Damn you, Zuckerberg. Six years into my relationship with your progeny, Facebook, I still want to dislike it (just a thought – why isn’t there a ‘dislike’ button on Facebook? I digress). Do you know how many times my fingers have hovered over the ‘delete account’ button, only to pull away from the precipice of the social media isolation I would undoubtedly suffer without a Facebook profile? And I admit. The power is strong in the Newsfeed; slices of everyday life swirling in the mix of breaking news, personal opinion and invitations to everything from film premieres and public protests to consignment sales for toddlers. Oh, you’re good, Facebook.Very good.
Before I moved from London to the United States six years ago, I had very little interest in social media. Sure, I looked at Friends Reunited every now and then – more so to see if my high school crush was now a bald, ageing mess (he is….result!), but nothing beyond that. If I wanted to stay in contact with someone, their number, address (as in home) and email were in my phone or – in true old school style – my paper address book (yes, I still have one. Don’t judge me).
Yet transitioning from life as a staff journalist at the BBC to a freelance reporter for hire in Los Angeles meant I had to be visible online – and fast. Up went the LinkedIn profile, along with a personal website to showcase my work and provide all important contact information. But it wasn’t enough. All the cool people were on Facebook.
At first it was a place to keep friends up to date on my new life. I’d share pictures, blog posts and random musings on L.A; celebrity sightings in my neighbourhood or my irritation at being stuck in traffic on the 405 freeway (aka, the M25 on steroids). Yet people wanted to hear about my work, what I was up to professionally. And so Facebook, and soon Twitter, became important work tools, part of my one woman PR machine. Together, they serve a dual purpose; keeping me relevant to colleagues in the UK while raising my profile with U.S. media outlets.
The results speak for themselves. Just a few weeks ago, I was contacted, via Facebook, to do a series of interviews for the BBC on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. If I wasn’t active on social media and using it to share the latest on my professional life, my former colleague may not have thought to approach me to put a British spin on a very American moment. Likewise, local stations in Los Angeles now contact me to speak on global race issues from my unique perspective as a black Brit with an American husband and dual-citizen child. How did they find me? Social media. Sharing links to my weekly show on BBC Radio 5 Live doesn’t hurt. If I had a dollar for every time someone has said “O.M.G! You work for the BBC?” I could have retired and be sipping rum punch in Barbados by now.
But opportunities via social media don’t just happen. You have to put in some work. Long before my first book Redefining Black Power: Reflections on the State of Black America was released in 2012, I secured the social media pages. Every day I would post something of relevance to the Obama presidency and civil rights movement. Once the book was released, I had a ready made audience engaged with the subject matter who wanted to come out to events and continue the conversation in person. Social media added a whole other dimension to the experience and has given longevity to the project. plus those followers will already be in place when the second book is released next year.
I’ve turned a corner in my social media journey. I no longer see expending energy on Facebook and Twitter as a waste of time. Time online is time spent building your business and your creative future. Initiatives like Digital Women UK are needed to help creatives forge ahead with the free tools that are readily available. Social media engagement today is a necessity, not just a place to view amusing cats-in-costumes videos.
So I take my hat off to you, Mark Zuckerberg. I would send you a handwritten thank you note, but that’s so 1999, plus a Facebook message will be quicker and easier to share with your bazillion followers.
About the author
Joanne is a London-born, Los Angeles –based writer, journalist and commentator. She has hosted programmes on BBC London 94.9FM and BBC Radio Northampton, and currently hosts a weekly history show using audio from the Pacifica Radio Archives which airs on BBC Radio 5 Live. Now based in LA, Joanne is the founder of the multimedia production company Jane Hannah Media which provides online content for an international client base. She is also the author of Redefining Black Power: Reflections on the State of Black America.