The Social Media Trap

Social media can be fun but it can also suck you down a hole so deep, you'll be drinking tea with the Mad Hatter.

I've noticed lately that nearly our entire population keeps their cell phone so close-at-hand, they might as well have it surgically attached to their bodies. But hey, don't get any ideas, I was just kidding. I often encounter drivers on the road weaving in front of me, barely staying within their lane and slowing down. That's the clue - when they slow down - that are likely reading or sending a text. Maybe they're even surfing the net or playing a game while simultaneously trying to drive a car. Most of the time, this is confirmed as I pass them. According to the National Safety Council, cell phone use while driving accounts for twenty five percent of all vehicle crashes in the United States. Whew, I'm glad we got our safety speech out of the way. Even the news folks on television check their phones or tablets often to answer some tweet or get direction from their producer.

All this input, information, and social connection is a great tool that increases our span of intelligence and influence. But, how much is too much? At what point do we become addicted to our social media tether? At what point are we going to be living in an episode of The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror?

We are at a point in history where social media dominates nearly every aspect of our lives. And those that are not connected, are not counted.

I remember watching a movie a few years ago that showed an example of where I think we are headed as we learn to combine social media with marketing. I think it was Minority Report starring that extremely talented but extremely diminutive Tom Cruise. At some part of the movie, our hero was walking somewhere and, as he walked, electronic billboards lit up with advertisements targeted specifically to him.

This is already happening on all your electronic devices today. It's no coincidence that when you research something, purchase something, or go to specific sites, those little advertisements that pop up along the sidebar of whatever your looking at are suddenly advertising what you just researched.

It's a conspiracy, man. I'm telling you. our entire existence is just one big Truman Show. We're all stuck here fumbling around thinking we have free will when really, we're all just curiosities being watched and controlled  by some alien species much smarter than us.

Okay, I digress. Slipped into conspiracy mode for a bit there.

Let's face it, the majority of us are addicted to social media at least at some level. How often do you check your facebook page? Twitter? Tumblr, Pinterest, Linkedin, Snapchat, Instagram, or any other social platform?

Here's the catch. People are social and most crave social interaction at least at some level. Social media not only provides some form of interaction, it empowers one to express thoughts without the repercussions of face to face communication. What this new social media does not provide is a basic understanding of social interactions and the unspoken rules of the social contract. I believe one of the most important things lost in this situation is privacy. Boundaries become blurred when a mass of people can be reach through a few simple clicks or keystrokes. The repercussions of this ease of distribution is magnified in children and young adults who may not fully understand how their actions affect others.

Now, with all the negatives I've mentioned about social media you might be asking, how can I use social media for my benefit? How can I use it if I'm a writer? Do I even want to chain myself to social media?

Writer's and other creatives these days need to develop a keen awareness of how social media works and how it can be used to your benefit and advance.

If you are a writer, or really, just about anybody wanting to better use social media, you must remember this first.

Rule number one of using social media in a way that will advance your name or agenda is this: Social media is social. This may seem oversimplified but one must remember to be social. In other words, don't use social media platforms like facebook or twitter to constantly post advertisements for your work. Sure, it's okay to let people know when you are publishing new work but don't keep filling their newsfeed with your hype until they unfriend you.

Be social. In addition to my real name, I write under a pen name. I have a facebook account under my pen name with many friends. I also keep an author page on facebook under the pen name but found it difficult to keep up with. So, if you are using a pen name or trying to keep a particular persona, remember that you still must gain friends, interact, comment, and keep in contact with others. On my normal facebook page I am simply me. I do all the things that everyone else does on facebook but, with certain limitations. The trade off here is that, even though I am me on this page, I'm also a writer so I want to appear somewhat professional while remaining true and honest. Some people find this easy while others struggle. Just keep in mind that platforms like facebook are mainly for social interaction not as much for marketing. I suppose what I'm trying to say here is that you shouldn't just get on facebook to sell your stuff. Instead, use facebook for social marketing, or marketing yourself through your positive actions.

I look at twitter as a kind of news link type of social media. I use twitter mainly to follow people I'm interested in and to spread the news of blog posts, new book publications, small accomplishments in my craft, or to guide a reader of my feed to a new book offering or blog post.

Rule number two. Limit your social media platforms so that you don't become overwhelmed trying to keep up. I concentrate mainly on facebook, twitter, and my blog. My most personal and honest interactions are on facebook but I make a special post whenever I have a new blog post. I basically use twitter to inform others of blog posts. Which leads to rule three.

Rule three. Whatever social media platforms you choose, couple them with your professional web page or blog in a cohesive manner. I use my blog almost as a catch-all outlet. I've posted personal essays, serious articles, comical posts, childhood memories, my thoughts on zombie apocalypse survival-you name it. But, it's all me. I like to think that I provide something for other writers on my blog as well as potential readers of my work, and even friends and family. This is the one thing I've personally done that contradicts the general rules of blogging for writers, but I'm working on it. Consistency is probably more important than continuity here. Of course, I've broken that rule too by letting my blog go defunct for nearly six months at a time. Again, I'm working on it.

In closing, I would like to say this to all my brooding, reclusive writer friends out there. The days of the anti-social writer being supported by a publishing house are over. If you want to make it as a writer these days, you're going to have to socialize with others and market yourself. No one can make it alone in this new era and no publisher is going market and promote your work without some help from you.

So, get busy building your platform, get socializing, and get back to writing.