We are a species obsessed with abstract rules designed to confuse me. From ancient religious guidelines (I can’t eat meat on Fridays for most of March and April…even if it’s my birthday) to sacred fashion rules (I can’t wear white pants… ‘til May comes around again) and even digital codes (I can’t tweet more than 140 characters…or blog less than 800 words).
There has been a lot of talk during this election season about simplifying the US tax code, but maybe we should start first by eliminating (or at least consolidating) the tangled mess of unspoken—but occasionally subtweeted—rules that Millennials are apparently using to govern social media.
And I’ve already botched it…
As I was preparing to fire my first tweet off into the annals of digital history, I naturally wanted to make a bigger deal out of it than necessary—seeing as how I had a chip to get off my shoulder and a score to settle with Twitter (more on that in my first blog post). My roommate glanced over at my screen and chided me for my ignorance. “What are you doing?” he grimaced, deleting my drafted tweet. “It’s late, man, if you tweet right now no one will EVER see that. You have to post between 11am and 2pm if you’re gonna get noticed.”
But don’t you worry, despite following this advice, I still managed a faux pas as I tweeted TWICE IN LESS THAN TWO HOURS. And apparently I’m lucky not to have lost a significant percentage of my 18 followers, as a result.
In the week since, I have polled my friends—in an attempted digital due diligence—so that I might just survive this crash course in social media. What I found was a convoluted web of widely accepted rules. Ranging from the more obvious “NEVER like your own post” to “never post more than one Insta per day”. I was also promised ridicule if I attempted to use hashtags un-ironically to get follows/likes from strangers or was the first to like the Facebook post of someone with whom I am not bffs.
Interestingly, the intricacy and amount of rules seemed to correlate with the frequency with which we traffic each site.
And as a result, each social platform seems to have taken on a personality of its own—forming a distinct ‘community’ where you can selectively share the approved parts of your life. This became very apparent for me when I joined LinkedIn (last week). I perused the profiles of close friends that I’ve known for the entirety of my time at Boston College, awestruck, as I uncovered strange skills and outstanding experiences that had otherwise gone unmentioned.
In a follow up conversation with one such friend, we mused about the strange segmentation of our digital personas. Facebook it seems is the place to share all of the highs and lows taking place in your life—things that people can react to briefly. Meanwhile LinkedIn is the forum for us to brag about everything we’ve done since our junior year of high school. Often times, this is really cool and interesting stuff. But make no mistake, if you overstep and brag on the wrong platform, (behind their screens) your friends may not be smiling as they give you the obligatory heart or thumbs up.
So where are we supposed to be us?
Surely not Instagram, home to the pretty things that we want to convince our friends we’re seeing and eating ALL the time, aren’t you jealous? There’s a strong case to be made for Snapchat, with impermanent snapshots that could let us actually express ourselves with little fear of retribution. However, it’s fairly evident (as someone guilty of the following) that Snap Stories have just become a pissing match where everyone competes to be seen as having the most fun, drinking the most, or recording their friends doing the stupidest things.
A study from The New York Times Customer Insight Group found that 68% of social media users say we’re sharing in order to give people a better sense of who we are and what we care about. So then do 68% of us really just care about conformance with abstract social rules?
Corporate America seems to be searching for the same answers, at least if Google is to be believed. As I searched for social media guidelines for my personal usage, all I could find was hard and fast rules for social media managers. Twitter and Buzzfeed are full of screenshotted gaffs by corporate social media accounts. Someone’s even co-opted the 80/20 Rule to apply to the type of content a firm should be posting socially.
The pressure is ever mounting for organizations to properly decrypt the rules of social media and satisfy the needs of Millennials. On Twitter, for example, the majority of users expect a brand to properly respond to a tweeted complaint within an hour…
But what if it didn’t have to be like this?
If we’re going to spend so much of our time on social media, wouldn’t it be nice to at least be ourselves? I’m convinced that the answer is an obvious and resounding yes. (Besides, I’ll never learn all the rules anyway, so I might as well try and get us on the same page.) Strangely, enough businesses might just be the ones to lead us away from all of these rules. At an event during Social Media Week Los Angeles 2016, the two people responsible for YouTube’s social media presence shared several ways that companies can start to break these rules.
The duo emphasized consistency, both across social platforms and to the company’s values. At YouTube, they “try not to jump on trends, just because they’re trends.” Their social team is focused not just on pop culture, but also the slow culture. They really seeking to develop their own angle on social trends and organically build a community around it.
And while this wouldn’t be an immediate transformation, if companies could get on board with this type of strategy, thankfully, it would be a start.
Pablo Picasso one said, “It takes a very long time to become young.” Instead of wasting all their resources trying to understand our rules and cater to all of our whims on social media, companies should be acting their age and trying to teach us—finding new ways to use our tools to amaze and delight us.