Should you use social media to share your stories? Will it help you find the audience the episodes of your past warrant?
I originally published this post in 2015. However, as 2020 draws to a close, I have a slightly different take.
There are apps that will compile your Facebook posts into a book—like a personal version of World book Encyclopedia’s Yearbooks. It’s an interesting idea, but does it make sense to use social media to share your stories?
If I were to compile my posts into a story, I’m not even sure I’d be interested in it. Last summer, for instance, I posted various pictures of birds, frogs, and turtles distributed between public confessions about lame-brained things I’d done. If I bore myself, how would readers receive it?
But perhaps that’s my fault. I wonder if people would be more invested if I put myself more “out there.” On the other hand, even though I’m willing to wear my heart on my sleeve in speaking engagements, books, and this blog, something about social media makes me more emotionally reticent. Baring my soul isn’t quite like putting my life story on a bumper sticker, but it’s on that spectrum somewhere.
Only you can decide. Here are a few of my thoughts on the matter.
Do you have the right audience to use social media to share your stories?
Updated October 2, 2020
Social media is a great place to connect and stay in touch. It can certainly be a part of how you tell—or share—your stories.
However, social media isn’t ideal if it’s the only place you share personal and family stories.
If your loved ones have active feeds with hundreds of followers, they might not even see your posts. (That’s not just what the kids claim as an excuse to not responding to your posts. It’s a legitimate explanation.).
In 2015 I wrote: “Social media followers aren’t always the best audience for your stories. Most of my Facebook friends get about as excited about my ancestors as they do my frog and dragonfly photos. They gaze at them briefly, click the like button, and think about other things. They don’t come to social media with the intent of reading stories.”
Now, I have many, many more “friends” who are interested in family history. Additionally, I’ve discovered that just because people aren’t commenting on posts doesn’t mean they aren’t reading them. Or appreciating them. Yes, even the frog photos. Months later, I might hear from a relative, “I really enjoy what you post.”
Perhaps the question is better reframed with “Is your target audience on the social media outlet you’re using?” If you’re looking to swap stories with your cousins, you want to use the media they’re using. If you hoping to find distance cousins, Twitter or Instagram might be better because of the way those users follow hashtags.
Pro Tip: Did you know you can use a last name as a hashtag?
Use social media to promote other sources of family stories.
Rather than post entire stories, share links to blog posts or stories you’ve uploaded to a third-party site. That way you’re not relying on social media to tell your stories, but you’re still including those “friends” and followers.
It’s easy to integrate social media accounts into a blogging platform. If you’re blogging your stories (and that’s worth considering for both personal memories and family history stories), use social media to “publicize” your posts. That way you can direct readers and followers to your blog to find out more.
Show personality when you use social media to share your stories.
For instance, looking back over my recent posts, I see a definite lean towards leaving a lot to the imagination. That’s not surprising; a lot of us do that in everyday speech. Whether you’re on social media or not, you probably often make comments that could morph into stories, such as some of mine.
“Fun Fact: Pot pie that lands upside down on your car’s floor mat looks a lot like puke.”
“I hate it when the telephone fails to turn the TV channels.”
Use those quips as hooks and develop them into stories. You can refer back to your social media posts as an idea bank for future stories.
Ask for comments
The key to social media is engagement.
When you use social media to share your stories, ask followers for their input. Have they had a similar experience? What do they think? What would they have done in similar circumstances.
Post ancestor stories to relevant Facebook genealogy groups.
If you’re remembering your ancestors—or telling their stories, tap into the family history geeks that hangout on social media. Others who are exploring the lives of your ancestors’ friends and neighbors will definitely take notice. My friend Katherine Willson has compiled an exhaustive list (over 170 pages) of English-speaking genealogy pages and groups on Facebook.
If you have an ancestor story, for instance, of someone who lived and died in Halifax County, Virginia, consider joining that group and posting that story (or link to it) to it. Your story will find an appreciative audience. And you might find a distant cousin or two.
What’s your advice on how to best use social media for sharing your stories?