Recently, I finished Simon Sinek’s book Start with Why (for a quick explanation, you can check out his TEDx talk on the same subject).

In this book, Sinek argues that we often focus too much on the “what” and the “how” when we should really be looking at our WHY to guide our actions and decisions.

I couldn’t agree more.

I was thinking about this a lot as I put together a presentation on “Getting Started with Social Media” for the Textbook and Academic Author’s Association (TAA) conference happening this week.

When I attended the conference last year, I presented on book promotion more generally. Questions about social media were the most frequent topic after my presentation and also in private mentoring sessions that I offered to other conference members.

When it comes to social media engagement, I often hear people lament the time it takes to engage on social media. People are also concerned about what to post, and on what platform, and how frequently.

Notice how these are all “what” and “how” focused concerns?

While these questions are certainly important, I decided to begin my presentation with a focus on why. I asked my audience to first identify what their goals were for social media.

I came up with the following eight possibilities:

1) Connecting with others — I have never seen a better method for connecting with complete strangers than on social media. Hashtags that help you find people with shared interests and experiences make it super easy to meet new people and form lasting relationships.

2) Promoting you work — If you follow me anywhere on social media, you know that I post about my blog posts, podcast episodes, courses, webinars, books, and a range of other creative projects that I work on. Although I want to have a balance of sharing my own work and others’ ideas and resources, social media is a great place for me to remind people that I’m consistently creating new things.

3) Building expertise — By sharing resources on social media related to particular themes, you can become a go-to resource on a specific topic pretty quickly. Including the kinds of things that you typically post about in your bio statement on each platform can also help people to know what you are interested in and whether they might want to follow you for your thoughts and observations on a particular topic.

4) Sharing resources — Sharing cool resources is another favorite way for me to use social media. I especially like to share things that seem a bit obscure or that I haven’t seen shared by many other people. Blog posts, specific podcast episodes, databases, and curated resource lists are all things I often share.

5) Learning from others — If you curate you feed intentionally, social media is a diverse space where you can learn from the perspectives of a range of other people. Admittedly, it can be easy to get into a social media bubble where you just follow people who are just like you. I try to seek out people to follow who are different from me and who will offer thoughts and ideas that will challenge me a bit.

6) Promoting others’ work — Boosting ideas and projects that I believe in is one of the most fun aspects of social media for me. In particular, I like to share blog posts that the author has spent a ton of time on to create really meaningful information.

7) Building community — One of the best ways I’ve seen people build community on social media is through things like “tweet chats” and live Facebook video meetings where you get to engage with people — both known to you and new to you — in real time. A favorite tweet chat that I attend when I can is hosted by TAA (the same host of the conference I’m at this week) with the tag #acwrichat (academic writing chat).

8) Sharing ideas — One of my favorite pieces of advice about social media is that it’s a place to listen as much as it’s a place to broadcast your information. There are a lot of people sharing their ideas and reflections on social media if you go into the platform of your choice with your eyes and ears open. Perusing my feed and looking at these ideas (and maybe adding some of my own) is always invigorating and inspiring.

I know there must be more than these eight goals for social media, so please share what you think is missing from this list — I’d love to add to it over time and expand my own social media engagement goals.

To think on:

  • If you’re on social media, which of these goals guide your practices?
  • What other goals do you have for interacting on social media?