Letter to a Young Social Media User

As an assignment for a Social Media and Digital Storytelling class, we were asked to write a letter to a young social media user. This writing prompt got me thinking: what would this audience be? Is there anyone who is truly a “young social media user?” Or are non-social media users just older generations that were not raised on the Internet?

My prediction is that at the rate audiences are adapting to social media, children will have social media accounts younger than we have ever seen. Regardless of the age of the user, here are some tips that I compiled as a social media user (and nerd) for a newcomer to the social media world.

Gather Social Media Metrics (But Take Them with a Grain of Salt)

Metrics are an important way to track your growing social media presence, however, you should take them with a grain of salt. For example, a few years ago NPR played a masterful April Fool’s Day prank by publishing a fake news article ‘Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?’ which garnered lots of likes, comments, and shares — unfortunately for the unsuspecting sharers, the article was fake.

Follow Industry Leaders

While you may just see social media as a way for others to hear what you have to say, it’s a good way to stay informed about what leaders in your industry are talking about (it may also earn you a follow back). Social media isn’t just a place to voice your thoughts, but also educate yourself on what’s happening in the world and in the industry you work in (or are pursuing working in).

Join Trending Conversations

According to Parsely, the top stories of 2015 included Cecil the Lion, Charlie Hebdo, and Ashley Madison — all giant news stories that garnered millions of likes, comments, shares, and conversations across social media platforms. Use your presence on social media as a chance to participate in these conversations while analyzing opposing views.

Just because it’s on Social Media Doesn’t Mean It’s Real…

There are hundreds of websites dedicated to satirical news, most notably The Onion. Regardless of the education you receive, you are not above the influence of fake news being spread like wildfire on social media (check out Literally Unbelievable, a blog dedicated to the terrifyingly untrue satirical news stories people take for gospel). Just because someone shares a link to a news story on social media doesn’t mean it’s real: do your homework and check with reliable sources to make sure the news is accurate.

…Even If it’s on a Trusted News Site

False information isn’t just native to The Onion: some of the most trusted news sources need to be fact-checked, too. In 2002, Reuters columnist Jack Shafer tallied over 3,000 corrections made by gold-standard news sources The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Chicago Tribune. False reporting, such as CNN’s premature, incorrect report of an arrest being made after the Boston Marathon Bombings, have proven detrimental to the public and subjects alike. Double-check multiple news sites to confirm the news you are consuming on social media is accurate.

Join Social Media-Led Social Movements

Just as the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag surpassed racial, geographic and demographic boundaries, Syrian refugees overcame physical borders with the aide of social media. Deemed the ‘Facebook refugees’ by CNN, social media served both immediate and long-term needs for the refugees: Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp allowed families to find housing, identify safe havens, and stay in touch with family. Facebook not only acted as a critical utility for refugees, but also as a platform to disseminate their unique stories of triumph and tragedy, bringing human emotion to their widely unpublicized struggle.

Have Some Tricks Up Your Sleeve

For some general social media tricks, check out these 9 Advanced Twitter Tips. My greatest takeaway from this was that by adding a period before my tweets, which shows the tweet in all Twitter feeds (regardless if the person is following both parties). This will give you greater visibility to other social media users.

Don’t Be Stupid

This generation is the first to have everything they eat, think, selfie, and do recorded online. Forever. While we may be near-sighted in the hilarity of posting pictures of drunken escapades from the weekend, think long-term: don’t put anything on social media you wouldn’t want published on the front page of The Boston Globe.

Hope these tips for navigating social media were helpful to you, young grasshopper. Now go out and get socializing!