I resolved to eat better and exercise more. I resolved to be a better husband, father and son. I resolved to read more, swear less, do more community service, and so on.
Over the years, I’ve made some great New Year’s resolutions. Some stuck, but many didn’t.
This year, my New Year’s resolution is to be a better social media user.
For someone who researches and writes about social media, you might think this would be an easy task, maybe even a cop-out (in fact, I probably should be eating better and exercising more).
But the truth is, we can all be better social media users. To be better with social media might mean learning a new social media skill, or maybe it means using less social media.
My social media resolution is a bit different, however. This year, I’ve resolved to be better by being a more “positive” social media user.
To be a positive social media user requires a few basic strategies.
Let your first post each day be a positive one.
You log on to Facebook first thing in the morning only to be greeted by a slew of political rants or nasty commentaries that make you angry. Rather than respond with your own perspective that perpetuates that negative social media spiral, post your own pro-social status update. Say something positive about someone in your life, post an uplifting image or video, or find an inspirational quote. It doesn’t mean that every post has to be positive and inspiring — just the first one.
Follow more positive people.
On Twitter, it’s easy to find people who use social media for pro-social reasons. Consider following people such as the @DalaiLama or alternative medicine guru @DeepakChopra for inspirational quotes and advice. Retweet and pass the positive messages on to others.
Encourage others to be positive social media users.
Positive posts are infectious. Without being condescending, you can embolden others to be upbeat by simply posting motivational words. For example, when I see a negative post about living in Youngstown, I now post an optimistic YouTube video about living here in an effort to refocus the conversation on the great aspects of our region.
Build stronger connections with social media followers.
Our lives are not mundane. Our lives are, at times, interesting and even entertaining. Posts that focus on our family and friends give others insight into our personal lives. These positive posts help us connect with others. Be open to these connections, build new networks, rekindle old friendships, and learn more about others. We are predisposed to want to know more about others, to have stronger connections to those around us — even if those around us are many miles away. Social media helps us cultivate those connections.
If you’re willing to join me in this resolution, let me know what you think. Have ideas on how to be a positive social media user? Do these strategies make sense? What advice would you give?
Send me a tweet at @adamearn or post a response here.
~ A version of this post appeared in the Sunday, December 28, 2014 edition of The Vindicator.
I missed my calling as a National Football League coach. Evidence for this comes from my uncanny ability to manage players and win games, albeit with a fantasy football team.
But in reality, I don’t have enough of an understanding of defenses, offenses and all of the other aspects of football to make be a great coach.
So why play fantasy football?
For many people like me, it has as much to do with the social connections we can build through playing the “fantasy” game as it does watching the “real” game.
“People play for the camaraderie and social aspects of [fantasy sports], particularly those who aren’t really as involved with the sport,” said John Spinda, fantasy sports researcher and professor of communication at Clemson University.
Over the last 15 years, the Internet and, in particular, social media have contributed to the growth in fantasy sports participation.
According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, about 42 million people in North America participated in fantasy sports in 2014. Nearly 33 million participated in fantasy football last year.
Andrew Billings, the Ronald Reagan Chair of Broadcasting at the University of Alabama, noted that fantasy sports players had higher levels of social interaction when compared to traditional sports fans.
For the most part, this fantasy sports social connection is cultivated through the Internet and social media.
“The majority of adult males still watch sports alone, so the interaction comes via technology,” Billings said.
Billings also noted that these social interactions during fantasy games are more likely to take place with friends, family and co-workers.
Beyond the social aspect, people also play because they like having a sense of ownership, the excitement of playing and, of course, the bragging rights for winning.
“It’s a fun way to give others grief over decisions and brag about their teams,” Spinda said.
Bragging flourishes in social media.
Social media connections have made it easier for people to talk about their fantasy teams and players, get advice for managing teams, and for many fantasy owners, build stronger relationships with fellow fantasy owners.
Much of the research of sports fans reveals that people watch sports to escape the pressures of life (i.e., work, family, etc.). But Billings and his colleague, Brody Ruihley at University of Cincinnati, found that fantasy sports owners didn’t feel a sense of escape. This might be because they’re playing with friends and family — people they see every day.
“It’s really the family, friend, co-worker angle that makes this unique,” Billings said. “There’s no high-fiving a stranger when your fantasy team wins.”
Sports has always provided the ability to escape from the mundane. The idea of two teams lining up to compete, the conflict playing out for fans throughout world, provides that safe escape.
Fantasy sports enhances this experience. It creates networks based on the love of the sport and provides camaraderie. It solidifies friendships and helps those who play develop a shared history of experience.
In reality, I might not make for a very good professional football coach. But for a few hours a week, I can escape reality and become the Mike Ditka of fantasy football. All while being surrounded by friends and family, both offline and on.
~ A version of this column appeared in the "Connected" section of the Sunday, December 21, 2014 issue of The Vindicator.
Small business owners sometimes get visibly uncomfortable when I bring up the idea of using social media to engage customers. They see the power of social media to reach people, but they claim they don’t have the time, energy or resources to use it effectively.
Enter the social media management system, or SMMS.
Shelby Cunningham, interactive media coordinator at Hudson Fasteners, is a big proponent of using SMMSs, whether it’s for a small business or managing personal accounts.
“If you’re managing not only multiple social media channels [i.e., Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+] but also multiple accounts within those channels, it’s a great option,” Cunningham said. “And you can manage more than one business.”
Cunningham’s favorite SMMS is Sprout Social. Sprout Social has easy-to-use tools for customer engagement, and for measuring the success of your social media messages.
Still, one complaint a lot of entrepreneurs have about using social media is time. The general complaint is that there are not enough hours in the day to “do” social media and effectively manage other facets of the business (finances, human resources, traditional marketing, etc.).
And that’s the very reason SMMSs such as Sprout Social were created: to save time. The best part, however, is that they save time while getting results.
“[Sprout Social] makes it easy to stay organized and never miss anything that’s going on with your accounts,” Cunningham said. “It’s very straightforward. I found that other platforms can be overwhelming and cluttered, but the look and design of Sprout [Social] is clean and simple.”
Like other SMMSs (and there are several), Sprout Social can’t be expected to do it all. For example, Cunningham can’t connect a YouTube channel to Sprout Social.
“I also feel a little limited in that I can’t connect a LinkedIn group or company page [only a personal profile], a feature I hope to see them add in the future,” Cunningham said.
And if you’re looking for an SMMS for personal accounts, Sprout Social may not be the answer.
“Sprout Social has awesome scheduling and reporting features that would be beneficial even for your personal accounts,” Cunningham added. “But unless you’re managing 10 or more feeds, there are other options.”
Easy To Learn
The real power behind Sprout Social might be in its simple, but powerful, user interface. You don’t have to be a social media wizard to figure out how to use it.
Cunningham said, “Sprout Social offers plenty of resources, support, videos, webinars.”
“They provide awesome in-depth analytics, and they help you understand and make the most of your efforts.”
This is not to suggest Sprout Social is the only SMMS available. In fact, do a quick search of “social media management” and you’ll lots of great options for managing your feeds and engaging your online audience.
“If blogging is a big part of your social media game, HubSpot is a great tool,” Cunningham said. “They also have a lot of great social media tips and information, even for people who aren’t paying customers.”
~ A version of this column appeared in the "Connected" section of the Sunday, December 14, 2014 issue of The Vindicator.
I'm a fan of the owner of Patti Finelli's School of Dance. Finelli has the patience of a saint, a requirement for anyone trying to teach my daughters to dance (or do anything). After nearly 40 years of owning her own business, she has a pretty solid clientele.
In 2011, she ventured onto Facebook and created a page for her business with the help of one of her tech-savvy teachers. She makes the occasional post and does so more as a way to communicate with parents than to drum up new business.
"I'm pretty good at making posts to Facebook and sending messages to parents," Finelli said. "But I'm really still trying to figure out social media."
Finelli's not alone. In fact, we’re all still trying to figure out social media — even the social media experts.
Many of us are trying to learn social media, but think that A) it will take too much time, B) it will take too much of an effort, and C) it will change as soon as we learn how to use it.
Steve Krug, a Web usability guru and author of the best-selling "Don’t Make Me Think," is most famous (at least to me) for his "3 Facts of Web Use." Although Krug offers these "facts" for understanding how we use Web-based information, I think they're easily adaptable to understanding how we learn to use social media.
1. We don’t read social media posts. We scan them. Like websites, this is mostly true of social media and our lengthy lists of tweets, images and videos.
Think about it. The last time you were on Facebook, did you scan the news feed until you found a friends post to like or comment? Krug notes that we do this because we’re usually in a hurry, scanning helps us quickly find relevant morsels of information, and we’re good at it.
2. We don’t make optimal social media choices. We satisfice. The term "satisfice" is a portmanteau of "satisfy" and "suffice," and it means we don't spend time contemplating our options. Satisficing is selecting the first plausible option.
With Finelli's social media options, Facebook probably satisfices until she's ready to branch out and learn more. Why? Like scanning, we're in a hurry to learn how to use social media. Based on Krug's facts for using Web pages, there's no penalty for guessing and choosing the wrong social media option, and sometimes guessing is more fun.
3. We don’t figure out how social media works. We muddle through. This is true for most casual social media users. Learning to use social media may not be that important to some of us, but we're intrigued by the connections we can make.
As Krug notes, with most technology, we don't spend time reading directions. We just dive in. Once we figure out how a new social media option works, we stick with it.
Learning how to use social media requires a little patience, something Finelli has in spades. But it takes time, comes with little risk, and can be fun.
~ A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, December 7, 2014 edition of The Vindicator.
My son turned 2 a few weeks ago. Like most proud parents, I used his birthday as an opportunity to go back through my social media feeds to see photos of him over the past two years, and to relive important milestones.
As I was looking back at these posts, I didn’t stop with the birth of my son. Once I started scrolling and clicking in Facebook and Twitter, I was able to access even older posts of family, friends and random, off-the-wall quips.
This required a lot of scrolling and clicking, and the occasional lag time was kind of frustrating
Enter Timehop, an app for mobile devices that acts as an archive of old social media posts and photos. Users connect social media platforms and compile all the results for a specific day. Although the app has been around since 2011, it reached the one million download status for iOS (Apple) devices in 2014. The Android version was launched in March.
Timehop quickly streamlined my year-to-date search of photos of my son.
Whether you’re a social media enthusiast or a casual user, Timehop is a great app for your social media toolbox. Once you activate the app, you can easily link it to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Foursquare accounts as well as photos you might be storing in a Dropbox account or on your phone.
One side note: When linking to your Twitter account to Timehop, you’ll need to go to your Twitter account page and download an archive of your tweets, and then upload that archive to Timehop.
When I was looking back at old posts using Timehop, I saw photos of important events over the past few years of my life. There were posts from old friends that I haven’t talked to in years and funny things that I had written. By the lack of shares and retweets, they were obviously much funnier to me than my social media friends and followers.
This is when it struck me: Using social media is not just about what my friends are saying right now, or what I’m going to post in the next day or two. Using social media can also be about the history of my personal life, and the lives of my family and friends.
I get to relive the birth of each of my kids. I get to see pictures of my dad (he’s been gone for a couple years now). I get to look at the old photos that people have been putting online for Throwback Thursdays (if you don’t know what Throwback Thursday is, do a quick search of Facebook or Twitter using the hashtag #TBT).
Every post to a Facebook page or Twitter account is just one more entry in our social media autobiographies. You don’t have to be a famous person or even a particularly good writer or photographer to create a record of your existence.
And if these social media accounts help us draft our autobiographies, Timehop certainly helps us turn the pages.
~ A version of this article appeared in the Sunday, November 30, 2014 issue of The Vindicator.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is special assistant to the provost and professor of communication in the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes on a variety of topics including communication technologies, relationships, and sports (with an emphasis on fandom). His work has appeared in Mahoning Matters as well as The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers.