10 Things I’ve Learnt From 10 Years on Social Media

Thanks to my Timehop app I realised the other day that I have been on social media for ten years. It was ten years ago that I first joined Facebook and from there, went on to start a blog, share my writing, join Twitter and Instagram and the rest of it. Like anything new to us, navigating social media in the early days is tricky. I can look back now and see that I have learned a lot about how to use it, how positive and how destructive it can be. Here are ten things I’ve learned from ten years on social media.

  1. Some people use social media like a sort of online diary. I think I used to do this a bit myself until my Timehop app memories shamed me into stopping! But I try not to judge others who like to share their dinner, their bad day, their little triumphs, their new haircut, their kid losing their first tooth or what the weather is like. I think it shows that people want to communicate with each other and there is something sort of sweet and sad about that.
  2. I wouldn’t sell any books without it. True story. For an indie author on a very limited budget, I am constantly amazed that I sell any books at all. I definitely wouldn’t sell any without social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and this blog have helped me shape my author platform over the years and allowed me to engage with potential readers and showcase my writing. I don’t know how I would reach any of these people without social media!
  3. It can be a real force for good. I am forever surprised and humbled by the kindness I see on social media. From people starting petitions to help others, people signing and sharing, people starting fundraisers and people donating what they can. The words of support and empathy that are shared with those who are struggling. The fact that people can post on social media that they are having a hard time and get a loving response. Even the small things, like people asking for recommendations, asking for general advice, people helping people out. I love watching videos on Facebook of animals being rescued by people who go out of their way to do it. Always restores my faith in humanity! There are some lovely feel-good stories out there that the TV news just doesn’t tell us about anymore.
  4. It can be a force for bad. Undoubtedly, there is a destructive side to social media. Online bullying, stalking and harassment. Dick pics, racism, sexism, homophobia and animal abuse. All of these things thrive on social media but I guess it’s inevitable. People are good and people are bad. People are kind and people are destructive, so you are always going to get both sides on social media platforms. It can bring you down. Sometimes my feed is full of bad news and horror stories, and if I ever make the mistake of reading comments under political posts…ugh. Sometimes it hurts my heart to see and read how some people think and feel about others. It can also be used for spreading fear, propaganda and lies. Something we need to be increasingly wary of.
  5. People follow you so that you will follow them back and then they unfollow you. It took me a while to realise this as an author. I don’t tend to like or follow other accounts unless I am really interested, and at the moment I’m trying to pare down what I do see and follow. But over the years, if someone, usually other authors, have made the point of liking my page or following my Instagram, I would nearly always return the favour. Sometimes authors ask for this, which I do find a bit rude! Nevertheless, I started out returning the favour only to realise further down the line that person had unliked or unfollowed me. I now see this is a thing people do. Follow you on Instagram, for example, so you follow back, and then they almost instantly unfollow you. They were never interested in following you in the first place. They just wanted to prompt you to follow them to boost their numbers. Now that I know this, I only ever follow back if I am really interested in their content and every now and then I go through my lists and have a purge.
  6. Likes for Likes posts are counterproductive. I have to admit doing these ‘like for like’ things is probably how I got my author Facebook page rolling in the very early days. There were various groups and sites where you could post your page and if people followed you, you were obliged to follow back. I actually met some good online writer friends this way and read some awesome books. But I’m jaded by it now and have vowed not to do it anymore. As tempting as it is, to paste your page link under a ‘let’s follow each other’ post, I don’t see the point. If people want to follow your page because they like your writing, that’s fine. No one should be swapping likes for the sake of it. Chances are you end up with 2,000 likes on your page, most of whom are other authors in other genres who have no intention of ever reading your work and vice versa. I’d rather have less likes but they be from people who have found me themselves and stayed because they like what I post.
  7. You will never change someone’s mind with political posts. Well, I exaggerate slightly, because over the years I have posted the odd thing that someone has responded to, saying it made them think or question something or even change their mind. I could probably count the amount of times this has happened on one hand though. Mostly what happens is the people who think the same as you agree with it and share it. The people who disagree with it, let you know and an argument commences. And the people who don’t give a shit about politics continue to not give a shit about politics. I try really hard not to post too much political stuff these days, but it is very hard! I do realise when I post them though that I am largely wasting my time. Everyone believes what they want to believe and they will find the evidence and data to back it up to suit themselves and yes I am guilty of this too.
  8. A lot of activity on social media is attention seeking. But can you blame us? We live in a crazy, mess-up, potentially doomed world. We have horror at our fingertips any time we want it. We don’t know what to believe anymore, we don’t know what is true and what is fake news. We are all overworked and underpaid. There are no jobs for life and the safety net is being eroded. We are all insecure about our looks and we all have anxiety and depression and repressed rage. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to feel. We are disconnected from each other, with no time to catch our breath. It’s an effort to make contact with real friends in real life, so we use social media instead and let’s be honest, most of us do it for attention. Just a Like. A smiley face, a laughing face, a comment, a share. Some recognition, some validation, some sympathy and empathy, or just something to laugh about together. Sometimes that small connection with someone else will help you get through the day.
  9. Sometimes strangers on social media are more supportive than your own friends and family. Another true story! A weird one. Strangers on the internet can become friends, good friends! People who check in with you, message you, chat with you at weird times, support you and share your news. I’ve always found that strangers online are more receptive to and interested in my writing than my actual friends and family. If I post something about my writing to my personal page, it will mostly be ignored. If I post something to my author page, I can usually guarantee a response and some engagement, which is absolutely lovely and keeps me going!
  10. It’s capable of changing the world and it’s not going away. Scary but true. There’s that whole herd mentality thing. Public opinion can be swayed greatly by whatever is going viral and sweeping the internet. You just have to hope it’s something that will work in your favour! I think the thing I have realised though is that social media is here to stay and you are far better off embracing it and trying to understand it, than shunning it and fearing it. This is particularly important if you have kids who are almost certainly going to end up on it at some point. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? To wrap them up in a bubble and shield them from the awful, cruel world and the awful, cruel things that pop up on social media. But knowledge is power and I think parents are better off joining in and getting to understand social media so that they can help their kids navigate it when the time comes. There’s a real risk in allowing your kids to join a site you have no clue about, or even trying to keep them away from it all for as long as possible. It is still going to be there and eventually they will find it. Maybe they will decide it’s not for them, but I think parents are far better able to help kids understand it and use it safely if they have that understanding and experience themselves!

So, how about you? How long have you been using social media? Which are your favourite sites and why? What do you think are the pros and cons of social media? What has it taught you?

Reasons To Be Cheerful

It’s a tense time right now in the UK. The nation has felt divided since Brexit and the looming snap election has opened that wound and stabbed it with a dirty stick. My personal Facebook page is an endless landslide of anger, fear and finger pointing. And yes, I’m finger pointing too. I’m as angry as the next person and truly believe our country needs to vote in favour of hope and change. But this is not a political post. Nor a negative one. I need a break from all of that and decided to write a post about the things that make me cheerful. And not just cheerful, but bloody glad to be alive…

Walking barefoot

barefoot-482747_640

We all did this when we were little kids. We didn’t think twice about it. We had to be reminded and nagged to put our shoes on before we went outside. Now people think you’re weird if they see you walking around without shoes on. But being barefoot makes me feel happy. It makes me feel calm, safe and grounded to feel the warm earth or the wet grass under my toes. It makes me feel somehow looser, sillier, younger and freer. Try it some time. I do it whenever I can. I truly believe in some powerful way it helps you to feel reconnected to the earth and to nature. And we could all do with a bit of that.

Cake

cake-1987326_640.jpg

Tea and cake. Coffee and cake. Wine and cake. Take your pick but make sure there is definitely cake. A nice big flat slab of it. Any cake will do. Me, I’m not fussy. (Unless it’s banana, ugh) Apple cake, carrot cake, coffee cake, fruit cake. Every now and then only a big fat squashy chocolate cake will do. The kind you get all over your face while eating. I think cake is another thing that makes me feel like a little kid. The whole act of making one, from cracking the eggs against the side of the bowl, to shaking the flour through the sieve, to sitting on the doorstep to lick the bowl out afterward. Happy times. I find making a cake cheers me up. I find eating cake has the same effect. Win, win.

Watching Children Play

child-1864718_640

I mean the kind that doesn’t involve adults. Just little kids playing like no one is watching. Just totally lost in their own little worlds. Whether it’s building Lego, or pushing cars about, or making little figures move around. I find it spellbinding. I sometimes catch my little one holding two cars or two dinosaurs and making them talk to each other. ‘Hello’ says one, ‘hello’ says the other. There might be a bit more chat before it descends into a language only he can understand. It’s magical to me that he’s totally happy to be alone, to be playing with something he chose, to be directing that play the way his developing mind sees fit, and that it is all totally real to him. Warms me up no end.

Greenery

1470336_992303410788924_5944084606082827220_n

This is one of my photos from the lane I walk down every day. At this time of year from one end to the other, it’s like a tunnel of green. There are Oaks on both sides, gigantic majestic relics of yesteryear, spreading their arms across to the other side, shading the way. Splashes of colour from rhododendron, dandelions, daisies, dead nettles and pink clover. Bees humming through the wild flowers. Pigeons cooing on the telephone wires. Crows flapping past in two’s and threes. And when I turn my head, wherever I look I see a wall of green. So much green. It’s the same in my garden, due to the trees we have and the trees around the area. They are all so huge that my windows are filled with green. It makes me feel like I can breathe easier, just knowing they are there.

Singing Loudly To Music

microphone-1209816_640.jpg

I do this whenever I can and I have the worst voice ever. In the car, once the kids have been deposited and there is no risk of me embarrassing or deafening them, I turn it up loud and sing along. When I’m cooking the dinner, I put on an old CD, turn it up and dance around the kitchen while singing at the top of my voice. The best thing about music is the way it installs memories in your brain that will then later be exploded every time you hear that song. Tastes, smells, sounds, emotions, all will come rushing back in a an overload of nostalgia. Plus, singing and dancing cheer me up. As long as no one is watching or listening!

Night Skies

12829453_1136278233058107_1794700601345978661_o.jpg

I’m lucky that I live in a beautiful place with a beautiful garden, but wherever you are in the world, you can go outside at night and look at the sky. This always cheers me up and calms me down. Like walking barefoot in the day, sitting up to watch the sunset or lying on the ground under the stars, is the best way to feel reconnected to the earth. It just makes me feel steady and still. Sometimes I feel like the day belongs to the people, and the night belongs to the animals. It feels a bit like trespassing to sit and enjoy it with them.

Dreams

campervan-501797_640.jpg

When I was a little kid I dreamed about being a writer. I also dreamed about being a mother and working with animals. All of these dreams have come true. But you never drop dreaming, or at least you shouldn’t. I dream of writing more books and of writing the one that sees me find true success. I also dream of owning a vintage VW Campervan. A real old style hippy bus. I’d like to live in it eventually and leave the house to the kids if they need it. But before that, I want to go travelling. I want to jump in the van every single weekend with the husband the kids and the dogs and go somewhere we have never been before. I want to work our way all around the UK and then move on to Europe. I want it to have crochet blankets and wind chimes and lots of cushions! We’ve been saving up for nearly three years now. It’s a family thing. we’ll get there one day!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my personal reasons to be cheerful list. There are so many more things I could have added it to it, like reading and writing, gardening and going to see live music. How about you? What cheers you up when the world feels like a scary place? What’s on your reasons to be cheerful list? Please feel free to comment and share!

Silence Is Dangerous

Warning; Political post. If that’s not your thing, you better scarper now. If you’ve had enough of politics, you’ve been given fair warning to scuttle off and ignore this. I’m not often political on here. I try very hard to keep politics from my Facebook author page too. On my personal page, not so much. But my other social media profiles, Twitter, Instagram etc, it is politics free. But sometimes I can’t stay silent. Sometimes it’s dangerous to do so. And if you think politics have nothing to do with my books, you’d be wrong too. All of my books revolve around social issues, one way or another. To give you an example, the book that I am currently submitting, The Tree Of Rebels, is set in a future based on my fears for where we are heading as a society, and the next book after that, Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature is a story about a mother and son in a low socio-economic position, and how they struggle to survive fear and despair. The book I have just started the third draft of, A Song For Bill Robinson, is also mildly political in nature, as one of the main storylines is the threatened closure of the community centre due to local Government spending cuts. For me, as a human and as a writer, these issues are real and they are happening. But I digress…

I get it if you’re fed up with politics. I really do. I’m fed up too. Believe me. I wish I could do what so many others seem to be able to master. I wish I could plug my ears, close my eyes, bury my head and build a little happy bubble around me. Really, please believe me, I am as sick of politics as the next person. It’s literally doing my head in. First, we had the General Election in 2015 here in the UK. In a shocking twist, the Tories beat Labour. Then we had Brexit. More drama, more division, more hatred, and another shocking twist. Then there was the US Election. And Trump. Don’t even…. ugh. So I do understand. It’s been horrendous. (Unless you’re happily sat on the extreme right and aren’t scared by the threat of World War Three or climate and planetary destruction that is, in which case it’s not been horrendous for you at all.)

But for those of us who are scared, disappointed, angry, confused, it has been a horrible few years. We are all sick of it and we all want to turn off the TV, avoid social media, tell people not to talk politics, and declare areas as politics free.

But it’s not quite that easy, though oh how I wish it was.

You see, politics is very, very interested in you.

Politics affects everything, from the roads you drive on, to the very air you breathe. And I feel like this; if you are lucky enough right now to not be affected by Tory policies, if you are fortunate enough that you do not need to rely on the NHS, on state education, on fair rents, on mental health or social care, then lucky you. That’s brilliant. You won’t be affected by the vicious cuts in place or those to come. It would be nice if you could spare a thought for those that are, such as the millions of children who will be suffering increased class sizes or shorter school days, once the next round of cuts to education sets in. But if you can’t even do that, then please think about the air you breathe and the planet you live on. Think about the future of this planet under the rule of a Government who have increased taxes on solar and wind power, and are in favour of fracking despite the local communities saying no. This is not our planet. It belongs to those we leave it to. Our children and their children.

And if we stay silent, because the truth scares us, or because it upsets us or keeps us awake at night, then surely we are playing into their hands and giving them the subservient and docile electorate they want. If we do not speak up for those who are suffering, what does that say about us? Who will speak up for us when we are suffering?

7FDDSQl

I wish I could ignore politics. It invades my life and gives me sleepless nights where my brain aches and my guts churn. It makes me angry and desperate on a daily basis. It makes me cry when I am alone walking the dogs. It makes me worry about the future of my children, their education, their future jobs and homes. Their planet. It affects me on a daily basis because I am reliant on the NHS, on the state education which is being destroyed as we speak. It affects my 9-year-old son in ways that distress us all. It makes me look at my 2-year-old and feel intense guilt for even choosing to bring him into this world.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is, a politics-free world would be nice and avoiding politics would be refreshing, but I feel like this is dangerous. Silence is dangerous. Silence allows these terrible things to continue. Believe me, they will take your silence as silent agreement. We have to speak up and speak out. Even if it hurts us to do so, even if it angers us to argue and debate with people, even if we are left with disappointment and despair. We are not sheep or cattle. We are thinking, feeling, creative beings and despite what they want you to believe, it is not natural to human nature or behaviour to leave people behind, to allow cruelty, to turn our backs. Society works when we all look after each other. We would not have got this far as a species if individualism and selfishness had always been the order of the day.

I know this post will alienate some followers. I fully expect to be unfollowed by some, ignored by others. That’s fine. That’s a risk I’m happy to take. It’s got to the stage now that it’s dangerous to shut up and keep quiet. Too much is at stake now. It’s not even funny anymore. Personally, when it all hits the fan, I want to know I can look my children in the eye and say I tried. I fucking tried.

The society the Tories are building right now horrifies and offends me. And I won’t shut up about it. I will argue and debate with anyone who is up for it. And I will continue to weave the ordinary stories of ordinary people into my books so that they may have a voice there too.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to vote. But I am going to warn you that silence is dangerous and turning your back on what’s going on in this world right now is very, very wrong.