September 14, 2011

Online social life lessons. Plus: 7 tips to balance.

Brewed in a hot tub.

My husband’s colleague and marketing, exec Bill, urged me to hop onto the social media wagon a few years ago—just months after I launched my company. I had heard about facebook, which struck me as blah blah blah nonsense for tweens and teens who can’t keep their hands or eyes or minds off their smart phones. Since we were in a hot tub in Napa Valley during a swanky business trip (stop right there with the funny ideas: my husband and Bill’s wife were soaking in the tub, too), the idea didn’t immediately sink in. It marinated in my brain back to the Chicagoland ‘burbs where I live without a hot tub.

Side note: I tried to find out the exact date I started facebook by scrolling through my past status updates. Eighteen minutes later, I asked my facebook friends:

Gotta love it, no? I got the answer within the hour. Well, sort of. Facebook only let me go back to 2008 and it didn’t seem like my first post at all.

Some no-no’s.

Suffice it to say, I had no idea what to do ‘back then’. I updated my status here and there with inane statements like, “I just drank my smoothie. Yum yum.” I stumbled and committed social media faux pas that I didn’t even know existed. I learned what not to do:

  1. Do not post links to blog posts or (especially) products in other friends’ convo’s-in-progress. Especially if you don’t really know-know the friend.
  2. Do not tag random people. Unless you know-know them.
  3. Do not post more than once an hour. This will likely annoy the heck out of some people who will a) hide your posts and never see a post from you again unless they happen to go to your page, b) de-friend you or c) remain annoyed because they don’t want to hurt your feelings by doing a or b.

How did I learn these no-no’s? One friend (Abe*)—I did not know-know—told me via facebook message. I am forever grateful for his kind reprimand. He could have simply un-friended me. But my social media misconduct didn’t end until another one or two more friends slapped me on the virtual wrist. Why did my misconduct continue at all? I wanted to believe Abe was the exception. Why change my behavior based on one guy who I didn’t know-know? Wouldn’t most find my eco links nestled within their already-in-progress-convo’s valuable instead of intrusive? In most cases, no. No.

There are plenty more no-no’s out there, but the 3 I listed are fundamental.

One big yes.

In the beginning, my facebook interactions were rigid. Unsure. I posted something about Al Gore— ‘my hero’—and a social media consultant gave me some free advice (the free advice ended when he figured out I had no budget to hire him). “I wouldn’t mention Al Gore,” he said. Why not? He explained that many people hate Al Gore and I shouldn’t associate myself with him. So, taking this advice to heart, I began posting things carefully so as not to offend or lead people to think I might disagree with them. My status updates and links were selective and polite. As the founder of an eco-friendly product website, didn’t I have to portray myself as a professional first and foremost? That’s what I believed. For a while.

Thanks to the magic of facebook, I met some more experienced social media people and found out that—grab a pen and paper—I just had to be myself. Who wouldda thought? It took me a while to loosen up and just be me. And once I did, turns out a lot of people like me for who I am. Many people appreciate my passion for the environment and social issues. Some do not. I catch a fair amount of flack, but that’s inevitable if you put yourself—your real self—out there. Unless you’re Mother Therese.

photo by jasonjhr via flickr.com

7 tips to finding balance.

Social networking can be fun. A downside in my case. Because most days, I can’t wait to hop onto Facebook and Twitter. This distracts me from writing, which is what I really want to do. So the key is to find balance. Here are 7 tips, which I have yet to master because, quite simply, I am a socialmedia-aholic. Like all things, moderation is key.

  1. If you’re new to social media, start with one or 2 sites until you’re in a groove. I recommend starting with Facebook and/or google+. If you’re a professional, be sure to set up a profile on LinkedIn.
  2. Don’t turn the computer on until you’ve written out 1 thing you want to accomplish via social media that day plus 2 tasks you want to tackle that have nothing to do with social media. This will help you focus on what you’re doing in the socialmediasphere.
  3. Dive in; be present in each task. Avoid multi-tasking as that is not necessarily productive.
  4. Turn off all other distractions. Music is okay, but avoid the phone or email. Turn off the sound on your cell phone!
  5. Step away from working (whether folding laundry or making widgets) every hour or 90 minutes to do something else. Get away from your computer and/or office. Look out a window. Pet your dog or cat. Walk around the office or, better yet, outdoors. If possible, take 15 to 30 minutes downtime.
  6. Check email 1-3 times a day, unless you’re expecting an urgent message that can’t wait a few hours for your response.
  7. Set a time at night where you shut down all electronics. Your creativity will be better for it.

Good for people and planet.

This is the part I love best. I’ve connected to people and causes around the globe and have found myself working side-by-side with amazing people I would have never known had it not been for social media. I’ve learned about and helped raised awareness about women’s and children’s issues; environmental concerns that will impact our (and more importantly, our children’s) health and general quality of life; clean water and sanitation initiatives; and much more.

Currently, I’m helping to spread the word about a cool environmental social media site, mygreenface.com, and the Plant 25,000 Trees campaign.

You can make a difference.

It doesn’t take loads of money or even time. You can spend 10 minutes or 50 hours. Connect to people who inspire you. Share stories and information that provide value to others. Cliche alert! Each small stone cast into the sea has a ripple effect and your connections—even if it’s just 1 or 2 of them—may be inspired to share something with their network. To reach one person can have a profound impact. But don’t take yourself too seriously. Be you. Help others who are doing good things.

I will, no doubt, rack up more social media snafus in the future. And learn from them (hopefully). If you’re not a social media addict like me, I may appear to be an expert. I can certainly show social media newbies the ropes.

I am happy to report that my business has over 5,000 facebook fans and 141 shy of 10,000 twitter followers. I have yet to get into the google+ habit. What? You haven’t heard about google+? You will, in time. I’m registered on foursquare but don’t use it so don’t be offended if I don’t friend you back. I’d like to spend more time on mygreenface.com, the environmental community “where socializing leads to action.” If you catch me online, please say hello and remind me to walk away from my computer.

I’d love to hear about your social media snafus and triumphs. Please comment below.


* Abe is not my friend’s real name. The only Abe I know is Abe Lincoln. And I don’t know know him.

** Originally published in Putting It Out There, my new personal blog.


Bonus (a corny music video about social networking):

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