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.
Last Update: May 2017
Social Media 101
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.
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. For brands, it’s a chance to give personality to your institution, one that can shine through as you interact with followers.
Cheat Sheet: if you’re interested in focusing on links, set up Nuzzel.com to pull stories from your news feeds. This will give you what is being ‘talked about’ based on who you follow online.
- New Twitter changes means we need to worry less about having ‘room’ for a retweet – you can quote tweets, and replies no longer include the @ name of the person. This means more personality can shine though.
- Hashtags are not needed to show up in search. Use them for curating information, events and news, NOT #travel.
- Use lists to follow topics or information that interests you but you might not want in your home stream.
- Everyone who has a website should be creating a column in Tweetdeck or Hootsuite with their brand URL, so that they can see where the pieces are being tweeted at any given time, and interact where needed.
- Share mostly other people’s work, and sporadically your own.
- 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:
- Data journalism: @DanCow
- Farming: @modfarm
- Travel: @travelfish
- Tech Links: @BBC_Future
- General learning: @DavidGrann and @brainpicker
What to share: images work best, news relating to your field, excited updates, valuable questions that require responses or surveys, live videos using Facebook Live, real-time events wherever you are.
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. This is a medium where you can share photos that are primarily your brand/own day-to-day, as people do now expect to see this kind of material (vs. when Facebook first came out for brands). Facebook Live is an incredible opportunity to get in front of potential customers/readers and demonstrate what you are mad eof.
- 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.
- Photos do very well, and visual storytelling is of increasing importance.
- 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. If you want to poll your fans, use OBS Studio polls with Facebook Live – real time feedback!
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, Instagram Stories to communicate short bursts of day-to-day and get in touch with your readers/followers.
“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, 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. If you are a brand feed and photography is an important focus, hi-res images do best, with depth of field if they focus on details. Do not fake engagement with bots – this does not give you any real indication of your base fans, it only pretends.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- User generated content is very important for brand use of Instagram. This means both ensuring people are willing to have their photos used (so include text saying ‘using x hashtag = permission to use your photo’) and/or ask users specifically.
- Thank people individually who mention you in their stories and feeds. Showing your brand page has a person behind it is increasingly important in a bot-filled era.
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.”
- Promoting others, and content you care about and have read, is your main daily goal.
- 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.
- 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.
- Value your readers. 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.
- Remember that everything you put online is tied to you as a person or institution. Credibility is easily removed. Ask yourself when you post it if it is something you want to attach to your reputation in that way.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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.
- 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
Buffer – another tool that lets you schedule tweets, spaced evenly, as well as bake into recipes for IFTTT (below).
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.
Nuzzel’s iPhone app is how I stay updated with information I may have missed on Twitter.
(Note: if you want to mass unfollow people, I’d suggest a tool called ManageFlitter)
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 Links
Social Media Cheat Sheet for 2017 – sizing, etc on different media.
Tips for Storytelling on Social Media (2017)
Salesforce’s Beyond Followers: How to Achieve True Engagement on Social Media (2014)
Crash course on branding and tone of voice, by Distilled
Community-Building 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
What is Social Engagement and Why Should I Care? Sprout Social, May 2017
“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.
Articles about Design, Typography, and Web-Based Reading
“On Legibility in Typography and Type Design” Scannerlicker
“Hack the Cover” Craig Mod
Education Specific Social Media Links (HI NAFSA!)
How Social Media is Changing University Recruitment (Sept 2016 – UK Site)
Effective Social Media = Storytelling (Apr 2016)
Meet UBC’s Digital Storyteller (May 2015)
Jodi Ettenberg is a writer, photographer, and public speaker exploring the world full-time since April 2008. Her website, Legal Nomads, tells the stories of places she visits, often through food. A celiac, Jodi’s guides and translation cards have helped many others with food restrictions eat safely around the world. She is also the author of The Food Traveler’s Handbook, and recipient of Lowell Thomas Awards and North American Travel Journalist Association awards for her writing and photography. She has been featured in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC Travel, The Guardian and more. Prior to founding Legal Nomads, Jodi worked as a lawyer in New York for 5 years. She is based in Oaxaca, Mexico.
- 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)