Social Media

As Legal Nomads has taken shape over the years, I’ve been more and more involved with social media and found it to be one of the best ways to connect with readers and similar-minded people. My social media use started as a way to keep updated during travels, but has morphed into a critical part of my work, both from a Legal Nomads perspective, and from the conferences and consulting work about digital media that has flowed from use.

This page was put together for a specific conference, to explain a bit about each platform and provide some best practices and rules for use. As with most of what I do, I wanted to make it available freely. The goal here is to use social media to build a community that listens, not a community that reacts temporarily and then subsequently ignores information.

While many people see social media as a time suck or an obligation, I have found it to be the single most useful way to round out my work. By subscribing to streams that interest me, I have been able to get great information and interesting reads from the people I follow. By ignoring the advice that I need to follow everyone who follows me, I’ve honed each of my feeds to be what I want to see, and that allows me to provide and have access to information that I am passionate about, and that I believe in.

Above all else, social media allows people to provide additional personality to their existing work. It allows you to be human. To banter, to make connections, to collectively complain or sigh or giggle at something happening in the world. By drawing these lines between people in disparate places, you create a network of engaged followers and readers who then trust what it is you say. And when you have information you want to share, they listen.

Where you can find me

  • Twitter (for real-time links and conversation)
  • Facebook (for photos, news, and travel updates)
  • My “Links I Loved’ newsletter (for the best of the web in one place)
  • Instagram (for photos as I roam, updated the most frequently)
  • There is the occasional video (though it is quite rare!)
  • and sometimes some work on Pinterest and on Google Plus.
  • But mostly my blog (for longform writing, mostly about food)

Picking a Platform

One of the most frequent questions is “which platform do I need to be on?” The reality is that each social media platform has a different — though often overlapping — audience and different goals.

I wanted to go through some basic rules for the main ones I use, as well as some indication of what the platform showcases well.


What to share: links to learn from, pieces you enjoyed, thoughts that come to mind.

What it showcases: your full personality, bantering without disrupting your full audience.

Cheat Sheet: if you’re interested in focusing on links, set up or (both in “Tools” below) to pull in the stories from your news feed. This is contingent on having whittled down follows to what you want them to be, in lieu of anything more sprawling.

Basic Rules

  1. Yes, it’s in 140 characters, but you need to leave enough to have people retweet. Leave at least 20 characters at the end of the Tweet.
  2. Tweeting “@” someone allows conversation, but is only viewable to those in your follows who follow BOTH people in the conversation. To make it public put a period  or other character before the tweet.
  3. Hashtags are not needed to show up in search. Use them for curating information, events and news, NOT #travel.
  4. Use lists to follow topics or information that interests you but you might not want in your home stream.
  5. Everyone who has a website should be creating a column in Tweetdeck or Hootsuite with their URL, so that they can see where the pieces are being tweeted at any given time, and interact where needed.
  6. Share mostly other people’s work, and sporadically your own.
  7. Keep your voice human and natural — infuse your personality in your tweets. You’re not a robot.

Some examples of great Twitter use, with personality, engagement and smart sharing:



What to share: images work best, news relating to your field, excited updates, valuable questions that require responses or surveys.

Showcases: ways you can reach out and make your readers feel like they’re a part of decisions, separate yourself from others in your field in a more lasting medium.

Cheat Sheet:  Start by “liking” pages that are providing good information in your field or within your sphere of interest, or photographers with great photos. You can then “share” them to your page while maintaining the original attribution.

Basic rules:

  1. Facebook is a good place for narrative,  where you flesh out the full story without linking to something else. Eg. my post here. With no link included, people interact immediately, versus clicking away. If you have a talent for dialogue or narrative, Facebook is a good place to experiment with mini stories.
  2. Photos do very well, and visual storytelling is of increasing importance.
  3. If you’re going to ask questions of your readers, don’t likebait. Ask things that reflect answers you need, and you will be rewarded with helpful responses.

Case studies of a good Facebook pages, either visual or extremely interactive


What to share: imagery, light reflections, sense of scale, detailing, using captions to communicate a story.

“Photography, for me, has always been about story. Has always been about placing markers in my mind to which to later return. It was, long ago, about obsessing over the mechanics of process and geekery, the zone system, about perfect black and white saturation and gradients. But that period was short. And throughout the years, I’ve found myself returning to — with each tick of my photographic journey, each incremental tick of technology — the story. The who, what, when, where, why, and how of the thing before the lens. And how capturing that image would inform some future version of my self, or, god willing, something larger.”

– Craig Mod, Photography Hello

What it showcases: the personal side of your life and practice that would otherwise not make it into writing. For photographers, b-roll or behind the scenes shots, family, friends, food.

Two examples: detailing from my Brooklyn manhole cover, and Paul Octavious’ beautiful plane shot in Chicago.

Cheat Sheet: Instagram lets you edit in-app now, so you do not need to use a separate editing app to make changes like sharpening, saturation, clarity, etc. While I occasionally use PS Express (a Photoshop app), often I just stick to the basic Instagram edits.

Basic Rules

    1. Using hashtags are necessary for search, unlike with Twitter. This doesn’t mean you put up a vomited list of hashtags, it means they ought to apply to your post.
    2. Put any hashtags in the first comment, not in the caption. That way they will turn up in search, but then be hidden once you get more than a few comments.
    3. Photographers do sometimes use DSLR photos, but for most of us, the immediacy is what’s attractive. (It’s not “Latergram”, it’s Instagram).
    4. Use small items or people and reflections to convey a sense of scale — e.g. a flag waving on the far off distance of a cliff.
    5. Transparency! Even if you’re using something like a DSLR, you need to diffuse expectations as many assume Instagram will be a smartphone photo. See below for a caption from Tyson Wheatley, where he explains where his other photos are, and re-discloses that those on Instagram are from his phone, noting that his Instagram photos are with an iPhone and his DSLR photos are available on Tumblr. (Click the “Instagram” below, right, to access the original caption.)

Case studies of interactive and varied Instagram feeds:

Best Practices for Social Media Use

People often frame social media as more of a begrudging obligation than a tool to build business, loyal communities, and learn what we can from others online. The media that exist are self-curating, meaning that without the control to go through and pick the voices we want to listen to and learn from, we do easily get stuck in a glut of over-sharing and abundance of information. Instead, honing in on what you want to learn and who from has made social media much more of a pleasure than a pain.

“In short, the secret of promotion in the age of social media isn’t to promote yourself.  It’s to promote others.”

– Tim O’Reilly, “The Truth about Social Media Marketing.”

Basic Rules

  1. Promoting others, and content you care about and have read, is your main daily goal.
  2. Creating content people want to share is a first step, but packaging it in a way that tells a story sets that sharing process in motion. Think about what your message is, distilled, and then share content you believe vibes with that messaging.
  3. Changing the anchor text in each medium is important. When you share something on Facebook, the audience will be different to Twitter, and different to Instagram. Yes, there are overlapping circles of readers or followers, but you want them to tune IN to your stream, not tune it out. If you are posting the same context and content on each stream, simultaneously or otherwise, your feeds will look more robotic than human — and that’s not what you want.
  4. Value your readers. Or, as my friend Liz wrote in her long social media post: “You have to give your audience a reason to give a shit. ” How does one keep an engaged audience interested and loyal? Don’t try to dupe them. Disclose when something is a paid-for opportunity. Also, admit when you make mistakes, respond to people when they respond to you, and keep providing interesting content without pandering to a lowest common denominator. 
  5. Remember that everything you put online is tied to you as a person, and to your brand. Ask yourself when you post it if it is something you want to attach to your reputation in that way.
  6. Engaging influencers is a valuable way to get your content moving around the internet, but that means you need to be on their radar first. Tweeting your post at them is not the most subtle of ways. Instead, seek to provide value — answer a question they might have asked, provide a link you think they might enjoy and share it directly at them, etc. Essentially, associating your name with non-spammy purposes, and eventually you will be trusted sufficiently that when your own information is shared, you will

Basic Don’ts

  1. Don’t conflate general noise with an actual community. Spiking engagement by creating noise, be it using a tremendous amount of hashtags or by promoting posts temporarily, does not mean that you suddenly have a thriving and loyal readership. These things take time! And effort. Temporary interaction does not a community make.
  2. Don’t assume that with good content, it will be an easy next step to a successful online portfolio. While content does matter tremendously, it is rarely the case that someone sees good content, then goes to sign up for whatever you are selling. As Rand Fishkin notes on MozBlog: “What really does happen is that people come many, many times. They essentially grow this memory about your brand, about what you do, and they build up kind of what I’d call a positive bank account with you. But that bank account, there are not coins and money in there. There are experiences and touches with your brand. Those content touches, and those social media touches, and those touches that come through performing a search and seeing you listed there, those build up the capital in the account.” Don’t lose hope if you put out good content but think people are not reading. It takes time.
  3. Don’t use hashtags the same way on every medium. Hashtags are useful for some things like events and breaking news, but Twitter’s search function works fine without hashtags. Try searching for “writing” on Twitter and see what comes up. The “top” tweets (minus any that are sponsored) are not necessarily with hashtags — they are just the most useful. On Instagram, the hashtags are necessary in order to turn up photos during search. But this does not mean that you need to use several dozen of them. Using a hashtag for the place — #newyork or #nyc — works, as well as a general description — #sunset or #rainbow.  In addition, if you want a list of popular hashtags on Instagram, see here — but do not use many of them. They are more powerful when used judiciously, to aggregate specific information but are just unnecessary — and quite spammy — when used in general terms.  They are, of course, great to bring people together for specific events (eg. #BookPassage), for breaking news, for ironic jokes.  Minimize hashtag use, use them when you want to insert yourself into a relevant event/news conversation, but don’t overuse them.
  4. Don’t automate everything. There are great tools listed below, each of which help to gather information and make using social more interesting, but don’t make the mistake of over-automating. This falls into the best practice above of “be human” — tools are best for inward-facing time saving, not auto-sharing or roboting curating.
  5. Share your own success, but don’t overshare. This includes not only carefully sharing your own work — I usually recommend sharing 95% of other people’s work and only 5% of your own — but also not retweeting or resharing people’s complimentary social media posts about you. That is not to say you shouldn’t share interviews or pieces where you are featured. As I said above, people are usually excited to share in your excitement. But retweeting a tweet that praises you is just not what your followers want to see.

“We trust people more when they show us they are great, not tell us they are great”

– Lisa Cron, Wired for Story

Resources, Tools, and Further Reading


Tools to Automate your Information-Gathering and Sharing

Tweetdeck & Hootsuite – each of these tools allows you to schedule tweets, use columns to track lists or specific hashtags.

Buffer – another tool that lets you schedule tweets, spaced evenly, as well as bake into recipes for IFTTT (below).

Follower Wonk – finds influencers in the fields you specify for Twitter. Once you’ve isolated them, check to see who they are following, or what lists people have put them on, so you can find others like them.

Social Bro – Twitter dashboard that gives you the best time to tweet, follows/unfollows, influencers and more. Complete Twitter management tool, and one that integrates with Buffer. Free and paid-for versions.

Tweriod – Terribly named service that helps you figure out when to tweet.

IFTTT – lets you set up endless amount of recipes that automate your life where you need it. Example: I have a recipe that adds a line to a spreadsheet in Google Drive every time I tweet anything with a link in it. So at the end of the month when I do my newsletter, all the links are already there for me. More recipe options (pre-created for you) here and here. sends you an email of your curated tweets from that day, the stories most discussed in your networks. I argue often that if you set this up (and I love it and the links it sends me) and you get a lot of crap in your inbox, it’s because you’re not following the right people for you. I follow very few people, and though many of us have a different strategy for Twitter follows, I’d argue that to maximize the effectiveness of tools like these and others, you need to only follow the people who provide you with interesting, compelling information you can re-share with your networks. Save the friendship follows to Facebook; use columns in Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to set up a list and follow people you care about but might not need in your home stream.

A similar tool and one that also shares stories from within your network is Nuzzel, newly launched and offering a great interface for iPhone too.

(Note: if you want to mass unfollow people, I’d suggest a tool called ManageFlitter)

Save Publishing is a Chrome bookmarklet that highlights tweetable sentences in a piece online.

Pocket: is an app and browser-based service that allows you to save longform pieces via your browser or other services you use on your phone, including Twitter itself.  You can then read these pieces offline. It’s a great service to pair with IFFTT too (e.g. setting up a recipe that says “when you favourite a piece in Pocket, send to a Google Spreadsheet” or the like). On your phone, Pocket app lets you tweet or share easily to social media, adding your own anchor text.

Social Media and Content Basics

Beginner’s Guide to Social Media“, Moz (available as a PDF here)

Beyond Followers: How to Achieve True Engagement on Social Media” Salesforce

“2014 Social Media Best Practices Guide” V12 Group

How to Develop Your Presence on Social Media and in Real Life“, WSJ, August 2014.

Branding and Tone of Voice“, Distilled

Storytelling, Narrative Case Studies, November 2013, and The Big Book of Narrative, October 2013, both Nieman Storyboard.

The 10 Commandments of Content“, FastCo Create, September 2013.

It’s not About You: The Truth about Social Media Marketing“, Tim O’Reilly, October 2012

The Neuroscience of your Brain on Fiction“, New York Times, March 2012.

Pinterest Marketing Guide” Buffer, April 2014

Hard News and Social Media

State of the News Media 2014”, March 2014

Lessons for Journalists in How Storyful Verifies the Biggest Breaking News“, American Journalism Reviews, July 2014.

News Use Across Social Media Platforms.” Pew Research Journalism Project, December 2013  

The Pressure to Be the TV News Leader Tarnishes a Big Brand“, New York Times, Apr 2013.

Social Media for Journalists“,  Zombie Journalism’s Resources Page

“Getting it Right! How Social Media Transform BBC News Journalism?”, City University London.

What Journalists need to know about Content Marketing“, Poynter, September 2012.

The Best Practices for Social Media Verification“, Colombia Journalism Review, June 2011.

Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable“,  Clay Shirky, March 2009

Community-Building, Content, and Engagement

“Putting a story in the marketplace is not the end, it’s the beginning. Consumers want a role. They want to be advocates for the brands and products they choose.”

 – “The 10 Commandments of Content”, FastCoCreate, Sept 30, 2013

Sponsored Content has a Trust Problem“, Contently, July 2014.

The Greatest Misconception in Content Marketing“, Moz, July 2014

What You Think You Know About the Web is Wrong“, Time, March 2014.

“2013: The Year ‘The Stream’ Crested“, The Atlantic, December 2013.

“How To Influence Reader Response To Your Work.” Poynter, May 2013

“Why I Fear For Tumblr.” John Green’s Vlogbrothers YouTube Channel, May 2013

“This Story Stinks.” New York Times, March 2013

“9 Benefits [and 3 Costs] Of Building Community On Your Blog.” Problogger, March 2013.

“Shifts In Power Visible In Journalism Today.”, February, 2013

“Effective Community Moderation Tips.” Sprout Social, September 2012

“Visitors, Lurkers, And Members.” Feverbee, March 2012

“Differentiating Between Social Media And Community Management.” Community Roundtable, 2012

“10 Tips for Building a Strong Online Community Around Your Startup.” Mashable, January 2012

“The role of social media in community building and development.” The Guardian, December 2011

“Measuring The Emotional Intelligence of Your Community.” Immediate Future, October 2011

“You Might Not Actually Be A Community Manager — And That’s Ok.” The Community Manager, July 2011

Articles about Design, Typography, and Web-Based Reading

On Legibility in Typography and Type Design” Scannerlicker

7 Rules for Creating Gorgeous UI” – Part 1, and Part 2 Erik Kennedy for Medium

“Hack the Cover” Craig Mod