single idea has been taken already, do some research and try to add something to the conversation. Don't just reformat old posts and pass it off as something new, because that's just spamming your audience.
Know the rules
I know it seems like the wild, wild west out there, but there are rules and you should make it your business to find out what they are. Community standards can vary from platform to platform and the last thing you want is to get banned just when you're starting out.
For instance, I found out the hard way that LinkedIn really does not like it when you post something that is tangential to work matters. I accidentally posted something that was meant for Facebook and saw my post views plummet to zero.
Another mistake I made was when I tried to write a post on Reddit when I just started and had zero karma. While I invoke the sidebars on mobile defense, I can say with only a little irony that getting into some countries is easier than getting into certain subreddits.
Curious about what's verboten? Here's a handy guide describing what kind of behaviour can get you kicked out from Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Facebook.
Much has been written about how social media exacerbates feelings of inadequacy while amplifying our worst instincts, but then the same thing can be said of alcohol and controlled substances.
Unless we all immediately move to Europe, we can't just hold our collective breath until better regulation comes along. So we have to protect ourselves by:
making sure that the privacy settings are not in the default state
steering clear of the more toxic corners of the internet.
Hopefully, you won't have to abandon social media altogether if you suddenly find yourself wigging out from all the weirdness. Sometimes all it takes to change one's mind is to just change what's on your mind:
Never pass off work that you did not create as your own. This is especially hard when it comes to memes, but if something is not yours and you aren't sure who made it, you should at least say where you got it from. If we all did this, then creators of original content won't have to labour in thankless obscurity.
If you are posting something that is a collaborative work, be sure to acknowledge your collaborators. If you are providing original content and would like to encourage people to remix or re-post your stuff, make it easy by being clear on what you will and won't allow by using a Creative Commons license .
Don't be a dick
The golden rule is to never say on social media what you wouldn't say face to face, though not everyone always follows that rule. And if they don't, do not engage unless you have AOC's epic clapback skills and security detail.
If you're not already completely desensitized and find yourself getting riled up, you can always step back and get a little perspective by reading or listening to David Foster Wallace's speech at Kenyon College.
As a fellow introvert, I'm sure you've sometimes wished that the world was a bit friendlier and more forgiving so that it wasn't be so rough out there, but the change you want has to start with you.