This Modern Virtual Office Life. Mine comes with an Irish Wolfhound pup.

Social Media Pointers for Moms

Friendly advice for at-home and on-ramping moms, and any other social media virgins

Recently Kara Nelson at That Odd Mom sent out a plea for social media advice.

She had been a social media shunner, living in real life (she used “IRL,” so she is up to date enough to know the acronym) while raising her young children. Now, the youngest is off to kinder in the fall and she is looking to on-ramp back into the professional world. It would help, she realizes, if “Google knows I exist.”

She’s not alone. Social media has changed many of the practical concerns of job hunting. Once the job hunt is finished, social media is often also essential to virtual officing, which is both more common and easier for mothers of school-age children to participate in (says the freelance writer mom with the puppy napping in her lap while she types this). Love it or hate it, social media has changed the way people communicate and organize.

Somewhere else, in another context, I likened it to TV makeup:

Shunning social media is like complaining that video killed the radio star and therefore refusing to transition from radio to TV. Or to draw on an old story that most Americans know, Kennedy and Nixon gave the first televised presidential debate. Among the Americans who listened to the debate the old way, on the radio, Nixon won. Among those who watched the debate on their TVs, Kennedy won. Kennedy had already been using TV coverage more than Nixon. He knew about the heat of the lights and the importance of makeup. Nixon got hot and sweaty and looked a little pale, the textbook tells of a liar.
Think of social media as Nixon’s missing makeup.

In addition to the modern working life realities, as a mother it helps to know how social media works so we can wisely monitor and mentor our children’s use of it.

So this morning I zigged to answer Kara’s questions. They are good questions.

For context, I am a mother a little further along than Kara. I have a teenager and have only two years left of elementary school momdom. I am also a freelance writer who, while not a tech-y pro, has been using and experimenting with an assortment of social media platforms for 10 years.

Questions 1–3 and 8, about a strategy for starting social media, platform differences, personal and professional boundries, and “do I really have to use Facebook?”

Short answer: overall strategy depends on what you want to do next, but yes, you need to use Facebook.

Fuller answer: each platform has its own personality. Twitter is a cocktail party. Facebook is a dinner party. Medium is a freshman seminar discussion. Tumblr is a rave. Instagram is an art show. Pinterest is a convention of conventions run by crafty women.

Which platforms you use depends on what you want to do. If you are going to do visual arts (fashion, photography, design) then Instagram is essential. Videos, music, and performing arts need a YouTube account. If you are going to do any sort of publishing, then it is Twitter and Medium. If you have a professional degree and want to get back into office work, LinkedIn is your go-to.

Facebook has become the platform that anchors the others. It is the biggest and most versatile and the one that all the others funnel through, probably because it allows you to separate but still overlap your personal circles and non-personal ones. (Well, Google+ does too, but so few actively use it, there is no reason to bother with it to start.) It takes a little bit of use to see this, which I discuss a little further down.

Personal and professional will overlap. Social media being virtual gives us the impression that we could wall off our personal and professional lives, but I do not advise that. It can make you sound like some combo of dull and self-rightous — someone who only talks about one thing or someone who judges anyone who mixes personal and professional. There are scolds who will tell you that, say, FB is only for personal news and others who will tell you that they are sick of hearing about your personal life. Even in an old-time office job had some mingling of the personal and professional, with pictures on the desk or office BBQ at your home. A complete separation will feel forced — and it is ridiculously hard to do.

It will take time to sort out your overlap comfort level. I recommend two ladies to read on this point: Belinda Pollard of Small Blue Dog Publishing and Marji J. Sherman. For mothers, I have developed the Erma Bombeck Rule.

Recommendations when starting social media

Make a personal Facebook page and keep it personal. Only friend people you actually know and set your privacy setting to “friends” — keeping in mind, that anything posted on the internet could end up in the general public. There is no reasonable expectation of privacy on the net. (And to answer Fear E, use what my husband dubbed the Wall Street Journal rule: if you would be mortified to read about it on the front page of the WSJ, then don’t post it.)

Make a public page for your professional life using your company or professional name. For example, I’m a writer, thus my personal page is Leslie Arnold Loftis with my maiden name so childhood friends can find me, and my writer page is Leslie Loftis, no middle maiden name.

With Facebook, pick another platform that best matches your professional intentions. To start, run on these two. You will likely add more later, but getting the hang of Facebook, one other platform, and how they can work together is enough to be getting on with. For future note: unless you become a social media or PR professional, or hire said professionals, I find using more than three platforms too cumbersome.

Questions 4–5: tips, techniques, policies, and avoiding rookie mistakes.

My best social media advice: find someone in your intended field who is good with social media. Watch them for a few weeks to learn. Lurk awhile. Pay attention to what you like, what annoys you, and what intrigues you. Modify those pratices to fit your purposes.

To avoid rookie mistakes, look for the internal rules of the platforms. They each have their own. What is bad pratice for Facebook might be fine on Twitter. For instance, Twitter is more tolerant of repetitive links.

Possibly the universal annoyance across platforms is not attributing an idea to its source. Always attribute. Users are particularly intense about this on tumblr.

The universal advice across platforms is probably regular posting. To gain followers, you need to be an active daily user. To gain a bunch of followers, you need to be an active daily user with bigger platforms elsewhere or connections to bigger platforms who are willing to get their people to follow you. Combine this truth with the frequent breaks for IRL sanity (see below), and it is unrealistic to expect viral growth. In fact, viral postings do not simply happen. As Karen X. Cheng helpfully explained a while back, they are the result of hours of work, IRL and online, and self promotion.

About the fear that social media will change your life

The fears I will treat together, along with questions 6 and 7 about whether it will change your life and who to avoid, as this is all one big concern about the same thing, getting sucked in.

Yes, social media will change your life. It can be addictive, and you will need to police yourself to avoid the dreaded depression and competitiveness. These drawbacks aren’t rumors.

I highly recommend setting device free time. No devices at meals is my number one recommendation. I also recommend long breaks. You can set weekly rules, such as devices off on Friday after 5 and all day Sunday, but they aren’t as helpful as one might expect. First, sometimes something you need to be on is trending at 7 pm on a Friday. Second, short breaks don’t help with the impulse addiction problem and the stimuli. (I won’t even tell you about my Tweet Deck table of feeds. Or here see Shoshana Weissmann recommend an extra screen — a trick for which I can vouch.)

A long break — I do August, and the last weeks of December — helps you reset to finding other things to do without resisting a peek at your social media accounts. We need to give ourselves time and space to completely forget about social media, like giving kids the chance to be bored.

Note, I am not knocking weekly limits, but they are not sufficient to keep perspective IRL. You will need that perspective to deal with online engagement.

There will be replies calling you out, many from people who did not do much more than glance at the work, or worse, the title. You will be tempted to engage them all or to ignore them all. I advise neither extreme. The former is foolish. You don’t have the time. No one has that kind of time. The latter is self defeating. Some of those comments will have value to you. Perhaps someone thought of something you had not, or the prevailing theme clues you into a takeaway you had not intended. (As a lawyer, I think of comment sections as jury debriefs. What did they hear vs. what I said?)

Again, your purpose matters. It will help you answer the question of who to engage. You will train yourself to find those who are helpful or open-minded to your purpose, rather than those who simply want to shout their point. This can be a bit tricky because, in general, people who reply to public posts are confident in their opinion. The pool of commentators self-selects for bombast.

Personally, I write for lurkers, those who read but do not comment. They are more open-minded. Alas, they are also least likely to share, which brings us to expectations for gaining followers.

On getting followers (and competitiveness temptations), poke around Marji and Belinda’s sites linked above. Keep your goal in mind. What are you trying to do? Because unless you are trying to break follower count records — and good luck catching the giants — the number of followers isn’t the focus. Sure you want some steady growth, but mostly you want to connect with them in a way that is relevant to what you are trying to do. You want them to look at your resume and call you for an interview. You want to help people by sharing advice, or have local people hire you for the independent consulting on whatever it is you are gifted in and promoting.

It is difficult. It takes some mental discipline. It can be baffling when others grow quickly and you don’t. But keep your goal in mind. Measure only against that to protect your sanity.

Because your fears are not unfounded. This is funny because it is close to true.

Good luck. And ping me anytime for a social media chat.