Giving a TEDx talk has long been on my bucket list. This week, I’m over the moon that I got to give my talk. It was a riveting road, full of twists and turns as well as ups and downs.
The down part was two nights before my talk. I was practicing on my captive family members, not loving how it was coming together, and bargaining with myself about how to get out of doing it.
The up part was being on stage. I delivered the 1,767 words I wrote and painstakingly memorized, and I fully enjoyed the experience of sharing a message that’s near and dear to my heart.
In my next post, I’ll give some insight into the process of being part of a TEDx event. And I’ll thank many of the amazing people who helped make it happen: Sara Robinson, Abby Robinson, Heather Myrick, and my family and friends.
The school’s Service Learning Leadership class organized and hosted the second annual event. The class raises awareness, promotes compassion and takes action in local and global communities. My daughter loved it so much she took it for two years.
Social Media Can Make You a #LifelongLearner | March 22, 2019
The last time I was on this stage, there was no Spotify, no Instagram, no Internet.
As a sophomore in high school, I was not an aspiring actor, but a school play needed French can-can dancers doing a kick line. My dance group, Choreo, was invited to join the cast.
At the time, I never dreamed I’d return to this stage, on a completely different mission. Instead, I was consumed by questions you may have about your own lives as teens.
Where will I go to college? Will I enjoy it? What kind of work will I do? How about a family? If the term “bucket list” existed then, I would have wondered about that, too.
Imagine being in high school before smartphones and social media existed. It’s impossible, right?
But because I didn’t grow up with social media, learning to use it was like getting through a locked door without a key.
My job in the corporate world was VP of communications. One of my projects was bringing a form of social media to the workplace. Everyone creates a profile, forms teams, and works together in a social space.
This was my first real introduction to social media. Sure, I joined Facebook … kicking and screaming because a “friend” made me do it.
But the new project scared me. People on the tech team were throwing around words like “hybrid cloud,” and “on prem.” I had no idea what they meant. And I was the project leader.
I felt like it was silently mocking me for everything I was not. I didn’t know what I was doing. I wanted to crawl under my desk and hide until the project went away.
But that didn’t happen. As you do when there’s something you don’t want to work on, I had to kick my fear to the ground and move forward through that hybrid cloud.
Launch day was looming. One morning I woke up and decided to start a blog.
If I needed to teach others how to do it, including our CEO, it might be helpful if I knew how to do it for myself.
I wrote about what I knew, the workplace, in posts like “Writing Irresistible Emails,” and “Failure is the Secret to Success.”
And I loved it – conversing in comments and connecting people across time zones.
When I didn’t know how to do something – like hyperlinking to an article – I just asked my readers. And they responded.
By experimenting and being willing to make mistakes in a public way, I learned valuable new skills.
Later, I launched a blog outside the company, writing about how people build their careers by using social media to tell their stories.
In part, I was intrigued by colleagues I’d never met in real life, but I felt like I knew them and their work through our social interactions.
One of the them was Sandra, who worked in another state. During our project, she shared content, posted comments, and encouraged others to use the platform. Although we never met in person, I saw her leadership in social media.
A few months later, Sandra’s name came up in a talent review. This is where team leaders discuss everyone’s performance. It’s similar to a teacher giving a grade in school. When we talked about Sandra, I had good things to say about her, all because of her social presence.
A study by Dell and the Institute for the Future estimates that 85% of the jobs that today’s young people will do in 2030 … have not yet been invented.
If this is even partly correct, in just over a decade, many of today’s jobs will be replaced by new and different ones. That’s a lot of learning!
A favorite of mine, Thomas Friedman, says that today’s American dream is more of a journey than a fixed destination. He describes the feeling as walking UP a DOWN escalator.
The only way to master it is to become a lifelong learner.
How do you do this? I believe the answer lies with two questions.
Who has a smartphone in their pocket?
And who used it today on social media?
Think about the impressions you saw. What you shared. How it made you feel.
Social media gets a bad rap. It saps our attention. It makes us depressed. It polarizes our world. And don’t get me started on the YouTube comments section.
The Pew Research Center says that teens especially can feel overwhelmed by social media drama. You can feel pressured to post content that gets a lot of likes and comments.
I didn’t know I was supposed to delete Instagram posts that didn’t get 50 likes in the first hour, until my daughter told me. My early grams got about 4 likes. Good thing I didn’t know the rule.
But there’s an upside that doesn’t get this kind of attention.
Social media helps us learn. In new and different and fun ways.
Because learning isn’t over until you’re over. It’s forever a work in progress, no matter how many academic degrees you earn.
Access to anything you want to know is on the apps on your phone … for Instagram and Snapchat and YouTube. There’s also Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn … the network for professionals sometimes known as the spinach of social media. More on that in a minute.
By applying some strategy to the content you consume, you can get a degree in life – every day.
The impressions in social media – the stories, the tweets, the snaps – can be a powerful learning system. Social media can make you a lifelong learner in three different ways.
First, you can learn about any topic you choose.
Maybe you want to know more about technology. What’s the latest on artificial intelligence? Augmented reality? Robotics? How are they being applied to business or the arts or social good?
Maybe you want to learn about which media outlets you should trust to report the facts. Or about data science and how it helps companies decide what products to offer and which people to hire.
You can connect with almost anyone on social media. Commenting on someone’s content or asking a question can often start a conversation. Sometimes I do this with authors and podcasters.
You could try this with your professors when you get to college. You could do this with leaders at a company where you work, especially if it’s hard to meet them in person.
You never know if they’ll reply. People who seem really accomplished are often accessible on social media.
Second, you can learn about the social media platforms themselves.
You can learn about the algorithms that determine who sees what posts. You can study the psychology of online behavior. You can get to know how advertising works and influences you.
You can then use this to your advantage. For example, as my son told me, to make an unwanted ad go away, say for lava lamps, just search on “I hate lava lamps” a few times. No more ads.
Why else is this important? Because social media is a topic you can perpetually study but never master. Two writers, Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick, say the term “social media guru” is an oxymoron, because nobody really knows how social media works.
“No matter how smart you are,” they say, “best practices always change, because the platforms change how their sites work. Everyone needs to keep experimenting.”
I took that advice to heart. In one of my experiments, I posted to LinkedIn every weekday for a month to see what would happen. I was curious to test the data point that it takes 20 LinkedIn posts to reach 60 percent of your audience.
I put my data into a spreadsheet to analyze patterns. I wrote about it, and people wanted to know more. They started asking questions and inviting me to speak.
Third, you can help others learn about you.
A top skill of the future is making yourself known. It’s communicating who you are and what you do in a world where you’re often changing jobs.
In every impression you post in social media, you’re telling your story – like Peninsula High School Service Learning Leadership does here. You’re building your reputation, also known as your personal brand. You’re sharing what you’re doing to make the world a better place.
What’s not recommended is the humblebrag – a boast wrapped in fake humility that makes people want to facepalm when they see it. No one wants to hear just how hard it is to choose among multiple Ivy League acceptances.
What is required is getting on LinkedIn, the network for professionals. This is where you share what you do and what you want to do in the work world. It’s your always-on, 24/7 resume. It’s the way you tell your professional story.
A college admissions officer might look at your profile – especially if you put a link in your application. It’s also a way for people to find you. A job recruiter might contact you, possibly because your dream job wants to slide into your DMs.
People will come to know and trust you. Posting positive impressions lets you manage transitions and successions in life more easily. If social media had existed throughout my own life, my transitions would have been easier. I could have learned faster and shared more about me.
When I got to college, I quickly realized I was in the wrong place. So I transferred to a new school. I got a degree in economics because it seemed practical. I worked in early jobs I didn’t like very much.
Then I got a master’s in communications and found work I loved. I married a great guy and started a family. I worked at a dozen different jobs so far, from a fast-food cashier to a corporate vice president to a business owner today.
Were there ups and downs? Yes. Doubts if it would all happen? Absolutely.
But remember that scary social media project? It turned out to be one of the foundations of my business.
What made this happen? Learning. Growing. Experimenting. Every day.
This is why we all need to be social seekers – of new knowledge, perspectives and experiences.
Social media is the key that opens the door.