listening is one step in how to use social mediaIf you ask any expert how to use social media, they will probably tell you it comes down to two verbs:

1. Listen; and

2. Engage.

You can’t engage appropriately without listening, which is why the listening bit usually comes first. But if you’re just going to listen, without doing much else, you’re basically using social media as a monitoring tool, and not much else. And that’s fine, except you’re not going to get much out of it in terms of community building, thought leadership, etc.

How to use social media (not)

One of the fascinating things about watching people engage on social media is seeing them get caught in a war of words when there’s really no need for it.

Let me back up; nine times out of 10, there is no need for it. But if you’re a big name IRL, then there really is no need for it. Which is why I thought Luke O’Neill‘s recent Daily Beast article as to why the powerful self-destruct on Twitter was such a good read. Also I’m a huge fan of the Media Psychology Center‘s Pamela Rutledge, so I was psyched to see her quoted in it.

O’Neil’s article is well worth a read – or several, not just because it’s so well thought out, but also because it’s so balanced. And when it comes to social media, “fair and balanced” is not easy to find, especially from the culterati (just look at Bob Lefsetz‘ “Twitter Wilts” from yesterday; I’m not going to link to it, but you can find it via his Twitter feed, which is really ironic given his poorly-written diatribe).

It’s hard to resist the lure of being a pseudo-celebrity on Twitter (or any social network), as Geoff Livingston wrote the other day. And engaging with others online is part of what propels one’s P-C or real C status.  As Rutledge points out,

“Part of the social media ethic is to interact with fans, which means reading everything everyone sends you so you can respond to them. It also means everyone out there can read what you send,” she says. “It’s hard to be personally attacked and not have it be a bit painful, no matter who you are.”

This is true. But the whole point of being a grown-up is that you engage thoughtfully and in a measured fashion. Isn’t that what separates the women from the girls? To quote from O’Neil’s piece again:

Even though someone like Olbermann may logically understand that it’s unbecoming to argue with a bunch of teenagers, the anonymity and the leveling force of social media means we’re often arguing with a figment of a person playing a role of an opponent we may be inventing in our own heads.

“It’s natural to project onto them the traits and qualities of our enemies,” [James] Rosenquist [of Mass General & Harvard Med] says.

Think about that. When we engage for the sake of it, without thinking about what we’re saying, why we’re saying it, who might be on the other end of the screen, we’re basically arguing with figments of our imagination. And that is one of the stupidest things a grown-up can do.

So how do you use social media and remain couth? Listen. Think. Engage. Or don’t. But most of all – think.

The rest will fall into place.

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps purpose-driven brands bring big ideas to life. She teaches at The Johns Hopkins University, has gone back to school herself with the Harvard Business Analytics Program, and is creator/lead instructor at The Social PR Virtuoso® online training hub , where ambitious PR pros learn how to unleash their inner Social PR superheroes. Owned by Lola the Basset Hound, she's mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

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