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Are you envious of that Twitter handle that has more than 4,000 followers? Did you create a food blog six months ago with intentions of becoming the next Chocolate covered Katie only to forget about it after two weeks?

Whether or not you dream of becoming a YouTube sensation, most of us use social media a lot. We know that it can be used in ways that are both positive (e.g., to spread messages of social justice, to share knowledge and happy moments) and negative (e.g., to cyberbully, to procrastinate). Since you’re probably already using social media, why not make the most of it? And while you’re at it, why don’t you try using it for good?

Here’s how to build your online presence and become a social media maven, all in the name of positivity.

1. Brand yourself

When creating a social media presence, you may want to consider building your personal brand. First step: Think about what type of content you want to present and who you think your audience will be.

Start building your brand by posting more often about a couple of the topics that interest you, says Andrea Vahl, social media consultant and co-author of Facebook Marketing All-in-One for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2011). For example, if you’re a computer genius or a cooking guru, you can build your brand around your talent. Doing this sets expectations so that your audience knows what they’re going to get when they click on your blog, profile, Instagram account, YouTube channel, etc.

How do I get started?

First, focus on aesthetics. “Keep the same name, profile pic, imagery, and look across your social media profiles,” writes Kevan Lee, a professional content tracker at Buffer (an app that lets you plan and strategize your social media posts) in a blog post. This makes you more recognizable to your followers and helps you stand out.

“Look for interesting posts about your topic and share them. Use hashtags around that topic and grow a following that is interested in that topic,” says Andrea Vahl, social media consultant, author, and blogger.

Jim Joseph, marketing professor at New York University, added these insights in an article published in Entrepreneur:

  1. Post pictures (mindfully). People are more likely to look at pictures than read words, and your pics can say a lot about you. Make sure that what you’re posting is appropriate for your age and audience (e.g., no illegal activity).
  2. Read twice and edit before you post. Avoid writing in haste or anger.
  3. “React with caution” when responding to posts or commenting on others’ posts. You want to create a positive online presence for yourself. You don’t want to be known as a troll, bully, or someone who is passing judgment.

“Advocate. Let everyone know positive and uplifting things. When you lead positively, people will follow.”
—Chardah, junior, Wilmington, Delaware

2. Time is of the essence

There are hot times to post on social media to get the most traffic. Here’s a chart that lets you know exactly when to post on various outlets, according to a Quicksprout blog post written by web marketing guru Neil Patel.

What you’ll get at what time of day:

Facebook

Facebook:
1:00 P.M. — The most shares
3:00 P.M. — The most clicks

Twitter

Twitter:
12:00 P.M. & 6:00 P.M. — The highest click-through rates
5:00 P.M. — The most retweets

Instagram

Instagram:
3:00 – 4:00 P.M. — The most likes

Pinterest

Pinterest:
8:00 P.M. – 11:00 P.M. — The best visibility

How to create quality content that can help you reach your future goals

Creating quality content is especially important if you’re posting about things that you’re passionate about or things that will get you noticed for college admissions or future jobs. Though the thought might be nerve-racking—many college admissions boards and job hiring teams will look at your social media profiles when considering whether to accept you. Use this as an opportunity to show off how you engage your audience in the subjects you’re passionate about.

For example, Sophia Bush, actress, activist, and positive social media role model, explained to the Huffington Post why she decided to become active on social media after the 2010 Gulf oil spill. “I traveled to New Orleans and spent all my time on the Louisiana coast for 10 days with Global Green and on my way there I said, ‘That’s what this is for. The stuff I’m going to see and the things I want to talk to people about. That’s my reason to get on social media.’”

How you can use social media to promote a cause
  • Join a cause you care about (if you haven’t already)
  • Find or create relevant hashtags
  • Post informative links about your cause on Twitter
  • Post pictures and videos of you getting involved or volunteering for the cause on Instagram and Snapchat
  • Discuss it in more depth on Facebook

If you’d rather not use social media to advance your career, passions, or educational goals, that’s totally fine. But you’ll at least want to refrain from hurting your future with posts that might get you into trouble. Try to avoid posting anything that would make a hiring manager or college admissions officer think twice about you. Tip: Ask yourself, “Would Grandma feel OK if she saw this post?” If the answer is yes, chances are it’ll be OK with college admissions officers and hiring managers, too.

“I act like everything online is a national press conference that I’m hosting.”
—High school student, name and city withheld

Can too much social media use make us unhappy?

It can be easy to get caught up in the web of pretending to be someone you’re not or only showing one version of yourself on social media. But remember that follows, likes, and favorites do not define our happiness or self-worth. In fact, a number of studies have shown that heavy social media use can be linked to anxiety and depression, especially when we compare ourselves to others online. A 2011 study by researchers at Stanford University found that students tended to think their peers were happier than they were based on what they posted on social media. This led to students feeling more lonely and dissatisfied with their own lives.

Try making your face-to-face interactions a priority over your social media use, since we’re more likely to gain happiness from our in-person connections. Then when you use social media, try to allow your online presence to reflect who you truly are.

“Be yourself. Show the world the talents and gifts you have, and with them make as big of a difference to as many people as possible.”
—Asiah, senior, Forest Park, Illinois

3. Value quality over quantity

Ah, yes. Here’s the real question—what to post? Though it may be tempting, sharing your every move, meal, or thought is not the best way to go about social media.

“In general, it’s a good idea to link to quality content and be sharing things that are more ‘on topic’ for your audience,” says Vahl. “When you post too much, you can overwhelm your audience and get unfollowed.”

“Think about what you are saying before you say it, always with an eye on serving an audience,” adds Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs in Andover, Massachusetts. “Quality content really just means giving the audience something that they can get invested in, too.”

4. Be positive

Research shows that happiness can spread through our in-person interactions, and there’s evidence that this may be true on social media too. For example, a 2011 study analyzed more than 46,000 Twitter messages and found that positive messages were more likely to be forwarded. Positivity is powerful—not just IRL (in real life) but in how we reflect those real-life experiences on the internet.

More on happy posting

“Stay away from negativity,” says Vahl. “Use a favorite hobby or maybe focus on an area you want to explore as a possible career. It doesn’t matter that you may change that topic later down the road; the exercise of building up a following and sharing your passion for that topic or hobby will give you great experience for your future.”

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying has become a problem all over the world, sometimes with tragic consequences. You can help deter cyberbullying by being a powerful, positive influence on social media.

“I proofread any posts on Facebook, blogs, etc. that I make to avoid insulting anyone else and degrading who I am as a person. I also [refrain from] using words that seem to judge or criticize. Practicing online etiquette not only sharpens my vocabulary, but it also prevents future conflicts with others, bullying, and enables [me to maintain] my dignity.”
—Shania, senior, Brooklyn, New York

Follow Shania’s social media etiquette example and “tweet others as you would want to be tweeted.”

5. Be yourself

Social media can sometimes tempt us to present a persona that isn’t true to who we are. While aiming to keep posts mature, positive, and age-appropriate is important for our future and well-being, it doesn’t mean you should feel pressured to present a “perfect” version of yourself. We’re all human, and human connection comes from sharing our authentic selves with others.

6. Learn from the best

Check out these inspiring, entertaining, and overall awesome social media stars to add to your network.

Facebook logo

Facebook

+ Bethany Mota is a teenage YouTuber from California. She lives by the Dr. Seuss quote, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Her videos focus on hair, makeup, fashion, DIY projects, and more.

+ YOUTH SPEAKS is an awesome channel that features young people from all over the country sharing spoken-word stories about the issues they’re facing, such as diabetes, racism, dropping out of school, and sexual assault. Check it out for inspiration and motivation to make a difference.

The thoughts and views within these profiles are not representative of Student Health 101.

Twitter logo

Twitter

+ Misty Copeland danced her way into our hearts as the first-ever African American to be promoted to principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre. Follow her on Twitter for a backstage view of what’s going on in ballet and on Broadway.

+ Josh Peck recently resurfaced after taking several years off from acting following the completion of the TV show Drake and Josh, but he makes up for it through his hilarious Twitter feed.

The thoughts and views within these profiles are not representative of Student Health 101.

Instagram logo

Instagram

+ @rachelryle shares her talent at creating illustrations and animations and also posts quick how-to drawing clips for her nearly 500,000 followers.

+ @dylanthenomad is the account of Dylan Millsap, a talented photographer who goes around the world with his camera strapped to his chest. Every Instagram photo he posts is worthy of framing.

The thoughts and views within these profiles are not representative of Student Health 101.

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Article sources

Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs, Boston, Massachusetts.

Andrea Vahl, social media consultant and co-author of Facebook Marketing All-in-One for Dummies, Louisville, Colorado.

Blickley, L. (2015, April 2). How celebrities are using social media in a more positive and passionate way. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/02/celebrities-social-media-for-good_n_6979790.html

Coviello, L., Sohn, Y., Kramer, A. D. I., Marlow, C., et al. (2014). Detecting emotional contagion in massive social media networks. PLoS ONE 9(3), e90315. Retrieved from https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0090315

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Donnelly, L. (2012, July 8). Facebook and Twitter feed anxiety, study finds. The Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/9383609/Facebook-and-Twitter-feed-anxiety-study-finds.html

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Jordan, A. H., Monin, B., Dweck, C. S., Lovett, B. J., et al. (2011). Misery has more company than people think: Underestimating the prevalence of others’ negative emotions. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(1), 120–135.

Joseph, J. (2014, June 25). Build your personal brand on social media, moment by moment. Entrepreneur. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/235073

Lee, K. (2015, January 15). The 5 keys to building a social media strategy for your personal brand [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.bufferapp.com/social-media-strategy-personal-branding-tips

Lenhart, A. (2015, April 9). Teens, social media and technology overview 2015. Pew. Retrieved from https://www.pewinternet.org/2015/04/09/teens-social-media-technology-2015/

Kross, E., Verduyn, P., Demiralp, E., Park, J., et al. (2013). Facebook use predicts declines in subjective well-being in young adults. PloS ONE, 8(8), e69841.

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Patel, N. (2015, January 2). What are the best times to post onto social media. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.quicksprout.com/2015/01/02/what-are-the-best-times-to-post-on-social-media/

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