Use social media like a pro

While on a road trip with his daughter, a video director I once worked with named Wyatt Neumann took and posted some candid photos of his daughter being a kid. And because kids aren't the most modest of creatures, in some of these photos she wasn't fully clothed.  While the photos Neumann took were intimate, his audience wasn't. Anyone could view, comment on, and use his photos however they pleased. And they did. Before long, he found his Instagram account shut down and himself accused of exploiting his child in the most horrific of ways. His images and the ire they inspired is now the subject of an art show and book, but in the immediate aftermath, he was clearly caught off guard. 

While most of us will never find ourselves in Neumann's position, the ability to publish our most intimate and mundane moments to a potentially unlimited audience is not without its more common pitfalls – from revealing private and potentially damaging information to people you don't know to annoying the people you do know. As a writer and consultant, I advise brands on how to get the most benefit and the least damage out of the content they share online. When my daughter was born, I realized that the same advice I gave my clients could help our family, as well.

Here are five strategies we decided to use.

1. Ask yourself: Why am I posting?
I always ask my clients what their goals are, so we can figure out which communication tools will help them achieve them. The same goes for individuals and families. Someone whose goal is to keep in touch with far-flung loved ones should be using social media very differently from someone who is trying to get a job. So before you post anything anywhere, ask yourself, does sharing this help me accomplish my goals?  If the answer is no, then perhaps you should keep it to yourself. 

2. Segment your audience
Does the person who went to high school with 15 years ago really need to know how bad traffic was this morning? Could broadcasting your political views hurt your career? Smart businesses speak to loyal customers very differently than they speak to prospects. It’s called audience segmentation is a good policy for personal communications, as well. 

One way to segment your audience is to use different sites in different ways. I find that Facebook is great for keeping in touch with people, so when I have a truly noteworthy update, I post it there. Twitter, on the other hand, is a great place to share my ideas and announce work. Mixing it up can be dangerous. Just ask Anthony Weiner, who might still have a political career if he’d chosen, say, SnapChat instead of his very public Twitter account for his sexual liaisons. 

In addition, most social media sites will let you create groups so you can share different types of posts with different people. For example, when I want to share something that's happening in my life on Facebook, I only share it with people I've designated as my "inner circle," whereas I spare everyone but my professional contacts posts about my latest work projects. 

3. Know the difference between push and pull.
Social media is what's known as "push" media, because you're broadcasting (or pushing) your information out to a group of people on a site they already visit. Websites, blogs, and some photo sites are "pull" media, because you need to pull people in for them to see your content. When you have a big announcement to make – new job, new baby, new wife – push is a good tactic to make sure everyone hears about it. More intimate stuff is better reserved for pull. The people who really want to know your political views or see all 300 of your vacation photos will make the effort to visit the site you published them to. Everyone else will remain blissfully unaware. 

4. Set rules.
All brands have rules around how they express themselves visually and verbally. Most parents set rules for their kids, but everyone benefits from setting and following guidelines. These can range from common sense, like never post after you've been drinking, to personal ones like not using your kid for your profile image. These rules can extend to other people, as well. You can (and should) prevent people from tagging you without your permission. You can block friends from posting to your wall. Remember: only so much is in your control, so one rule that everyone should follow is this: never share anything that you wouldn't be comfortable with the whole world seeing.

4. Practice moderation.
Ultimately we share things on social media because we want to draw attention to ourselves or to whatever it is we're posting about. If you've ever hidden someone for posting too frequently or unsubscribed to an email newsletter that arrived every day (or more), then you already know that posting all the time is a great way to get ignored.  Posting less often will not only force you to think through what you share, but it will also mean that when you do have something say, the people who want to hear it will be more likely to listen.

5. Think through the consequences. 
Snapchat aside, sharing information has never been easier, or more permanent. Which means that everyone has to think about what they post today in terms of what it could say about them years and even decades down the line. We've all seen the fallout from public figures or companies sharing poorly thought-out posts online. And most parents warn their kids about the potentially damaging effects of having a permanent record of youthful exploits made public. But we all get older and change our perspective over time. While we can't always predict the future, just as Neumann couldn't have possibly predicted how his innocent photos would be misinterpreted, with a little imagination it is possible to guess and make conscious choices to protect yourself not only today but in the future.

Happy sharing!



Why I (un)subscribe

Every few months or so I go on an "unsubcribe bender," where I go through the process of removing myself from nearly every email newsletter I receive. It's amazing how many of these lists I manage to get on, even though I never willingly "opt in."  But there are a few lists that I've decided to stay on.  As I work on my first ever email blast, I've been thinking about when and why I decide not to remove myself. 

First off, there are some excellent data-driven marketing agencies out there who will optimize and personalize every email sent, by which I mean, they will make sure the button on your email is in the location where it's most likely to get clicked and that whatever offer is being made is based on something relevant like, say, the recipient's past  purchasing behavior. These services are useful when you're an automaker or online retailer with a very large subscriber base. But what about the rest of us?

Every month or so I get an email from Tribeca Pediatrics, where I take my daughter. It's clearly the same email that goes out to the thousands of parents who bring their kids to this practice that has offices around New York City. But I usually read it because the newsletter always addresses something I actually care about: the latest weird sickness that's going around the playground and what to do about it.

From the warm greeting and cute picture to  the information about an illness going around and local event, this email manages to be relevant even without being personal.

From the warm greeting and cute picture to  the information about an illness going around and local event, this email manages to be relevant even without being personal.

I get other emails from them leading up to my daughter's checkups that include ge-based advice and tips. The tone is always friendly and many of these messages include something written by one of the practice's doctors. With just a little information about me and the world I'm raising my kid in, and an inclusive, human tone, this pediatric practice manages to keep me interested.

Compare that to an email I just received from Weill-Cornell Medical Center, one of several places I go to for routine medical care. The subject line reads, "Keep Yourself & Your Family Healthy" and goes on to explain to me what a primary care physician is and why I should have one. I realize there are people out there for whom the existence of a general practitioner will be news, but not many. And if someone needs such a doctor and doesn't have one, the impersonal, perfunctory tone of this email is hardly going to persuade them.

The message that this perfunctory email actually sends is how little Weill Cornell cares about me and my family's health.

The message that this perfunctory email actually sends is how little Weill Cornell cares about me and my family's health.

My guess is that the purpose of this email was not to help me at all, but to help some administrator tick a box that reads, "patient education and outreach." So that email I received may have served its purpose, in theory at least, but what I see is a missed opportunity to actually, you know, educate and reach out to patients. Worse than a missed opportunity, the email I got sends the message that, in fact, Weill-Cornell doesn't give a rat's ass about my well-being. It doesn't seem to know anything about me. And, yes, I immediately jumped to the bottom of the email to unsubscribe. 

You don't need rocket science to send out an email that gets read and actually supports your business' goals and mission, but you do need a little information about who you're speaking to and a little imagination to bring your message to life.

Incidentally, if going on an unsubscribe bender of your own doesn't sound profoundly satisfying to you, there are some great online services to do this for you.