Social Media Taboo: How To Embrace Your Voice & Keep It Professional
This post was inspired by my speaking event for the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association.
What in the world does it mean to find "your voice" and use it on social media? And how do we do this mysterious thing while maintaining our professionalism? And, what matters more, being memorable, or being professional?
I don't believe we should avoid talking about certain topics (religion, politics, or money) on social media, but I do believe we should do so with discernment and a drive towards unity (not dissension). There are times when we speak on matters that will cause controversy and backlash even we seek unity, but I think we ought to present our case with openness and a willingness to engage on the topic. I also think certain channels are more appropriate for different categories of discussion. And Lastly, we also need to hone in our voice and approach when we're speaking on behalf of our company, which likely won't always share our values or approach.
So, how do we figure this all out?
Let's start with a story.
My Lesson Of Contextual Awareness & Engagement
In 2015, I learned the lesson of professionalism in a challenging and humiliating way. A fellow freelancer brought me onto an event-based social media team for a multi-billion dollar technology company. This company was hosting large events across the USA and other countries. My role on the project was to serve as a social media broadcaster during two events. This meant I live-tweeted information, photos, and videos about the speakers and ceremonies. We also oversaw the event booth and ran contests and conversations on social media. It was a terrific time and we were successful at both events on all tracked metrics.
After the second city, I was expecting to hear back about the next series of events I would be working on. Unfortunately, the call I got was that they appreciated my help, but they no longer wanted my services for any future events. What?! Caught off guard, I began asking questions to get answers. What did I do wrong? Everything we had done was successful on all accounts.
While my friend was resistant to giving me feedback, I urged her to share because I really wanted to know. I became anxious not knowing, and the feedback would help me change for the better. Through a confusing and muddled conversation, I got enough insight to discover what the problem was. And, what hurts the most was that it could all have been prevented by someone providing the feedback before or during the events.
When I took on this project, I was a year into freelancing and in many ways, I was coming out of "my cave". I was also coming into this context, a highly formal one, with a creative and goofy background. At these two events I was managing, I had a scruffy beard, torn up toe shoes, blue jeans (instead of dress pants), and some etiquette violations (biting my nails) all working alongside a group of people where these things mattered greatly. I didn't have a clue and after the fact, it felt like I was the emperor with no clothes. While I was aware enough to ask about some things, I wasn't aware enough to realize the context I was in, and how I needed to conduct myself regardless of any permission I was given to present and act otherwise.
To make matters worse, I did something at the end of the second event that at the time seemed like a brilliant creative idea, but in retrospect was horrifying. There was a booth at the event giving away red socks with their company brand. I thought it'd be a great idea to put the socks on, and walk around the main conference room while only wearing them (no shoes). I took pictures and videos and did fun stuff to promote what we were up to. If this was a creative marketing conference, this would have been a hit (or am I delusional?). Here, it was the worst thing I could have done and was probably the straw that broke the camel's back as it brought close attention to all of my other flaws.
After it all ended, I felt wronged especially knowing it could have all been prevented. But, it wasn't prevented and I couldn't change it. In fact, this feeling that I had no control was a big part of why it was so hard for me to accept and let it go. But, I decided to look in the mirror, improve myself and move forward.
One of the important takeaways I got from the situation was a need for understanding my context and to notice I was entering into a zone I was unfamiliar with. By paying attention, I could have altered my behavior and sought clarity on expectations. With an embarrassing moment like this, I've now got a permanent milestone to keep this in mind for future similar situations.
So, how can we learn from my experience of violating the taboo of my context for both the event and my social media activity?
We're going to explore the following eight concepts to help you tackle social media and do it in a way that helps you stay professional, although we might tote the line a little.
- Embrace Your Voice
- Make It Personal & Engaging
- Make It Life Giving (And Professional)
- Find & Create Valuable Resources: Share These
- Consistent Activity Matters, A Lot!
- Embrace Your Imperfection
- Know & Accept Personal & Corporate Differences
- Being Memorable Or Being Professional
Let's get at it!
Embrace Your Voice
The best output of a great actor is when it doesn't feel like their acting. They're doing best when they look natural in the scene. But, there's a large hurdle to jump when it comes to acting naturally. By the time an actor has arrived at their performance, they've prepared and are surrounded by cast, crew, and an audience who expects a terrific show. These pressures are what make it challenging to be a great actor and why only a few do it well.
This is similar to our voice. We need to act natural and not allow outside influences shape who we are or how we express ourselves unless it's for improvement. Simply put, be yourself and express yourself accordingly. Review what you write and constantly ask, does this reflect who I am and what I believe? How consistent is it with my behavior with other people? Am I speaking genuinely or for some other reason?
I've found myself on numerous occasions over the years changing or quieting my voice because of the fear of how others people may perceive it. Again, we can leverage this tension to refine our voice, but we need be careful to not allow it to define who we are. Our voice should assert our perspective in a clear and authentic way. If two people write about the same thing, both pieces should be unique. While the information will be the same, how they communicate it will be different in approach and delivery.
One distinct aspect of my voice revolves around unity. I care about others and work hard to bring them along. This is a core belief and it comes out in my writing. In many ways, I could be recognized as a teacher or father figure who cares about what is said and how it's presented. I'm also able to break down complicated ideas and present them in a simple, but still formal structure. These are a few attributes of my voice.
Ask people who read what you write and listen to you regularly what words they would use to describe your voice. This can be a helpful starting point to understand it better and leverage it more effectively.
Make It Personal & Engaging
When it comes to social media marketing, personal engagement is what matters most. When we attend real-life events to network or build community, we are effective when we're curious, ask questions and listen well. When we're talking, we're compelling because we have great stories, interesting insights, and we share authentically.
These same real-life principles apply on social media. People want to connect and this is true for both online and offline. On your social media profile, act curious, ask questions and comment on other messages. When others write and respond to your posts, make sure to reply. At a party, no one wants to talk with someone and be completely ignored. Yet, this happens on social media all the time. Be the one who responds.
I share an abundance of links to my social profiles, and while people do click on them and sometimes engage with the post, they usually are fairly quiet. But, when I engage instead of sharing links by asking questions or providing meaningful commentaries, the responses and engagement are exponentially higher. The key here is to pro-actively engage and respond to others. When you do, you'll find more consistent and meaningful moments with others.
Take a moment and look at your feed. Find the posts that had the most engagement and discover what about it helped make that happen.
Make It Life Giving (& Professional)
When it comes to setting guidelines for how to conduct ourselves on social media, I've got three for you.
- Don't Blame
- Don't Lazily Beg
- Don't Broadcast Cynicism or Complaints
Instead, do this...
- Take Responsibility
- Clearly & Genuinely Ask For Advice/Help
- Broadcast Hope
How we act on social media is a reflection of who we are, what we believe, and how we behave. If we're blaming other people on social media about politics, religion, or economics, we're telling the world we don't accept responsibility and instead prefer to live like a victim.
When we're subtly begging on social media for help, we're telling others we're lazy and not willing to take the initiative.
When we're constantly complaining and sharing cynical posts on social media, we're communicating life sucks and we're not going to make any effort to make it better.
When we're willing to actively do these taboo things, it's probably because it's who we are. Otherwise, we wouldn't do them. Unless someone is unaware, they're choosing to be this way. If we're willing to behave these ways in real life interactions, it's not going to change our social posts. And, if we're altering our social media behavior just to appear better than we really are, we've missed the point. We need to be authentic and willing to grow. We need to do these things because we wouldn't do them in person.
If you struggle to follow these three guidelines, I'd recommend allowing them to be an opportunity for personal growth. And, if you've got nothing good to say, it's better to say nothing at all.
"Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent." Proverbs 17:28
Take some time and ask a few of your close friends if your posts come across as blaming, lazy, or cynical. Ask them how you can improve and more effectively take responsibility, genuinely ask for help, and broadcast hope.
Find & Create Valuable Resources: Share These
An important portion of effective social media is about finding, curating and sharing wonderful resources. We're in a new and unique era where millions of people are contributing to the collective knowledge known as the internet. Articles, videos, podcasts, and impressive website are everywhere and most people have missed out on these great resources.
Regardless of whether you're creating valuable content for this online collective, you should at least be learning from it and sharing the best stuff. What helps you will help other people, so allow yourself to be a conduit of these resources. If you've got the drive to contribute, I highly recommend getting into blogging yourself.
Consistent Activity Matters, A Lot!
You, of course, have heard the story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare was fast and got ahead, but the tortoise was steady and consistent over time eventually winning the race between the two. There are no silver bullets or magic wands.
So here is the hard truth. Consistency over time is how you'll make an impact in any part of your life, and this includes social media. If you're going to make social media work, commit to a time cadence that you can stick to. The worst thing people and companies can do is start their social media and abandon it for months or years. It's better to not have started at all than to start and abandon social channels.
Ask yourself how often you can reasonably apply yourself to social media. Explore tools like Buffer to help you make it happen regularly. Tap into tools like Habitica to make sure you move the ball forward.
Embrace Your Imperfection
Unless your Donald Trump or a big brand where people are literally watching everything you write and share, you usually don't have to be concerned with mistakes or issues. They can easily be corrected or removed. In fact, noticed mistakes can actually lead to more exposure.
Dreamers get paralyzed and never start out of fear of imperfection. They spend volumes of time planning and preparing but never actually doing anything. We learn and progress forward by experimenting and learning along the way. I wrote my first book about how freelancers can flourish. There is a concept in the book I've not quite yet nailed down, but I wrote about it and presented it as best as I could. I'll have the opportunity to go back and refine it later, but I chose not to allow it to stop my book from happening.
What's something you're holding back on sharing or discussing because you haven't figured out the perfect way to communicate it? Practice sharing it regardless of the problems you see it has, but no one else notices.
Know & Accept Personal & Corporate Differences
If we're managing social media under the umbrella of a company or brand, we need to understand their voice, and how it may differ from our own. There will be times when they are one in the same, but like the example of my story above, they could be polar opposites. Spend the time to understand the brand you're representing and what guidelines you'll need to follow when planning and doing.
In my embarrassing story above, I was willing to conform for the project, I just didn't know I needed to. It was my responsibility to dig deeper than I did. I also should have spent the time to reflect on the event, the target audience, and the company to create my own filters. I could have asked myself, how does the activity I'm about to do reflect on the company I'm representing?
There are other instances where we may have to alter our voice and approach to such a degree, we're not comfortable or willing. In these cases, it's best we find out early so we can decline the project ahead of time. We don't want to find out in the middle of the project, we're not a good fit to work together.
Being Memorable Or Being Professional
A year into freelancing and I received an inquiry from a lady about a potential new freelancing project. I ended up turning into a great paying engagement. I asked her how she heard about me. Apparently five years earlier, I was meeting with someone at a Panera she knew. She was also there and said hello to her friend. While she said hello we were introduced and had a short conversation before she left. She remembered me and our conversation. Five years later, without any further interactions, her company had a need and I came to mind. I was memorable.
This was crazy to me. How was I that sticky? Unfortunately, she didn't remember or express her reasoning as to why it was so memorable, but the moment was. Here's the tricky part of my advice. We need to be professional, but sometimes being memorable matters more. But, we want to make sure how we become memorable is positive. To be both memorable requires we ride that line of professionalism, but make sure we don't go too far that we ruin our reputation like I did in my story above.
There are two things people ask me about regularly, and this includes numerous strangers. The first is my Vibram Five Finger toe shoes, the ones that partially got me in trouble from the story above (because I went too far). The second is my ginormous Republic of Gamers laptop. People see them, stop in their tracks and are compelled to say something. I had a ten-year-old boy walk up to me at Chick-Fil-A once and say, "that's a really nice laptop you got there sir."
Both my toe shoes and super-laptop are not normal, and in some cases cause people perceive me as slightly less professional as a result. But, I'm not forgettable and where the laptop and shoes start the conversation, it's who I am and what I believe that carries my moments with others long beyond the time we spent together.
Wrapping It All Up
When it comes to effectively navigating social media, let's spend the time figuring out who we are, what we believe, and how we want to convey that online with our unique voice. Make other people a priority and constantly check ourselves to make sure we're contributing to a flourishing social media ecosystem. And, along the way find some friends and partners that can help you navigate the more challenging situations that come up.