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Your (Social Media) Life is Your Message

My students pitch story ideas that really aren't "stories" as much as they are attempts to entertain their friends. They come up with "games" or other stunts that have less to do with creativity and storytelling than they have to do with watching themselves on video. It's an interesting difference--the students I see now versus the students I saw ten years ago. The front-facing camera has made it easier for people to put themselves on video--and they like it.

Because many of my students enjoy Tik Tok, YouTube and Instagram, they want to become "stars" on these channels. They see what others have posted and mimic them rather than come up with an idea of their own. So when I ask them to use their journalism and video production skills to tell a story, they really don't know what I'm talking about. Many of them aren't familiar with what a video news story really looks like because these days there are too many other options for them to see.

I'm trying to separate their education from their desire to be a TikTok star. I'm teaching them a skill--the idea of conveying a message using particular tools of video production. Because the media they choose to consume don't have much of a message, it's difficult for them to break out of this box. My job as an educator is to break them out of their comfortable boxes and get them to see things differently. Why? Because their own world is much different from the world that will pay them.

Your college education won't make you a star on TikTok.

I remember hearing an interview with a "content creator" (also known as an "influencer") who is attending college in California. She has an exclusive club of content creators--you have to apply to be a part of this club--where they share ideas of how to make their content more viral.

I don't have a problem with this too much--I think it's a good idea for people to share ideas about how to market themselves. I think it's valuable. We have to be careful, though, because what works for one person doesn't work for another. Perhaps the person might have an original idea or a different personality than the person receiving advice.

So what emerges is more of the same, and discerning people are smarter than this, seeing through these patterns. I love JP Sears because he makes many of these marketing schemes obvious, and pokes fun of them. Of course, he himself has many of these "courses" and "premium memberships."

When you look at the studies on viral media, the researchers are stumped. There really isn't any common thread that ties them all. Originality plays a part, so why do we see so many people try to copy what's already been done, especially if they aren't doing it better?

Personality is another thing, but oftentimes this can present a problem if they aren't authentic or consistent. Someone might create their own brand based on their personality, but if they post something "off brand" out of haste or without thinking, they face serious backlash. A media personality might make a ton of money based on this brand, but then the person might get "stuck" in this brand if they don't gradually grow and evolve. Britney Spears grew famous because of her sweet, innocent image, yet the mass media exploited her when her image no longer suited her and she wanted to break out of it.

Social media audiences are fickle, so who is popular now won't be popular in a few years. If the person is smart, the person will be creative in growing the brand, seeking other ventures when the social media following moves to another.

Ultimately, we have to find our own talent--what we're good at and what we know best--and employ the media channels appropriately.

I think about Joanna Gaines, who had a talent for interior design. She had a message to convey, so she started an interior design blog. Had she not ventured into different territory, she and her husband wouldn't have the business they have today. They were always evolving, asking themselves, "How can we grow? How can we improve?" In other words, they were ABOUT something. They used the media to convey a message and employ their talent. The medium wasn't their message.

My life is my message--Gandhi

What is the message you want to convey on your social media channels? What messages, if any, do you want to convey? If you look at your social media feed, what messages, if any, are you conveying now?

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