Similar to most technological advances, the creation of social media has both positively and negatively impacted our society. On the one hand, it can help connect people. A person in need of a kidney transplant can spread the word via Twitter. Distant cousins can learn about the unexpected ways they are alike via Facebook. Acquaintances become friends over the internet and information is shared at a rate that is faster than ever. While the example of a organ donor matches might seem extreme, I’ve seen it happen. I’ve also seen plenty of other positive outcomes from social media on smaller scales.
Of course, if you’re connecting people, it’s not always with positive outcomes. Cyberbullying exists, after all, because social media has made it easier to be hateful to others. Just as easily as a simple meme can make an entire generation feel humored and connected, a short comment can make someone feel depressed or lonely. If social media were a landscape, it would probably be a treacherous jungle – a locale full of beautiful flora and venomous wildlife.
Social Media as a Public Relations Tactic
As a public relations professional, I have made the decision to explore the aforementioned digital jungle for the remainder of my career. Social media is all about building relationships, thus making it a key part of any public relations plan in 2018 (and in the foreseeable future). Nearly every company has some sort of social media presence. If they don’t, they’re probably not doing very well financially. These tools allow an organization to more directly connect with their target audiences than traditional mass media. I myself have worked with several organizations now, helping them to build or improve their digital presence to better serve their communities. That aspect of social media is a big part of why I love the public relations industry, hence my LinkedIn headline, “Connecting organizations with the communities they serve.”
A lot of the work I’ve done (and am currently doing) has been for non-profit organizations, who are more often than not working with very small budgets. When your mission is to help empower young women, using Girls Inc. as an example, you want to use as much of your funds as possible in ways that will directly impact those young women. In other words, you can’t shell out millions of dollars on ad campaigns like large corporations can. Social media, when utilized efficiently, can help make up for the difference in budgets. Although sites like Facebook are operating increasingly on paid advertisements, this method is still generally much cheaper than advertising on other popular mediums like television.
Social media is also particularly fun to work with because it’s always changing. Every site – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. – has its own algorithm that tells you how likely it is that your organization’s content is going to be seen. These algorithms change all the time, often to the the dismay of those of us who deal with social media for a living. Just recently, Twitter implemented a new algorithm with did away with chronological timelines, essentially throwing every piece of every social media content coordinator’s puzzle up in the air – including mine. While it can certainly be frustrating, there’s no doubt that the fluidity of social media helps those of us in the public relations industry stay on our toes. For every challenge I face, I get better at adapting, which is a very important skill in this field.
Social Media as a Self-Promotional Tactic
Social media isn’t just about marketing organizations or products; it’s also a useful tool for promoting yourself. In a previous blog post, “How to be honest and hireable on the internet”, I talked about the ways in which you can present yourself online to seem more appealing to potential employers. Those tips do not just apply to people in the public relations industry or to influencers with thousands of followers – the majority of employers are scanning candidates’ social media profiles during the hiring process.
Social media originally started out as purely social – people shared music and personal opinions with each other using crazy, new technology like chat rooms. The earliest social media dwellers customized their profiles to be particularly expressive and colorful. Original users of MySpace probably had no idea that the modern equivalent of those online profiles would be seriously perused by hiring managers. Don’t you wish you could take back that awkward phase where you shared deeply personal (and cringe-worthy) things for the whole internet to read? If you missed out on that phase, good for you.
So, social media is no longer just for making friends or downloading music – it’s now fully immersed in every aspect of our world. How do we maintain that balance with what we post? Most of the time, finding this balance is as simple as thinking about what you’re going to post before you post it. You can still be your authentic self, just be yourself in a way that you wouldn’t be embarrassed about your boss seeing.
As I advance in my career, and in my life in general, I will continue to use social media and do my best to adapt to the ways that the jungle-esque landscape changes. I’m excited to see how social media continues to evolve and I hope that as it does so, our society evolves with it in ways that are positive. To me, these platforms are so much more important than sharing silly things on the internet – though they’re great for that. Social media is ultimately about making connections. Even though it can be used in divisive ways, I think social media has become an integral part of building relationships in our society. It is definitely a very powerful tool.