Richard’s been contributing to the Days Of The Year blog since day one, and went so far as to attempt to live an entire year celebrating every single event on our calendar. Nowadays he has a proper job as a freelance social media manager – and with Social Media Day on the horizon, we’ve interrupted his busy schedule to get his thoughts on how social media shapes his world, and where he thinks it’s all going.

Q: Social media means different things to different people – what does it mean to you?

It’s a strange thing, social media, especially when you do it for a living.

On a personal level, each channel means a different thing to me. Facebook, for instance, is mainly for private messages and finding out what friends are up to, so it’s more like a text message app with constant distractions, such as photos of people’s new bathrooms and vague statuses that you sometimes can’t help but comment on. Twitter, on the other hand, is where I go to find out what’s happening there and then, especially in terms of culture and the arts, local events, and whatever meme has taken the world’s attention for those particular five minutes. Instagram is my chill out zone, simple as that; meanwhile, Google+ has recently turned into my main source of creative inspiration, as it’s a hugely visual place. Then there’s LinkedIn, which is all about gaining business and creating new links.

On a business level, every channel has the same overarching target: to engage the public. Whether this engagement leads to more followers, a more dedicated and interactive audience or sales conversions, what’s important is that the channels also have value. Without value, what’s the point in them even being there? Value can take many forms, even if it’s simply making someone smile. The long and short of it is that nobody wants to follow social media accounts that are constantly just shouting “Hey, look at us, we exist, we sell things!”

Q: How has social media changed the way you interact with people, brands and your world?

I’m going to use The English Muse, a coffee and art lounge in my hometown of Hull, England, as an example. This is a relaxed and inspirational spot for people to have a cuppa and do whatever it is they do when taking timeout. However, only about 20% of the content I share through the Facebook, Twitter and Google+ channels are to do with coffee or food. Instead, the brand has been built over the course of eighteen months to become a destination for those who love art, design, literature, poetry, human stories, community events and anything else along those lines that makes us feel good and helps us to learn. As a result, numerous online followers have become regular visitors to The English Muse itself, also resulting in an increased amount of fans checkinƒg-in, redistributing our digital content, and sharing their own photos to show how much they enjoyed their visit.

The best part is that I’ve become personal friends with a few of these followers, none of which I’d met or even heard of before taking over the management of the accounts. You can probably guess where we meet for coffee.

Q: Do you think there are any drawbacks or downsides to the widespread adoption of social media, and the changes it brings?

Since back when Facebook became popular worldwide almost a decade ago, there’s always been the opinion that social media is anything but social. From columnists to parents and the mainstream media to charity organisations, so many people go on and on about how it’s detrimental to the way that we communicate, assess information and experience situations (e.g. people don’t talk to each other anymore; everyone is desensitised; having a camera on you at all times makes every beautiful setting become commonplace).

I disagree. Yes, there are those who can’t communicate any better than a bluebottle, but that’s always been the case, they’re just communicating poorly in a different way. Meanwhile, I believe that the amount of friendships strengthened and business links forged on a daily basis far outweighs any negativity. It’s also true that people are becoming less shocked by horrific sights (natural disasters, road safety adverts etc.), but to me that means they could be more open to properly digesting the message, such as poverty, animal cruelty or any kind of ism you can name. And as for things such as sunsets, extreme sports and art installations becoming boring because more people have access to seeing a photo of them… well, personally I think that’s ridiculous. We take photos because we deem the content interesting, beguiling and infused with quality; since when does sharing something make it mundane, plain and worthless? If that’s the case, perhaps we should stop writing books, painting masterpieces and reporting the news immediately.

Q: What’s the next big thing in social media, and what does the future look like?

Oohhh, good question.

I’m not a football fan at all, to the extent that not even the World Cup grabs my attention whatsoever. In fact, I actually avoid pubs when matches are on and try to change the topic as soon as I find myself in the middle of a conversation about last night’s game. But you know what? Thanks to Google Doodles, every day I know who’s playing. Thanks to Twitter and its temporary sidebar content, I know who won today, and yesterday, and I’ll know tomorrow too. Thanks to Facebook’s World Cup Fan Map (and my own curiosity), I know that Wayne Rooney is pretty popular with users in Mandalay and Yangyong. And thanks to Google+ and Tumblr, I’ve seen dozens of “Suarez likes to bite Chiellini” gifs, each of which brought a smile to my face.

So my answer to both questions would be the rise in real world events bringing social media communities together, and more effectively providing ways for them to interact. It’s been done with elections and sport, but in time perhaps the Turner Prize, Miss World and Crufts will be talked about online just as much. It sounds like a long shot but if you can get me to show any form of interest in football, you can achieve anything.

Q: What’s the best starting place for somebody who’s unfamiliar with things like Twitter or Pinterest? Any tips?

There are all kinds of resources for getting to grips with new social media platforms, such as video tutorials and step-by-step blogs and articles, but my personal approach has always been to gradually learn through experimentation. You’re not going to break the app, and the chances of you posting something when you don’t want to are slim. In fact, it’s easier to accidentally blurt out something inappropriate in public than it is on, say, Twitter, plus you can always delete it if you do. Just don’t rush things and think about what it is you’re sharing.

Once you’ve picked up the basics, there may be more advanced elements that you need assistance with, in which case by all means use the help function or simply Google it. As with everything else in life, I find that working things out for yourself as far as you’re able is very rewarding, and you’ll become a more effective and engaging user as a result.

If you’d like to hear more of Richard’s thoughts on social media, what better place to go than his Twitter account, @sobananapenguin?


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