The “social” algorithm
I was always an unapologetically introverted cynic. Until I seriously, reliably, faithfully started to post on social media.
When I left university, my first thought wasn’t “I wonder how I’m going to make friends.” Most of us don’t realize until years later that building genuine friendships as an adult, especially for introverts, can be weird and abstract. And to be frank, I was proud of my distanced, solitary, Spock-like self-sufficiency. I liked being an island, as Paul Simon has so aptly put it. I was perfectly happy to brood over poetry and contemplate my existence.
There were never cracks in that identity until my late 20s, when I saw incredible, fascinating, passionate people around me who I thought were the cats freaking pajamas. Most of them intimidated me like all get-out. And most of them were genuinely kind, open, wonderful people. But for some reason, I found it hard to connect. I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t think they’d be interested, and I thought it’d be weird (or an imposition) to reach out.
To be frank, I never gave much thought to social media. Sure, it’s a platform, sure, it’s a way to stay connected with your friends.
The first thing I really noticed was how when my old friends and I got together, we could jump right into amazing, detailed, engaging conversations about their lives – BECAUSE we had been seeing each others’ posts on social.
We could say, “hey, gosh, your new place looks amazing. Tell me about it!” Or “I’m so proud of you for doing that TEDx talk, what was it like to do it?” This was different than the classic “Facebook” back and forth of dramatic political views.
We were seeing what was most important to each other (or, most memorable).
When I made the decision to post regularly (and with purpose) on social, I noticed that my mindset changed. I wasn’t posting just for myself anymore. Of course everything ends up on my feed because I genuinely believe in it, or because it’s 100% me – but my language and objective became focused on also providing value. If I was posting something just so I could post something – it didn’t feel right.
What felt the most right was posting something I knew could light up someone’s day. Or make someone excited. Or make someone stop and think. Or that they could simply relate to.
If some days, it’s as simple as a beautiful photo, that’s enough. If on other days, it’s frank honesty, that’s enough too.
Approaching my posts this way forced me to put my mind into everyone else’s. To feel what they’d feel. To care the way they cared.
At one point, I realized things weren’t growing. I was pulling all the triggers, I was reliable, I was putting out content, but the traction wasn’t where it could be. Until someone pointed out to me that:
it wasn’t about just doing things right or showing people what they want. It was about engaging genuinely with others. Commenting. Liking. Posting. Sharing appreciation.
Woah, Woah. That was more than I’d bargained for. It almost made me turn back, believe it or not. But I was stubborn and decided to see what would happen. I reluctantly (and awkwardly) began to comment on posts of other blogs and peers with positive compliments – but not meaningless ones – comments that really showed that I listened, I saw and liked what they were saying.
For someone as distant and logical as I was, it was weird. I couldn’t give or take compliments to save my life. It didn’t come naturally to me.
After a week of awkwardness and practice, what started as something forced was becoming something I felt natural doing.
It’s not that I never thought these things, or never loved a post, or wanted to say something – I had just never SAID it.
At the same time, I learned how to take compliments without feeling weird, or guilty, or self-conscious. If you’re putting your personal brand out there, sometimes you have to see comments as a compass for content, rather than a meter for personal worth. And when those like-minded lovelies come back again and again (in meaningful ways), you begin to see who genuinely cares.
People begin to recommend you, you begin to recommend them. What starts as comments becomes respect, kindness and encouragement.
These things that had been so abstract to me began to infiltrate my distanced way of thinking.
I was starting to ENJOY chatting with everyone. ENJOY seeing the growth of support under a hashtag. ENJOY when people felt relief at not being alone or lost in their own ethical fashion journey, or whatever else they identified with.
I realized there was so much more here than beating the algorithm.
There are two things people always told me about social media:
1. You’ll end up upset, and disconnected from everyone
2. You’ll find some of the most genuine friends through it
I used to feel like the first one was true, and the second a myth. You hear bloggers say it, and don’t believe it’s true.
And look, for the first while, it was weird and awkward and not true. And ultimately, it’s not for everyone (and that’s ok!) – which is the freaking beauty of being human. We’re all so, so different. And our needs are, too.
But this solitary Vulcan (yours truly) has been seeing people start contributing to important, positive conversations.
I’m seeing the power of networks to change the dialogue. I’m seeing the rallying of friends behind ideas that will change the world as we know it.
Here’s what it really boils down to:
It is SO important to take a step back and see people. Like, really SEE them. As humans. Not as just another like or follow. As a person with just as many small moments, nuances, desires, wants, likes, needs, and passions as we have.
And then let’s see them as more than humans. As powerhouses. As innovators and smart thinkers and bold trailblazers and essential gears in the wheels moving us forward as a community, as a country, as a world.
It’s something I always knew, but didn’t fully appreciate.
Meeting so many passionate people over the last few months has opened my eyes to how incredible every one human is. How when people get talking about something they love, their eyes widen, their arms wave, their body positively stretches out to the maximum while it tries to let out the power of the idea inside them.
Let’s fuel that. Let’s support it in each other. Let’s start conversations and say “hey, I’d love to hear more about that. Let me buy you a coffee.”
We’re a generation that stokes the fire, that builds bridges, that tears down walls despite what we’ve been taught.
Let’s dig deep into ourselves and purge the fear. Let’s take those baby steps to make ourselves vulnerable, to go out there and connect. We may not know where to start, but other people will begin to see our passion, too. Let’s get that ball rolling.
People told me that social media makes us disconnected. But use it right, and you’ll find some of the most genuine, like-minded, brilliant people. Just gotta put yourself out there, and learn how to live your own real, earnest, messy social algorithm.