Social Media Decade: 10 Lessons From 10 Years Working in Social MediaAug 15, 2021
The year was 2011 and social media for business was still a new concept. I was a social media specialist at a global corporation and it was my job to figure out how to use social media to introduce and connect the brand to people in places across the world. In those early days, way before the term “influencer marketing” was ever uttered, I found myself participating in weekly Twitter Chats, launching a brand’s Facebook Page starting at zero followers, creating Foursquare check-in specials, and even ghost-tweeting on behalf of the CEO. I now often refer to this collection of memories as the Glory Days.
Little did I know, this social media job that seemingly chose me out of the blue would become my career. I spent the next nine years scaling the corporate ladder, holding roles in almost every function of social media: intern, community manager, social media specialist, social media manager, paid social media manager, and ultimately, social media director. Each role provided new responsibilities, at least two new social platforms to learn or unlearn (RIP Tumblr, Vine, Google +) and most importantly, marketing lessons learned.
I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly as social media and technology at large have continued to evolve at a dizzying pace. The constant change kept me on my toes, and kept me choosing social media as my job, year after year. This and the fact that I’ve watched social media create possibilities for myself and others that are beyond our wildest dreams. Social media is, at its core, well-intended.
Whether you love or hate social media, the fact is that it’s the most powerful marketing tool available. Using it strategically and intentionally works wonders, and I believe with my whole heart that it can bridge the gap between your current state of being and your dream life. I’ve seen it happen, 1,000 times over.
The year is now 2021, and I’m a social media coach running my own business. I left a corporate career to fulfill my desire to help entrepreneurs make the most of social media, because social media marketing shouldn’t be limited to global brands, national companies, and colossal budgets. In fact, oftentimes individuals and small business owners are the ones who can benefit most from building niche communities of loyal clients online.
It’s never too late to leverage the power of social media marketing to grow your personal brand, your business, and realize your dreams. Rather than figuring it out alone, spending umpteen hours google searching for answers, and taking advice from experts born yesterday, I’m consolidating ten years’ worth of experience and lessons into this post with the hope that it will be a valuable resource for you. Here are 10 lessons I’ve learned from a decade-long career in social media marketing that you can apply directly to your personal brand or small business, today.
1. The Golden Rule: Provide Value
Growing up in Minnesota, massive amounts of snow were never unusual, but were always an inconvenience – whether through back-breaking shoveling, traffic delays, or cold, wet feet. In 2010, heavy snow was the demise of a stadium called the Metrodome, the home of the Minnesota Vikings. The roof literally collapsed under the weight of a blustery December snow, which sent a cascade of snow onto the field, and set my career into motion.
The NFL team’s owners threatened to move the team to a different state if they couldn’t secure a new stadium, and I found myself in the middle of the action as a social media and PR intern for a grassroots organization, helping local citizens to lobby for a new stadium.
My role? Attending government hearings in regards to the stadium bill at the state capitol and live tweeting them play-by-play, to keep the community in-the-loop as the bill migrated through the house and senate to become what is now U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis. It was through this work that I learned the Golden Rule of social media almost immediately: provide value.
If you’re wondering why anyone would care about a tweet-by-tweet breakdown of a government hearing, I don’t blame you, 21-year-old me asked the same question. The answer was; because thousands of people found value in this information because the implications of the bill would impact their lives in one way or another. From diehard Vikings fans concerned about losing their home team to local residents concerned about paying incremental taxes, people gained value from this knowledge and so they paid attention - replying, retweeting, and intently consuming that social media content, every step of the way.
This Golden Rule of providing value is something I continued to test through the next ten years. Regardless of the year, social platform, person, or business, I confirmed time and time again that the single most important thing anyone can do on social media is to provide value through the content they share and the way they show up. Why? Because if you aren’t providing value, what’s the point?
As a personal brand or business owner, apply this lesson liberally to your social media presence. Provide value in all that you do. Whether you’re aiming to educate, entertain, or connect with your audience, always consider the end user. Better yet, put yourself in their shoes. Consider this: if you were to watch your own Instagram Reel or YouTube video, would you feel like you gained something of value from the time you spend consuming the content? Very simply, always ask, “Does this content provide value?” If so, proceed with the confidence of the sun.
2. Know the Difference Between Personal and Business Use
Through the creation of several social media training programs and courses, I’ve had the privilege of coaching thousands of individuals on how to use social media for business. Each time I work with a new group, I inevitably meet one student who assumes they have nothing left to learn because they’re already socially savvy.
However, what they often don’t realize is that there’s a difference between using social media for fun, and using social media strategically for business growth. Relatedly, I also meet plenty of business owners who have hired social media support solely based on age, making the assumption that being young equates to social media expertise. This is simply not true, and truthfully, it even took me a solid two years of on-the-job training early in my career to recognize and pinpoint the differences between social media for personal use versus business use.
Let’s take hashtags for example. It’s the difference between hashtagging random words, or inside jokes, versus hashtagging relevant keyword search terms to reach your ideal audience. Direct messages can be another good indicator of how you’re using social media. If the only conversations popping off in your DM’s are from high school friends or future exes, let’s just say that there’s a whole new world for you to discover.
Just because you have a social media profile, it does not mean you have nothing left to learn. There are key differences between using social media as a hobby, and using it strategically to grow your business, and this is so incredibly important to know. Once you open up to the possibilities that social media can bring as a strategic tool to help grow your business, you’ll have entered the world of social media marketing.
If you have a desire to leverage social media marketing in order to start a side hustle, build a personal brand, or scale an existing business, be sure to make the switch from hobby mindset to business mindset. In order to set this into motion, spend time identifying your social media goals and align them your personal business goals, and then build a social media strategy to help you get there. If you’re wondering where to even begin, this Heart-Centered Social Media Workshop is great place to start.
3. Your Personal Brand is Powerful
When I was working on the brand side of social media marketing for global corporations, leveraging influencers was a critical component of any brand’s marketing strategy, and has only continued to grow over time, because it works.
In 2017, I created a social media training program for a fitness company’s employees, and my team traveled around the country to over 40 major markets to teach these employees how to build their own personal brands on social media. Essentially, what we were doing was giving them resources and tools to become influencers.
If you’re wondering why an organization would invest so much of its own resources to help its employees build their own social media accounts, it’s because we knew, both instinctually, and through data, that content that team members created and shared online was far more impactful than anything we could say about ourselves as a brand. To the extent that influencer marketing was 70% more cost effective than other methods.
Whether you identify with the term ‘influencer’ or not, it’s important to recognize that you do have influence, and you should absolutely leverage it online. Your personal brand is powerful. People trust people far more than people trust brands alone, and influencers are in high demand. And although the term influencer marketing may still be considered new-age, the concept of word-of-mouth marketing is ancient. It has literally been around since the beginning of time. It’s tried and true.
Start sharing your expertise with others online to build up your personal brand on social media. This is all about taking the credibility and influence you have in real life, and translating it online. Whether you want to use it to launch your own business, or to pitch yourself to work with other brands as an influencer, your personal brand on social media can unlock your dreams and turn them into a reality.
If you’re a creator, brands want to work with you, because you add social-proof and trust to their brand. If you own a business, your customers want to see and hear from real people, not just fancy brand messaging. And if you’re questioning whether you should lean on personal branding or brand marketing, the successful businesses of the future are using both. Start nurturing your personal brand today.
4. Timing is Everything
I’ll never forget the time that I helped to get feather pillows delivered to a hotel guest’s room from half way across the world. I was a social media community manager at the time, and Twitter was HOT. Like, tweet a wish and it shall be granted by the fairy godmother in the next five minutes, hot.
A guest had checked into a hotel in Goa, India, and this particular hotel had a pillow menu meaning you could choose whether you wanted to sleep on feather, down-alternative, or memory foam pillows. Rather than tweeting the hotel location specifically, the guest tweeted the brand (me!) in the United States. Could I tell them that? No. Instead, I frantically drafted an email to the hotel’s general manager with the Twitter request, and asked that they expedite it ASAP. By a stroke of luck, the request was fulfilled in a reasonable amount of time, and we had a happy guest. In retrospect, it wasn’t the best system for managing twitter across time zones, but we made it work because we had to. The expectation was that Tweets were addressed in one hour or less.
Timing is everything, and we largely have Twitter to thank for this. Instant responses and seamless customer support are the expectation and the norm on social media platforms. As a creator, it’s easy to get laser focused on creating content and forget about the engagement aspect of a social media presence. Know that community management aka responding to your community in a timely manner is equally important to the content you post.
Whether you’re fielding inquiries about your services or compliments from your mom, commit to responding to all of your inbound social media comments and direct messages on a daily basis. As your account grows and your volume of messages increases, you’ll want to check even more frequently. Checking and responding to inbound messages 1-3X daily during the morning, afternoon, and evening, is the best way to prevent unhappy clients, and turn happy clients into major advocates of you and your work. Social media is meant to be social, so do enjoy this process and opportunity to connect!
5. Take a Stand
Belief-driven buyers are on the rise. Even before the events that shaped 2020, Edelman reported that 60% of people were belief-driven buyers, and that almost 70% of those buyers engaged with a brand for the first time based on them taking a stance on a controversial issue. These metrics are even higher for Millennials and Gen-Z.
Despite the data, my lived experience is that individuals and businesses have been slow to evolve on this front, and hesitant to take a stand on societal issues for a host of reasons ranging from lack of alignment internally, to fear of alienating half of your audience.
In 2020, I led a Minneapolis-based corporate social media team when the murder of George Floyd happened in our literal backyard. My team wanted to acknowledge the matter on social media, but weighing in on societal issues was unprecedented for this brand- and most others- at the time, meaning that the process to gain internal alignment took weeks. In the meantime, we continued to share business-as-usual social media updates, which infuriated our audience. We were bombarded with inquiries about where the brand stood on the matter day in and day out until we were finally cleared to acknowledge it weeks later. This brand and many others heard consumers’ expectations loud and clear in 2020, we must take a stand.
In the era of movements like me-too, the fight for racial justice, public health crises, and climate change, consumers want to know where individuals and brands stand on controversial issues, and will align their consumer power accordingly. Whether we like it or not, silence has become equated to complicity. The new reality, cemented by 2020, is that you must take a stand on the issues that matter most.
Whether you’re an artist or a chiropractor, a content creator or a realtor, your community wants to see you take a stand. As the saying goes, if you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing. If you have yet to think about what causes you care to outwardly take a stand for, take some time and dig into your values. From there, find a cause or two that are most relevant, and then support them fully and openly.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting to weigh in on anything and everything that happens in the world on social media because you feel pressured by ‘shoulds’. Rather, identify issues and causes that matter to you, fit with your business, and then take a stand by supporting these causes; speak out, donate, fundraise, align your business practices. View this as an incredible opportunity to cultivate community, to connect through shared values, and to use your personal power for positive change.
6. Practice Facing Your Fears
In my one-on-one coaching work with clients, my onboarding questionnaire asks them to identify their current block and barriers when it comes to social media marketing. The range of responses varies greatly, but the root cause of all of them is the same. The number one blocker for individuals on social media is fear.
This fear shows up in a multitude of ways. One client confessed to me that they got freaked out by the thought of posting to Instagram Stories and that there was just something about opening up the Stories camera that sent her heart racing with anxiety, worried about accidentally uploading to Stories and not ‘doing it right’. They had a fear of the unknown.
Another client shared that they wanted to use social media to promote a passion project, but they held back and played small instead. Worried about what their loved ones would think or say, they were experiencing fear of judgement.
And then there’s me. For many years, I made excuses for not tending to my own social media presence, always claiming that at the end of a long day or week managing social media for others, I had no energy left to do it for me. After lots of coaching and self-reflection, I realized that this excuse was a solid cover up for a deeper fear of being seen.
Practice facing your fears. So many people refrain from participating in the public sphere that is social media because they’re afraid. Whether it’s fear of judgement, fear of criticism, or even fear of being seen, all fears serve up the same result: stifled success. Fortunately, the process of identifying these fears and then facing them ultimately helps to remove the blockers that keep you stuck.
If you’ve been letting fear hold you back from using social media in its fullest expression to grow your personal brand or business, this is your sign to start now. Be patient with yourself in the process and know that the benefits of leveraging the power of social media marketing outweigh anything you’d possibly have to lose. If you’re ready to kiss your social media fears goodbye and want support in doing so, I invite you to consider my coaching and course offerings.
7. Perfection Doesn’t Perform
If you’ve ever stressed, for even a minute, about not having a graphic designer on speed dial to help you create the perfect content, this story is for you. For a stretch of about two years, I was hyper-focused on the paid side of social media, handling social media advertising campaigns, and ran a series of tests during that time to learn which types of ad creative drove the best results. With the help of a team of talented graphic designers, we created beautiful, eye-catching, on-brand advertisements and tested them simultaneously against socially-native photos and videos. In theory, the more beautiful and professional the graphics looked, the better an advertisement would perform, right? Wrong. After two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of Facebook advertising, I can tell you that the socially-native creative outperformed the perfectly designed ads every single time.
It’s easy to think that your personal brand or business’s social media presence needs to look perfect, but this is simply not true. Perfection does not perform. Now more than ever, consumers seek relatability, authenticity, and trust. One of the quickest ways to establish trust is by sharing more relatable photo and video content and less perfectly designed advertisement-level visuals. Current trends on TikTok and Reels are only fueling this fire. The next generation has spoken, and they want to connect with you as the perfectly imperfect person you are.
As hard as it may be, it’s time to ditch the perfectionism. Taking a more relaxed approach to your photo and video content the best way to grow your personal brand on social media. You don’t need professional designs and graphics to communicate and connect on social platforms.
Truly, all you need in order to create great content these days is a smartphone and a ring light. This should be liberating for most, unless you’ve been hinging on the excuse of needing professional design support in order to start showing up online.
8. Master the Art of the Pivot
Early in my career I clearly recall HR and tech writers publishing articles speculating about what would happen when the social media eventually fizzled out and disappeared. I even asked myself what I’d do for work if this were to happen. Today, the idea that this was even up for speculation seems implausible. Over the last decade, the number of active social media users worldwide has scaled to over 3 billion, and the industry has evolved in every way imaginable. For example, in the early days, the main social media platforms were Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest, and YouTube. Today, Google + doesn’t exist, Instagram is the platform of choice for Millennials, and TikTok is giving everyone else a run for their money. Features like Stories didn’t exist on Instagram until 2013. Social media advertising went largely unregulated until after the 2016 election. I share all of this to demonstrate that the only true constant in social media is change.
To stay relevant in the ever-evolving social media realm, you must master the art of the pivot. Social media is, in its entirety, one big pivot. Whether it’s the introduction of a new platform (TikTok), a new feature (Instagram Reels), or new regulations (Facebook Advertising Policies) there’s always something new to learn. Choosing to play in the world of social media marketing is synonymous with pledging your will to pivot.
Rather than viewing social media’s rapid changes as inconveniences, choose to view them as exciting new learning opportunities. Commit to staying a student, and be open to the need to try new things, change up your strategy, scrap something you had planned, and adapt. Mastering the art of the pivot is key to staying socially-relevant. If you find yourself feeling frustrated by this, keep in mind that flexibility is rewarded - early adopters of new platforms and features see fantastic results since social platforms always give priority within the algorithms to those who use the newest capabilities. This means more visibility for you. Yay!
9. Boundaries Create Longevity
Today I meet so many entrepreneurs that desire to strike the right balance between being active enough on social media to see gains in visibility and business growth, while also avoiding the overwhelm and burnout that comes from thinking that they need to be content creating machines 24/7.
Let’s face it, there’s nothing more exhausting than riding the social media rollercoaster. One moment, you’re super enthusiastic, posting multiple times per day, only to be slapped with a massive social media hangover, ghosting completely in the next moment.
A client of mine recently sent me a DM that said, “Yesterday it dawned on me that I’ll be doing this social media thing forever.” In that moment, they were realizing that the strategy we developed wasn’t a short-term blitz, but rather, an evergreen strategy and blueprint for long term success. We had a good laugh about this realization, and then quickly moved on to establishing social media boundaries to bring more balance to their experience.
Social media is a marathon. Treating it like a sprint will have you on a one-way flight to burnout town. In order to play the long game and reap the benefits of social media marketing, it’s important to find balance through setting boundaries to protect your time, energy, and intentions on social platforms.
Setting social media boundaries looks different for everyone, so I encourage you to examine your current social media experience to see where boundaries can help. If you’re someone who checks social media first thing in the morning, this could mean setting designated times on your calendar each day to create and consuming content. If you find yourself spending more time online than you’d like to, this could mean that you set time limits on your apps. Ultimately, creating balance through establishing boundaries allow you to play the long game when it comes to using social media as a helpful marketing tool while avoiding burnout.
10. Be You to Stand Out
I saved my favorite lesson for last, so if you’re still reading this, thank you. This is something that has taken my lifetime to learn. My hope is that by sharing my story, you’ll understand why I’m passionate about helping entrepreneurs build heart-centered personal brands on social media, and that you’ll implement this important lesson on your own journey.
When I started my first corporate social media job, I remember sitting in my cubicle, completely in awe of the possibilities that social media provided. It was a connector of people, places, and ideas. It felt large and expansive and full of opportunity. Social media had heart.
As the industry evolved, there was a massive shift. Conversations that were once expansive and full of opportunity shrank, and became super small and technical. Suddenly everyone was obsessed with how to make a video go viral, or how to hack the algorithm, and they still are. I found myself sitting in board rooms, sometime for hours, discussing small details like what’s the best time of day to post? And how many posts per day do we need? What hashtags should we use? And so on… social media was reduced to a formula.
Don’t get me wrong, formulas are necessary, and having a smart social media strategy these days is foundational. The problem is, now that everyone has the same formula, we find ourselves asking the same question, how to we stand out? How do we cut through the clutter online so that people can see us and see what we have to offer?
Social media has lost its heart.
When it comes to standing out, there’s a right and a wrong way to go about it, and this is a lesson I learned the hard way. Growing up, I was what you’d call an achiever. I graduated from college in just three years, I’d earn a master’s degree and buy a house by age 24, and I spent nine years climbing the corporate ladder, working my way from social media intern up to social media director, my dream job.
It all seemed great from the outside, but with each achievement, every promotion, it only gave me temporary satisfaction. I was completely empty inside. I realize now that I was unfulfilled because I was achieving for the wrong reasons. I was achieving to feel seen by external sources. I wanted the attention and validation of my loved ones. I was achieving out of alignment with my internal desires. I was disconnected from my heart.
I later learned that it’s more important to express from the heart than it is to impress from the mind. Most people speak, write, and post to impress. The problem with this is that aiming to impress doesn’t win over hearts, and it doesn’t create connection. Expressing from the heart, on the other hand, is how to truly connect to other people.
I’ll never forget when I made the shift from impressing to expressing, because it changed everything for me. For the first time, I felt seen. I felt like my heart, my ideas, and my gifts were truly acknowledged. I felt that I mattered.
I share this story with you because the lesson of impressing versus expressing applies directly to social media marketing. It’s the difference between dancing like everyone is watching and dancing like nobody is watching. It’s the difference between posting on Instagram for likes and posting to genuinely share about how you can help other people through your expertise. When you can connect to yourself in order to connect to others through sharing your story, your values, and your personality in an authentic way, this is what I call Heart-Centered Social Media. I believe with every cell in my body that this is the only way to cut through the clutter and stand out online.
Remember that you are your unique differentiator in the marketplace. There is only one you, and the reason why people choose to do business with you over someone else with equal experience is based on the unique viewpoint that only you have. The more you can show up authentically online and express your uniqueness, the more success you’ll find in driving your purpose and passions forward.
There you have it, 10 lessons I’ve learned from 10 years in social media marketing. Whether you currently love or hate social media, the fact is that it’s the most powerful marketing tool available. Using it strategically and intentionally works wonders to bridge the gap between your current state of being and your dream life. I’ve seen it happen, 1,000 times over.
If you desire support in building a heart-centered social media presence, I invite you to explore my courses and coaching offerings where I teach the Heart-Centered Social Media Method™, which combines the energetics and foundational principles of self-love with the tactics and strategy of social media marketing to help you build a personal brand online to get seen and grow.
It’s never too late to leverage the power of social media marketing to grow your personal brand, your business, and realize your dreams.