Looking back on the last couple of posts I’ve written, I see a theme developing. I’ve been considering different aspects of my work: namely presenting and writing. These moments of reflection have been useful for me: so much so that I’ve decided to conclude this mini-series with one aspect of my work which I really struggle with. Let’s hope that I will derive some therapeutic benefit from the exercise!
The wallflower of this post’s title is, of course, myself.
In the 24/7 party which is social media, I’m not even in the kitchen. I’m in the toilet, powdering my nose for the zillionth time, and wondering when I can decently say my farewells.
“Why bother with social media at all then?” you may ask. Well, why do wallflowers go to real life parties? Why do we even bother stepping over our front doorsteps in the morning?
I suppose we go because we know, deep down, that it’s for our own good. We may be wallflowers, but we still need social contact. We don’t want to miss out on news and interactions and opportunities. Sometimes we rely on our more sociable friends to drag us along in their wake, telling us that we’ll be missing out if we don’t make a “bit of an effort”.
So we grit our teeth and we jump in to the melee.
I stuck my first toe into social media back in 2012, when I started keeping a teaching blog. I wasn’t expecting anyone to read it except my Mum, but I liked the practice of jotting down lesson reflections in a space which seemed more permanent than a scrap of paper. As time went on, I did wish that a few more readers would pop by, but I had no idea how I could make this happen.
Shortly afterwards, I took my first steps into ELT material writing with the help of my agent, who gave me the gentle shove I needed to start using Twitter and LinkedIn. I dutifully signed up: I was serious about ELT writing, and I realised that if I wanted anyone to know about my work, I’d need to declare my existence. Living in Shetland, I realised I was more cut off than most from meet-ups and face to face contact: I’d have to raise my voice above a whisper if I was to have any hope of being heard.
“I’m rubbish at this Twitter thing”, I complained one day. “What’s the point in writing anything? I don’t even have any followers!” (It hadn’t yet dawned on me that I would actually need to follow some people first.)
Well, fast forward three years, and I’m still hanging on in there. Despite my best efforts, I don’t feel completely at home. I’m a quiet and sporadic tweeter, sometimes going for days without so much as checking my feed.
However, I’ve enjoyed some lovely interactions with other teachers, met some wonderful people (some of whom I’ve gone on to meet face to face at conferences) and even managed to attract offers of work through my blog. So, fellow wallflowers who would be writers, however hard it may seem, do persist with your twittering, your linkeding or even your facebooking.
What have I learned over the years? Like many people, my strong wallflower tendencies are balanced by the steely voice of my inner pragmatist, who knows that it’s simply not practical to spend life hiding in the toilet.
Let me present you with some of my typical wallflower whinges and some pragmatic responses.
Wallflower me: “I don’t have anything interesting to say”.
In my early days of navigating Twitter, I often came across advice advising me to “be original and interesting”.
But what if I’m having the psychic equivalent of a bad hair day and feel that I could more easily eat my own face than think of an interesting or original thing to say?
The pragmatist within says: If you don’t feel like saying anything, that’s fine. It’s okay to be the strong silent type sometimes. If you want to show your followers you’re still alive, then share that interesting article you read over breakfast this morning. Or find something interesting someone else has said and retweet it. It’s probably best if you can add your own evaluative comment on it, but if even that seems too much, then settle for a simple retweet.
Wallflower me: “Thomas Hardy didn’t have to tweet about it every time he wrote a poem.”
The pragmatist within says: You’re not Thomas Hardy. Get over yourself.
Wallflower me: “I hate blowing my own trumpet. It seems so dickish.”
The pragmatist within says: You’re darn right. Blowing your own trumpet is dickish, and should be avoided at all costs. It’s the trumpet solos on social media which can make it such a depressing place at times. Here’s the rub though: you need to promote your work – that’s why you’re here in the first place!
This is what you need to do. Look out for people who are social media naturals: those who are right in the middle of the party, surfing the crowd. People who have lots of followers, get loads of retweets and have plenty of interactions. Try to suss out what they’re doing right. Are they blowing their own trumpets? I bet they’re not. Chances are they’re answering other people’s requests for help, sharing useful resources, links and articles, making the odd witticism, bigging up other people (not themselves) and being all round good guys. Try to emulate some of this (while making sure you keep your own voice and style: nobody likes a copy cat) and you’ll be moving in the right direction.
If you’re a wallflower by nature, you might never scale these giddy heights of social media popularity. But listening to the pragmatist within might just get you out of the toilet and into the party.