Going Down the Rabbit Hole of Social Media

Hash tags and @ signs and followbacks! Oh my!

To give this context, I was born in 1983, got my first cell phone in 1999, my first computer in 2001 and had already graduated college when YouTube launched.

I remember when Facebook came out in 2004 and we undergrads at Georgia Tech were begging for it to be extended from Ivy League schools to all colleges. I remember telling all my friends to get on this new thing because, well, everyone else had it. I had absolutely no idea what the future had in store for us. As the years went on, it became common to unfriend someone you liked, or friend someone you didn’t. Blocking, poking, status updates, privacy and the news feed became household vocabulary. Suddenly, people cared whose photos you liked or commented on. Luckily I never dated or broke up on Facebook, but I watched as my friends had to endure the train wreck that was their profile page after a break-up. God forbid I comment on someone’s ex-boyfriend’s photo even if he was a photographer and it was a badass pic. Facebook was like an inescapable social mine-field.

My 10 year class reunion was like an episode from the Twilight Zone. I pretty much knew who was coming (the entire thing was organized on FB), what they were up to and what they looked like. All that was left was for the social interaction to take place. Good thing we had all those stupid small-talk topics out of the way! Now we could get down to real business…..Yeah, you can imagine how that went.

Aaawwwkward.

Turns out, we haven’t evolved socially at the same rate as our technology, and small talk is kind of fundamental to a conversation you’re going to have with someone you haven’t seen in 10 years. Yeah, so there’s that.

With the social network explosion of the first decade of the 21st century, I neglected to sign up for any social networks other than Facebook and email. I was completely and totally overwhelmed. I avidly avoided Instagram and Twitter, protested even LinkedIn and any iPhone apps that required an email login. I even kept Gchat signed off most of the time and only used Skype when I had to make overseas calls. Until this year, I didn’t even know what WhatsApp, MagicJack, Voxer, Viber, TextPlus and SnapChat were. And while I was hibernating, things were changing.

I had had the luxury of not caring about social networks because I, like many ostriches, was hiding my head in the sand. Well, the proverbial sand of academia. I hopped around from university to university teaching as an adjunct, always gaining employment by word of mouth. I really had little need for self-promotion. I had a solid CV and all the networking I needed was a few cover letters or PhD applications. Fast forward to 2012.

I had started my own business doing all things Spanish language related. After my epiphany regarding my career choices, I was determined to make a living online: tutoring, teaching and writing. Suddenly, I found myself in a place I thought I’d never be in. I was someone who not only had to learn how to do business, but to self-promote as well. It was terrifying and it took me a solid 5 months to get up the courage to launch my website. Once I had done it, though, the support was rolling in. I had started basic with an email blast and a Facebook post. Spurred on by the confidence that my new-found support brought me, I continued to expand my growing little empire.

I got on Twitter, made a Facebook page for my business, begged my father for some pro bono graphic design work, bought website domain names, business cards, etc. I started easy, with LinkedIn, and signed up with confidence. Before I even could create a profile, that sneaky little bastard had tricked me into allowing it to spam everyone I’ve ever known. I started getting contacts and endorsements immediately. I had NO idea what the hell was going on. I hadn’t invited anyone! I asked my husband to check his email and he confirmed that I had invited him to LinkedIn, not once, but twice. Hurray! I raced to complete my profile, knowing people would probably log in and check it. There was no way to turn off the emails that came when someone accepted you as a contact. Hurray again! I laughed and thought about how blessed I was to have so many contacts, friends, support, opportunities and education.

My first experience with Twitter was one of complete confusion. It seemed so chaotic! I had never been to the site before, but I knew that you could find people with the @ symbol and categorize posts with the #. I had no idea what a retweet was or why you would quote someone else’s tweet. I didn’t know what “@connect” was until someone “tweeted at me” and I was utterly blown away when someone followed me, I followed him, and then low and behold, he could send me private messages. Good Lord!

I decided to plug my blog and sent out a tweet. Nothing. A few hours went by. Another tweet. Not shit. A few days later, I was trying to plug a particular post on my blog (the one with the most “swag”, you know), and I tweeted my blog link at Calle 13 (@Calle13Oficial). For those of you don’t know who Calle 13 is, you probably don’t speak Spanish. If you speak Spanish and still don’t know, you have been hiding under a rock. This duo is my musical, academic and linguistic obsession and has been the subject of many of my writings, examples, cultural lessons, linguistic studies and musical interests for years. I had no idea what I had done by tweeting at him until I checked my email about 10 minutes later. I hadn’t set the email preferences for Twitter yet, so I was getting one for every follower, retweet and favorite. I found out that Residente had retweeted me to 4.5 million people. Now I was FAMOUS! After some screaming and yelling, jumping up and down and expecting to get a call from Good Morning America the next morning, I sat down to watch the fame roll in via my blog stats. Well, not quite. That retweet only got me about 50 followers and all of them happened within 30 minutes. After that, I was old news. I actually had some success with a tweet 6 days later that he also retweeted, which got me another 60 followers, but that was the extent of my 15 minutes (more like 6 seconds) of “fame”. Overall, it brought about 1000 hits to my sites.

My experience with Instagram wasn’t very different. First of all, I hadn’t realized that I even had Instagram on my phone until I went to the app store to download it. I had one picture uploaded and no followers. My account was private. All was well. Why did I ever change those settings?

I began posting pictures and following friends or people I knew. I kept having to click some green check mark so they could follow me. I didn’t understand that my account was private for like 2 weeks. Then I made it public and just waited for the followers to come rolling in. They didn’t. I looked at other people’s pages and wondered how ordinary people had 700,000 followers. I followed people, but they didn’t follow me back. I saw that my cousin was pretty “popular”, so I took a page from his book. I saw hash tags in his caption lines. I didn’t understand most of them, so my old ass googled them. Turns out, there is a whole world of hash tags that you have to participate in, in order for people who aren’t following you on Instagram to see you. Is this sounding like a horrible nightmare of trying to fit in with the popular kids in high school? The movie, Mean Girls, perhaps? I had to remind myself that this was research, for work, very academic in nature, and I was not to take it seriously. But why weren’t they following me back, I whined to myself! The sickness had begun. But, I digress.

I found this app called Tags for Likes and downloaded it. Now I could conveniently copy and paste a slew of hash tags to my Instagram photos and beg for attention like all the other millions of people who use them. I went and found all my most awesome pictures from the past 6 years and geared up for posting. The first picture I posted, I used the “most popular” tags. Success! Tons of followers! I tried again. More followers! This was becoming addicting. I jumped on the narcissism train proceeded to get lost in the downward spiral that was liking other people’s pictures, following them, tagging, being tagged, posting, posting, posting. I started dreaming in hash tags. So many hash tags! I lost followers, gained followers, chatted with people in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain, France, Albania, the UK, Sweden, Thailand, China, etc. I even took a picture if myself using the bathroom mirror. I stopped myself from posting it just in time 😉

At the time of writing this, I’m still figuring it all out. Since this is way over 160 characters and I’ve learned that no one has an attention span for more than that, I’ll keep it short. Here is a summary of what I’ve learned from these crazy networks. If you’re not already on there with a purpose, STAY THE HELL OFF! Save yourselves! But if you do get on any of those networks, follow me! Give me a shout out! Retweet me! #justkidding #pathetic

Facebook: Language and Culture Solutions

Twitter: @profesoramadera

Instagram: @shley8583

My major concerns:

  • CHILDREN. CHILDREN. CHILDREN! There are so many on Instagram! It took one single little click for me to make my profile public. My photos get an average of 30-40 likes with the hash tags attached. Girls and boys that are under 16 seem to get over ten times that amount. Do you know who your children are connecting with? Forget texting, email, Facebook and phones. This is what you need to restrict!
  • Addiction: Um, yes, I myself need to go to rehab. Instagram, especially, is crack.
  • Psychology: There are some really good looking people out there. Don’t look at Instagram too long or you’ll expect everyone to be beautiful, perfect, airbrushed and flirty. And with a filter. But #nofilter of course.
  • Ineffective: Twitter doesn’t always grow your business. Social networks create popularity, but do not necessarily generate revenue. I’m not giving up though!
  • TODAY (12/17/2012), Instagram changed its terms and conditions. They can now sell your photos to a third party for profit or advertising. Minors are not exempt. Article here.

Benefits as I see them:

  • Self-promotion: My website traffic spikes more from personal emails than Facebook. More from Facebook than from Twitter. More from Twitter than from Instagram. I think they are all important for your online “image”, but don’t become obsessed.
  • Learning: You can learn a lot about the world, feel super connected to the news, learn more about the personalities of your favorite celebrities, see pictures from all over the globe, learn languages from the comments and expand your ideas.

Interesting articles to read for either a psychological perspective on this matter or if you want to use these to grow your business:

Thanks for reading. Now go update your Facebook status or tweet this article 🙂

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