The three things I most want to feel in my life are love, joy, and belonging. Belonging requires a sense of community. And community doesn’t appear out of nowhere. It takes work to build community or to become a part of existing communities.
I use my social media channels to foster a sense of community in different ways. In publishing how I use each platform differently, my hope is that it might inspire you to use social media as a positive influence in your life as well. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you manage it well.
I primarily follow three groups of people on Twitter:
- My closest family and friends
- People in the Portland startup/tech community
- People of color and women in startups/tech
The first group is obvious. The second two are intentional uses of Twitter to get exposed to communities that I want to learn from. These communities are aligned with my professional and personal goals.
I follow people in the Portland startup community to better understand the environment here in the city. While I work remotely, it’s important to me to be part of the local community. By following people in the city, I know when events are happening, who the connectors are, and what interesting companies are up to.
In the process, I’ve gotten connected to a variety of great humans, some of whom have turned into friends or professional connections.
I follow people of color and women in startups and tech because I want to build the kind of company that is welcoming to people of all backgrounds. The number of times I find myself reading books, browsing articles, having conversations, and being followed by other 30-4o something white, straight, males is disheartening.
It takes concerted effort to get outside of our natural networks and try to understand the reality people from backgrounds unlike our own live in each day. While this is imperfect, it helps me get out of my own head and privilege on a regular basis. My goal here is to understand how to build a more diverse company, how to lead more inclusively, and to build a personal network of humans who don’t come from the same background as me.
In total, I follow about 250 people right now as I work to build stronger and more meaningful connections in these communities. I find following a smaller group of humans means I can more meaningfully come to know their perspectives and their work.
A few questions for you:
- How many people do you follow today? Who are they? Can you divide them into cohesive communities? What inspired you to follow these people?
- Are you following the kinds of people that will inspire you to reach your current goals?
- If you were to wipe the slate clean, what communities would you want to be a part of? Who should you follow to make that possible?
Facebook is for friends. There’s not much else to it. If I want to keep up with a person regardless of my professional connection to them, I friend them on Facebook.
When someone I don’t know or don’t feel a close connection to sends me a friend request, I follow a simple process:
- Accept their friend request
- Move them from “Friends” to “Acquaintances”
- Unfollow them
I’m more than happy to be connected to many people — customers, readers, loose connections, etc. At the same time, I don’t want to carry the mental burden of trying to actively keep up with hundreds or thousands of people on Facebook.
By following this process, I’m able to limit my timeline to posts from people I am intentionally trying to stay in touch with. I’m also able to limit my own posts to specific groups of people.
Posting to friends includes only the people I want to stay in close touch with. Posting to friends + acquaintances means I can share more broadly regardless of our connection. And posting publicly means I can share with anyone who might follow me.
The one thing that would make Facebook much more useful would be the ability to remove birthdays of acquaintances from the built in birthday calendar. While I hope everyone I’m connected to has a happy birthday, I particularly would love a filter so that I could more easily keep track of birthdays of close friends to send personal notes and gifts.
- Do you enjoy Facebook right now? If not, what would have to change for you to enjoy it?
- Do you know or care about the people who posted the last 5-10 posts on your timeline? If not, should you unfollow or unfriend them?
- What is the reason you maintain a Facebook account? Is there a reason? If you deleted it, would anything change?
I have two rules for managing LinkedIn connections:
- If I know you well enough to confidently introduce you under the right circumstances, we should be connected
- If I wouldn’t feel comfortable introducing you, I don’t want to be connected
One of the most useful things I can do for connecting people is maintain the ability to say to friends and colleagues, “Here’s a link to my LinkedIn connections. Take a look and let me know who would be helpful to know. I’ll be happy to make introductions.”
When I don’t know or trust the people I’m connected to, this becomes a much more difficult process. I’m in the process of removing all connections to people who I would not be able to confidently introduce to avoid this problem.
- Is your profile up to date?
- Could you confidently introduce every one of your LinkedIn connections to another connection?
- Are you connected to all of the people you would love to be able to introduce to others in your network?
I hear so many people say that Instagram steals their happiness or makes them play the comparison game in an unhealthy way. I’ve tried to circumvent that entirely.
I do follow some friends who I’m close to and who I want to stay in close sync with. But the vast majority of the accounts I follow are photographers, conservationists, animal specialists, plant people, and outdoor enthusiasts.
This leads to my feed looking like a gorgeous collage of the natural world. Five of the most recent posts in my feed right now are a wolf, the ocean in the Maldives, a lake in Oregon, a National Geographic photographer in Papua, Indonesia in 1993, and a family of brown bears running across a river.
My Instagram feed is an escape from business, self-promotion, and daily stresses. It’s where I go to find peace and to be reminded of how much bigger the world is than me.
In other words, Instagram has nothing to do with building community and that’s equally important. Not every social tool is there to achieve some business or leadership outcome. Sometimes you just need to pursue a sense of joy. I’ve found Instagram to be perfect for that.
- Why do you use Instagram?
- Do you find yourself judging your appearance, possessions, lifestyle, or thoughts when you get on the platform?
- Who or what could you follow on Instagram to bring a sense of joy to your life?
Those are my best tips for using social media to thoughtfully build a sense of community. It’s what I’ve personally found to work for me, so your mileage may vary.
If you only take one thing away from this post, let it be this: social media platforms were built to be tools that serve you but they’ve turned into platforms that try to get us to serve them. You don’t have to play by the algorithms. Do what works for you.