How do you use Social Media?

Most people don’t think about this much on a personal level. I am/was a huge fan of G+, and with the recent announcement that it’ll be retired next year I’ve seen a massive wave of posts about where to move to next. Many of these people sound panicked and are rushing off to make accounts on every platform they can find. I DO understand the need and desire to stay connected with the amazing people I’ve met on G+. But I’m not about to make a mad dash for every other platform out there. For one, with the issues of the last couple of years my activity on G+ has already dwindled, I’ve already found many people I met on G+ on other platforms and/or their websites, and Google’s 10-month warning will give me plenty of time to find the others. More importantly, I’ve already looked at many new platforms, and found all of them lacking.

I teach and coach local businesses how to use Social Media, and many of the concepts have parallels for personal use. I teach that Social Media are the spokes of a wheel that should be leading your customers to your website and/or place of business. How does this correlate to personal use? Honestly, with the myriad of social sites – and their faults – I hope that more people are considering starting or restarting their own blog. Put the important stuff there – your photos, your longer thoughts, the content you want full control of. As long as it doesn’t violate any laws, no one can remove it, censor it, delete it, sell it, etc. You can format as you wish, have multiple photos, text, color, font and a gazillion other options. Make it yours. Post the links to the social site(s) you belong to. Add a subscribe option and never worry about algorithms hiding your posts again. Not only that, but the people who sign up to your email are the ones most interested in what you post. You can even control who can and cannot see it by putting some (or all) posts behind a password wall, and of course you can have full control of your backups.

If you want to use Social Media to stay in touch or meet new people don’t just post the link and disappear. That’s like a door to door salesperson simply leaving a card at your front door without even trying to speak to you. Not that I want to speak to a D2D salesperson, but the reason most of us use Social Media is to connect with people. To do that you need to put yourself out there too. I try and treat interactions on Social Media like I would in-person interactions. You don’t (I hope) just walk up to strangers and say “LOOK AT MY PHOTO” and then walk away. Don’t do that on the internet either!

I see many folks legitimately concerned about the loss of their posts on Google. (Google is working on a more robust export option to the current Take-Out . This is a legitimate concern for people using any service, nothing lasts forever. Many users gave up their blogs for G+, many used Collections as a diary, or way to organize their interests. Public figures such as astronauts also used G+ to chronicle their journey to space and back. The loss of this record would be disappointing. It’s also a reminder to keep the important stuff in a place you have full control of.

Again, instead of the mad dash for new sites, I’m taking the time to think about how I use Social Media, how much, and who I follow, and where, as well as what it’s giving back to me. I use different social media sites in different ways. G+ was mostly for my love of photography. I did follow a number of scientists, foodies, and tech folks, but 99% of what I posted about was photography, so no surprise, most who followed me were also photographers or loved photography. Other sites I use for other things, or all the things. In some cases, I have both business and personal profiles and follow different people and companies with each.

Why am I on social media?

I’m there to meet and stay connected to people that I share something with. In some cases we live in the same area, in some cases with share similar interests, in some cases I want to learn, in some cases to inform. More so than any other passion, I have made some great friends through photography. I moved almost a year ago, and took that time to take a hard look at my stuff – and I got rid of a LOT of things. It’s harsh sounding to unfollow/friend/circle a human, but I use a similar strategy. For the “stuff” I had two questions – do I love the thing, did I use it in the last year? If I couldn’t say yes to one of those questions it was given away, tossed, donated, or sold. For Social Media contacts I have 3 questions:

  • Do I enjoy from this person?
  • Do I learn something from this person?
  • Does this person interact in return?

Ideally, I’d like to put a check by at least two of the above for each person/profile I connect with. If I can’t check off #1, then they’re an automatic out. Life is too short to not enjoy who you connect with online. I don’t want to shut myself into an echo chamber, but I look for reasonable people that base their posts on facts, not rumor mongering.

Why are you on Social Media?

Balance

I remember when G+ first started, I joined in the early days of Beta. It was like crack – every notification brought another amazing photographer. Comments often filled up on posts because there were real conversations there. But it also led to burn out. You can’t, or at least shouldn’t spend all day on Social Media. Stay connected, but get outside once in a while too! See people in the flesh. Pick up the phone and hear a friend or family member’s voice. One of the things I enjoyed most about those early days were the HIRL – Hangouts in Real Life. It made the digital connections all that much better.

I have removed most social media apps from my phone and tablet. This makes disconnecting easier – and also preserves more privacy as far as location. Many apps have access to your location directly, or via Wi-Fi connections. The reason why most apps default to notifications being on is obvious, it triggers a response to come back to the site/app, it trains us to open up that app every time we pick up the phone. I’d rather spend 5 minutes here and there at times of my choosing online than hours when the apps suck me in.

There have been many studies such as this posted on Psychology Today that speak to the negative effects of Social Media – more specifically over using it and chasing the “like” game as well as the constant comparing of ourselves to some staged ideal (particularly on IG).  If you look at most of the “top” posts, most are either by celebrities, people who buy likes, and/or are very very staged.  Much like with my business clients, I prefer to have the “right” likes – those from people I genuinely want to be friends with. Personally, I found a bunch of likes and views with no zero conversation unfulfilling and meaningless. Before Google took away the total views, I had some half a billion views – mostly from Chromecast. It meant absolutely nothing. I don’t know any of those people, and they likely don’t remember my name if they even saw it.

Another way to think of it is what would or could you be doing if you cut back on your time on Social Media? Lack of time seems to be a common excuse why we don’t do things. Would you spend time with your family? Go for more walks? Learn something new? Go out to dinner with friends? I’m not suggesting to cut social media entirely, but use your time wisely and focus on the real friendships not the ephemeral ones.

What and How do you share on Social Media

I have become much more careful and private about what I share. This is in part to realizing how much companies mine our data, various data breaches, and the whackos of the internet. I periodically look at the info that the sites have collected about me and purge it. To be honest it’s usually very inaccurate! But it’s also eye opening, especially if you haven’t done it in a while, if ever. To do so click here for Facebook and here for Twitter  – and scroll to Interests and Ads Data. In that section there will be several views to check out – look at them all, as well as request the advertiser list!

Another reason to think about what you post online is your career. More and more employers and clients will look you up on social media before hiring. Do you really want them seeing that you go out for drinks every single night? Do you want them seeing ranting about a previous boss/company? Do you want them seeing your online spats?

Unless I’m photographing from a well known vista point I know longer reveal locations of my photos. I’ll say something vague such as “Stanislaus National Forest”, but that’s it. Too many beautiful places have been damaged or destroyed by people who care more about the photo than the experience of being in nature or respecting it. This time of year the masses descend on the Eastern Sierras to photograph the aspens. The main roads into each side valley are clogged with cars, often parked in the middle of the road! There are still quiet places to go, I’m going to do my part to keep them that way. I’ve never understood the need to go to the exact spot that 92,384,230,984 other photographers have been. Part of the lure of landscape photography for me is exploring and learning about a place. Landscape photography without context is hollow.

WHAT DO I LOOK FOR IN SOCIAL MEDIA SITES?

Most of the people I follow there are photographers and artists. Some are professional, some semi-pro, some are enthusiasts. But it doesn’t matter what “level” you are – or if you don’t even consider yourself a photographer. Even if you never intend to post a photo READ THE TERMS OF SERVICE. With all of the news Facebook has made in regards to Cambridge Analytica and other breaches, not to mention Google’s recent announcement of a back door into G+ this shouldn’t need to be repeated. Yet I see folks shilling services that are very invasive of user’s privacy and rights.

Quality content is obviously important, as are good search tools and interface. But the first things I look at are behind the scenes.

WHERE ARE THE SERVERS?

Why is does this matter? Some countries do not enforce copyright laws despite being signers of the Berne Convention. Whether you are a casual mobile photographer, or a full time pro, your photographs are automatically copyrighted. Your incentive to protect that may vary, but your photos are YOURS. Perhaps you don’t want to be a professional photographer now, but maybe you will in the future. You can’t always take back what you posted on a sketchy site. One site in particular says they can’t guarantee that even if you delete and close your account that they’ll delete all of your work off their servers. Huge red flag for me, and I’m not sure how that’ll fly with GDPR and the EU’s right to be forgotten. Another site mentioned often says:

“When you delete your content, we will request those other pods to also delete the content. Our responsibility on the content being deleted from those other pods ends here. If for some reason, some other pod does not delete the content, we cannot be held responsible.”

Often the response when I mention this is “it’s the internet, don’t post if you don’t want it stolen”. This is a copout, sorry. And it is very different than a service that doesn’t enforce or fully delete content when requested, or a site that encourages downloading of other’s content via a button or other built in tool.

The other issue with some countries is censorship. This varies by country too, but if you ever post anything political, nudes (even implied nudity), or LGBT related, your posts could be taken down.

PRIVACY

This shouldn’t need to be repeated after all the recent breaches and data mining reports. But if you quit Facebook because of the invasiveness, why replace it with something else equally questionable? If you’re installing an app on your phone what are the permissions required? Are they consistent with what’s need to run/use it? See “How Does the Company Make Money”, below for more thoughts on Privacy.

PERSONAL SECURITY

Does the site have a block function and how effective is it? Not having a block feature is a deal breaker for me. The vast majority of people I’ve met online are fantastic humans. But there are bad apples that I’ve had to block for various reasons. On a related note – easy reporting of posts and profiles that violate the TOS and swift action is also important to me. Instagram is one of the best at this. I normally get a follow up message within a couple of days that thanks me for the report and tells me the action taken. I love this.

ABILITY TO SORT FRIENDS/FOLLOWERS/AUDIENCE

I am an organizer. I like being able to sort people based on how close of a connection they are to me, and by the types of posts they make. G+’s Circles had great potential that was never fully realized. Twitter has lists, Facebook has lists, but they are buried deep. The interesting thing about Twitter’s lists is you don’t actually have to follow the profile, just add them to a list and read that list. Facebook’s lists allow you to allow or prevent details about you – for example you may only want your closest friends to see personal details. Likewise going to a certain list(s) allows you to make sure you are staying in touch with those really important to you. An added benefit to this, is posts are now in order, not subject to annoying algorithms. Is it work to setup? Yes. It’s worth it to me. Facebook and G+’s lists/circles allow you to set different privacy and audience settings for each group. This is great if you have a mix of close friends, colleagues, family, casual friends, and neighbors as social media contacts.

HOW DOES THE COMPANY MAKE MONEY?

The points above may evolve over time depending on how the company is structured. How a company makes money now – and what their plans are in the future are very important. Do you want to spend time building up content and contacts on a site that’s just a startup hoping someone bigger buys them (and likely makes significant changes?). Instagram has dramatically changed, mostly for the worse, since they were bought by Facebook.

There was an interesting discussion about the idea of running a paid social media site on G+  As consumers we’ve always wanted and expected social media to be free. But we traded in cash for our data. Always look at how a company is making money, at least one of the following should be true:

  • They are selling your data to outside parties
     • They are selling ads
     • They are charging you
     • They are being supported by another division of the company
     • They are not sustainable

I’m always suspicious of the sites that are free, claim to honor your privacy and don’t sell ads. That’s not a good business model, chances are they are a startup and will sell off at some point (probably to someone who will sell ads or your data – again this is why server location, and ability to fully delete your account are so important – such as with 500px selling to a Chinese based company). If they are relying on another branch (such as with G+) to support them financially, then eventually the accountants win and/or your data is mined. Google may not have directly sold information, but it most certainly gathered it and made internal use of it.

WHO IS REALLY IN CHARGE?

One place many are flocking to is not a stand-alone platform, but a loose collection of independent servers. Is this really where you want your data? Do you know where these servers are, what sort of security is on them, who has access, what sort of training and experience the people creating the units have? One such person who set one up couldn’t even tell me where the server was – I’m not even sure the person knew virtual servers have a real physical location. That’s not a place I trust to protect my information. To a lesser degree is it a person, or a business – what sort of liability do they have?

Security is a tricky thing. I get why people are suspicious of the big companies because of the recent breaches. But these companies also have teams of engineers working to prevent this. Hacking will happen, it doesn’t matter how big or small a company is, they are a target. I’m interested in how companies respond when it does. (most fail horribly in this regard). Again, this is why location of the servers matters. If it’s in the US and/or EU stricter laws govern than if located in some other areas.

Where am I going?

After looking at all the suggested sites as an alternative to G+, I’m passing on all the new ones. None make it through my checklist of “musts”. I still use Facebook and Twitter, once in a while Instagram, although that’s less and less. I still have a Flickr account which I’m keeping and hoping SmugMug does something cool with it. I haven’t posted there in quite a while, but I do follow some people there and often go there for inspiration. I understand why many are flocking to the next big thing, I just hope they take the time to look into them fully.

Do I wish there was a viable alternative to Facebook? Absolutely. For a few years G+ was a great alternative full of potential. Sadly that potential was never realized.

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