Episode 11: Finding Your Voice on Social Media

Episode 11: Finding Your Voice on Social Media
Season 1

 
 
00:00 / 32:15
 
1X

Jenny Li Fowler, director of Digital Media Strategy at MIT, joins J.S. and Joel to talk about her 30-day experiment in posting about social media marketing, finding one’s voice on social media, and how to beat imposter syndrome.

Episode 11 Transcript

Jon-Stephen Stansel
Welcome to the Thought Feeder podcast. I’m Jon-Stephen Stansel and with me, as always, is Joel Goodman. And this week, we have the Director of Digital media strategy at MIT Jenny Li Fowler, thank you so much for being with us this week Jenny,

Jenny Li Fowler
I’m happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

J.S.
This week we’re gonna focus really on some of your personal, social media accounts especially Twitter where I think you’ve really come on the scene exploded, just dropping some serious truth bombs left and right and putting out some really good information, lately. And we’re gonna talk about that here in a moment but first, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself, how did you get into higher ed social media, what your job duties in your daily life at MIT look like?

JLF
Sure! So how I got into higher ed is a story in itself but I had an entire career in broadcast journalism, actually, and I thought I would die on the anchor desk. But, you know, the industry changed and my priorities changed and so I took a couple of left turns in my career, and somehow was really really fortunate enough to land in higher ed. First I was in the digital content and editorial space, and social media just became, you know, a greater part of my duties and I really thought, gosh, if I can pivot into 100% social media job in higher ed, that would be great.

My current position came along and so here I am, I’m in charge of developing and executing institution-wide social media initiatives and campaigns, I provide consultation and direction for more than 200 departments, labs, and centers. I think everyone can relate it to how siloed all of their university systems are. And I manage the institution’s flagship Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn accounts. I also lead a social media Working Group, which currently has 160 members. So that, in a nutshell, is what I do. You know, just like everyone else, I post, I look at content, I’m going through content, I’m, you know, talking to people, I’m advising people, consulting people, meetings, you know. That’s probably what everyone’s days— my days look like what everyone’s day looks like I think.

J.S.
Yeah that’s awesome I think a lot of us kind of, you know, social media wasn’t the plan. Like I’ve always said, this wasn’t a job when I was in college, you know? It wasn’t something I prepared for. But I have kind of a similar background. I got my undergrad degree in radio-television production, thinking maybe I was going to go into television news, but instead got my master’s in literature, thought I was gonna get my Ph.D. and teach literature for a living, but social media ended up being what I ended up doing. And where I thought I was going to be writing giant novels, I’m writing tweets of 280 characters or less.

JLF
Hey, it’s all storytelling.

J.S.
Exactly! And you’ve really in recent days kind of proven yourself a master of this I think.

JLF
Oh my, thank you.

J.S.
And when we first kind of met online we had been following each other for, just fairly recently within the past couple of months. And this new name on my Twitter feed just would keep popping up with these really insightful little tweets about social media marketing and higher ed and it was always kind of, like, oh it’s Jenny Li Fowler again. And I had tweeted that I was making a concerted effort which, over the past few months to at least once daily start tweeting about social media marketing in higher ed, but also in a broader sense, and you DM me saying that this was your quarantine experiment that you were doing something very similar and trying to, on your personal account, tweet your daily thoughts about social media. So can you tell us a little bit about, you know, how did you come about this quarantine experiment? Why have you done it and some of the things that you’ve learned?

JLF
Yeah, absolutely. First of all, thank you. That’s incredibly flattering, it’s just, yeah, that’s hitting me right here. Thank you for those flattering words.

You know I have to say, the first couple of weeks working from home, they were… they were rough. You know I don’t, I don’t know if you remember your first weeks but if they were, gosh. I wasn’t in a really great space, and I was thinking if I continue down this path, it’s not gonna be good and it’s not gonna look good for me. So, you know, I made a couple of commitments, and for the sake of wellness I was thinking, I need to like, move on a regular basis, like I need to move my body on a regular basis and I need a challenge or I need a project to commit myself to. And so I think that day I signed up for a free webinar. You know, there’s so many webinars and talks and sessions going on right now, and I signed up for a webinar and one of the presenters said, try tweeting every day for 30 days and see what works. And I was like, okay, you know what? That’s my project. I had been neglecting my own personal channels and mostly because I have a kid, and if I’m present I like to really really be present, and I think that on the ladder of what’s a priority my own personal channels were not a priority. But after hearing that on that webinar, I was like okay, this is going to be sort of my pet project.

And so I started tweeting. Like on April 14, I just started sharing a thought or an observation or something that I’ve learned in my years managing the social channels for MIT, and yeah, it was interesting. At first it was fun. I was getting engagements and some posts got more than others. And it was funny because it was on day 26 I was just kind of like, I don’t know, this seems to be doing well but like I started off with less than 1,200 followers and I just was kind of teetering on the 1,210. And I’d lose two and I’d gain two and lose two… And, you know, I always tell people, don’t get caught up in the numbers. Just, you got to do you and the rest will come.

And day 26 I’m like, I don’t know, maybe this just isn’t for me or maybe my thoughts aren’t very insightful maybe they’re moldy old and maybe they’re just sort of like common sense. And then I saw your tweet, and it inspired me, you know? It kind of said something about, I made a promise to share an insight and people want to hear what you’ve learned and people want to hear what you know what you’ve observed and I saw it at the right time because I was just like, yes. Okay. That’s all I need. I even DM’d you and I said, “thank you for this tweet.” I felt compelled to say thank you for this tweet because I’ve kind of promised myself this project and I’m on day 26 and losing motivation.

And can I tell you from that to two days later I had sort of this tweet that resonated with you and with people! From there I think I went from like 1215 to like 1267 followers and while that might not seem like a lot like — I always tell people, again, don’t compare your numbers like my numbers are never going to be like MIT’s numbers — but that’s a 4% growth in one day. At MIT if we have around a 1% growth in a month, that’s huge. Usually we see like a 0.9% growth. But you know, if you’re growing incrementally like that, within the year you’re going to be growing exponentially. And I always tell this to people, but you know how you don’t often take your own advice? So I really kind of sat down and was like you know this is okay. Alright, I feel like I’ve broken through a plateau, and then it just started being fun.

I think people found value in what I was sharing and now people are asking me follow up questions which is awesome. That’s what I do a lot in my role at work every day, I meet with communicators, that are now tasked with managing a social media account for like an MIT department, lab, or center and some of them are very new to it. They’re just like, I don’t know what I’m doing, or I don’t know how to do this and then we start from there. And other people are very advanced and they want to talk about how to break into the Chinese market, which is an entirely different strategy, you know? So, from wherever they are, we start from there. So, yeah, like it just started becoming fun, and I feel like I was breaking through and from there you asked me to come on to this podcast and so it’s already, I guess, paying dividends for me. It’s growing! My little pet project is growing.

J.S.
Excellent. I’m so glad you’ve decided to stick with it because I would say, you know, I follow around 1,000 people on Twitter and there’s a handful of people that when they tweet I stop, and whatever I’m doing I see it and am like, okay, we’re going to read what they say. And you’ve moved yourself into those ranks. So one thing I’ll say right now for anyone listening, if you’re not following Jenny she is @thejennyli, so stop what you’re doing, like, go ahead and log into Twitter and follow Jenny.

So, one, one thing to kind of think about too. And I think, Joel, do you want to talk about this a little bit? About how some people are kind of nervous about their own social accounts.

Joel Goodman
Yeah. So one thing that J.S. and I have noticed and probably a lot of other people have noticed is that for those of us that are on the front lines of communicating for our institutions or our employers, if we’re kind of on the fringes of higher ed or other industries, we kind of tend to think we have to back off on maybe being completely transparent or being completely open and honest in the way that we communicate on our personal accounts. Because maybe an employer is gonna be upset about it or we risk having a little bit more pressure at work, things like that. Do you experience that at all or have you, and how do you think in terms of how you approach your own social accounts and having and creating your own voice? What what are good ways or good tips other people could take away from that communication style to kind of find their own voice and not live and work in … fear, I guess. It’s kind of a fear-based thing.

JLF
Yeah, no, you know, I think this question is really interesting because if you are going to apply for a job with social media in the title, at least when there are partners that asked me to interview a social media candidate or candidate for a social media position, the first thing I do is look at their personal social media accounts. And I want to see that they’re active in that.

JG
Yeah.

JLF
So I think it’s interesting, right? I think I find that you have to be a personal social media user in order to do it professionally. So I would really encourage people to be active, but I would say that what might have kept me from being active in it was imposter syndrome. You know, you just feel… I knew that I was doing a good job because MIT kept me around.

JG
Yeah.

JLF
They, you know, they gave me a new title and so I knew that I was doing a good job but you just wonder if like these little observations that you think, or that you’ve learned over time, if other people would find value in them, or if people would say, “no duh, Jen, we all know that!” So there’s this fear of being a fraud, I think, but through this experiment, I’ve learned that people either share your information or share your ideas because not everyone has gone through that process that you have, you know? Now I think of it as, if I can save someone time sharing what I’ve learned, I think that’s, that’s great. Like I’m a sharer by nature and I’m a connector of people. I’d say, share your ideas. If you’ve had an a-ha! moment share that a-ha moment because people are gonna find value in that.

JG
I think that’s interesting. I’ve never actually chalked it up to imposter syndrome, but I think that’s actually a really insightful thought process to go down. For me it’s always been like, less on the social media side because I’m not a social media manager, I’m just a general marketer, but the thoughts in terms of like blog posts to write, talk proposals to submit to conferences and things like that, there’s a level of me it’s like, “well this is obvious, this is too simplistic, why should I write about this?” Or, “I’ve seen 20 other people write about this thing, I don’t need to do it.”

But I think you’re right like there’s still going to be people within your own circles and within your own network that haven’t seen those ideas or haven’t read the same articles as you or maybe just need to hear it one more time from someone else that they connect with because they interact with them a little bit more often and that sort of thing. I think that’s a really interesting and insightful thought.

J.S.
Yeah, and on the imposter syndrome topic, we all get imposter syndrome, and I think by sharing

JG
I don’t, remember J.S.?

J.S.
Oh yeah you don’t, you know, everyone except Joel gets imposter syndrome.

JG
I told Erin Supinka that a couple of episodes ago.

JLF
I listened to that episode that was… Erin’s awesome.

JG
Erin’s the best.

J.S.
Incredible. But we all, with the exception of Joel, get imposter syndrome, and I think it’s helpful when we see other people share ideas that are similar to ours and especially people that we might respect. Or also at an institution like MIT, I think there’s an assumption that the people running social media or doing Communications at larger institutions are always on top of their game and super-confident… and, no! They have the same — when I read some of the tweets, some of the same issues to being at a relatively smaller institution in Arkansas, I know for a fact, personally, sometimes I feel like, Oh man, I bet you if I was at a bigger school I wouldn’t have all the same problems I have right now. But we all have those problems or just a different set of problems that are just slightly shaded a little bit differently. So, I think, as being professionals in the field and sharing our experiences, we’re, we’re helping ourselves and we’re helping others through our own sharing of our experience absolutely, 100% that is definitely something that this process has affirmed for me, I think, for sure.

And then on top of that, I think one thing I’ve learned, my experiment predates quarantine a little bit but my personal voice on Twitter has helped me become a better communicator for the institution I represent, and this is one thing I’m kind of curious about because I’ve noticed a little bit, looking at some tweets of yours and from MIT and seeing, you know little touches of you there. And one example that I came across recently that I was really impressed with, and it took me a second. And again, I may be reading into the story a little bit, but recently from the MIT Twitter account, there was a letter to the MIT community regarding efforts to chart MIT scores for the summer, fall, and beyond — kind of expressing what’s going on with COVID-19 — and then the tweet immediately after is, “TL;DR: we’re starting to test what’s doable for the short term.” And I love that, and I realized a second afterward, “I think she tweeted something about TL;DR posts on her personal account.”

And that kind of migrating itself over to the professional account, which I think is amazing. I haven’t seen this little tactic done, especially in relation to COVID communications, but I really liked how you’ve got this one tweet that’s… wonderful, but I mean it’s kind of the boilerplate, “here’s our letter of things,” and then immediately tweet following it in plain language, here’s what you need to know. In what ways do you think your quarantine experiment has helped you in a professional capacity in your day to day job duties?

JLF
So, I will say that you’re incredibly observant, that was a very very good catch. And it’s funny because that’s a strategy that we just recently employed, you know because we were saying these letters are long, they’re lengthy, and so how do we really give more information quickly, because right now there’s a lot of information out there that we need to disseminate. So how do we pare it down? And TL;DRs are, they’re just a part of MIT vernacular and culture. Everyone uses them in emails and so we just started employing that.

But the reason why I share that on my personal account is because as a manager of an account, I found this tactic to be successful, or, I think it’s working, or, it’s resonating with our audience, which is why I would share it. I only want to share the good stuff, right? You only want to share what worked, although I should actually start sharing the mistakes I’ve made, too, so that people can learn from them, now that I think about it. But I think it has helped because it really helps me sort of hone in that one lesson or that one… I don’t want to say point, because it’s not like a point but, you know, part of my job is to make the social media experience across the MIT community equal, the same, right? So whether you’re experiencing our athletics account or if it’s the School of Mechanical Engineering account or our MindHandHeart account, you know, or a center, like I want everyone to know that I am a resource for them. We’re dealing with a lot of people that are one man, one woman communication teams, and a lot of times, social media is not their forte, per se, it’s just something that they’ve adopted. So I always want to make clear that I’m their team, right? Like if they want to help think through a strategy or if they want to know best practices and what sort of what’s worked for others in the MIT community, I’m here to advise them, to consult. I found that when you really have to focus your responses to 280 characters or less, it helps me sort of really focus those lessons that I want to share with the rest of social media managers throughout the MIT community. So I feel like it’s really kind of sharpened my ability to do that if that makes any sense.

J.S.
Oh, that makes total sense. Yeah, I think the same for me, is kind of crafting those personal tweets where I’ll even, I get an idea, and I’ll write it out in Twitter and then pause and save it in my drafts folder and then like two or three days later, cut out some words or, or kind of fine-tune it or even maybe start with a thought, and work backward. Okay, I have this nugget I want to share. What’s the best way to get this across on Twitter? Is it a pithy list? Is it a meme? What is it? How can I best express this one single truth I want to get out there? And it can really be a challenge sometimes but I really enjoy it and I think it does help me to do it better on my professional account as well.

JLF
Totally. Same. Yeah, same. I have, I like Google Keep. I have like a Google Keep document with just like potential tweets or tweets that I’ve done and it just keeps getting longer and longer but sometimes I’ll put a thought in there and I’ll just look at it, and refine it, and I don’t know, you just know when you feel like you’re ready to share it, you know? But I’m the same.

J.S.
Sometimes I think that goes back to what we’re talking about earlier about kind of being concerned about future employment, and what kind of things you’re tweeting out from your personal account. So sometimes if I’m having a bad day and I’m tired and I start to type one that’s a little, to put it politely passion-forward, I’ll let it sit in the draft folder for like a week. If I still feel like I want to put that out there, okay, I can do that. A week later, I’ve got about 10 tweets in my draft folder about how much I hate Canva so those will be spread out over the next several months.

JLF
Yeah, I’ve listened to that podcast. I, ummmm, admire your “passion.”

J.S.
[laughs] You’re one of the few, then. So that said, let’s talk about who on Twitter right now do you look to for inspiration? And maybe not just on Twitter, on social media in general that you see, and maybe some universities that you think are doing a good job, but more over, individuals that you look towards. You mentioned you have a three scroll rule when you’re thinking about following someone. If you scroll past three times and there’s nothing that really stops you, you don’t follow them. So who are the people that got the follow on the first scroll and maybe you pause when you’re going through Twitter, to be sure that you read every time?

JLF
This is a tough one. So, you know NASA does a brilliant job. I’m really enjoying the National Park Service account lately and I know we’re talking about Twitter but they’re just killing it on Instagram. I don’t know if you’re following them on Instagram.

J.S.
Oh yes, oh they’re amazing.

JLF
Yeah! You know their descriptions on Instagram, like, they’re so good. I learned from that and translated into our posts and Twitter posts and Instagram posts. I just feel like there are flashes of brilliance everywhere, flashes of inspiration everywhere. Do you remember when it was the Oreo cookie Super Bowl tweet?

J.S.
Of course, yes.

JLF
Yeah, I mean, that was, that was so amazing, and you know I remember you know one time, The University of Wisconsin Madison, they just had such a great moment where — I don’t know if you guys were Game of Thrones fans…

J.S.
Oh yes, very much so.

JLF
So I mean, I don’t know, I don’t think at this point I’m spoiling anything, I hope not. But do you remember the Hold the Door reveal?

J.S.
Yeah, yeah. I’m still heartbroken.

JLF
Oh, yeah. [laughs] But the day after that reveal, like the University of Wisconsin Madison had a tweet that was just “Hold The Door.” and they posted images of really ornate doors on their campus, and I just, I was like, I love this. This is the tweet of the year. I love this tweet. So I just feel like, there are just flashes of inspiration everywhere out there, you know, so it’s just kind of like you’ve got to keep your eyes open at all times. But I will say like recently, Matthew Kobach… I mean he’s, I just feel like he is a great follow, you know, because he’s just so good a, putting together a witty but insightful tweet. And I’m seeing one thing that I really did learn from him was that you don’t need an image or a GIF to go with every tweet. Just a clean, clear idea, and it hopefully will resonate.

J.S.
Yeah, he’s definitely a master of doing that. If you’re not following him, he is the Social Media Manager for the New York Stock Exchange and his social account is all just very clean, sometimes very cutting comments on social media marketing. But he’s a very insightful and powerful follow if you’re not following him already. But let’s close out with one last question and Jenny, do you have any advice for those listeners who may want to take a similar quarantine 30-day tweet-a-day experiment? What advice do you have for them?

JLF
You know, I would say don’t overthink it. I know that sounds kind of funny because you know I’ll write something out and I’ll stare at it and look over again to refine it, but what I do mean by that is if you have a thought. Then share the thought, like, I think the other day, I had the thought like, gosh, you know, when you, when you post to every channel using a social media management system and you just post one post on every channel? That’s like a reply-all email. And I just had that as a passing thought, and I thought, I think there’s something there and I wrote it down. So I would say if you just have like a passing thought like that just jot it down, and then craft it into a tweet. So, don’t overthink the initial nugget that you had or the initial thought. Maybe spend some time really refining it to make sure you only use the words that you need to communicate that thought. But yeah, I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit. First of all, we have so many thoughts a day, but some of them are really insightful and they’re worth sharing, and so I would encourage people to share them, you know, try it, and then you’ll see what works and what doesn’t.

I will say this. During the experiment it took days. I was posting one tweet, a day, and then it took until day 26, 27, 28 for it to really take off, but if I hadn’t had those posts prior to this experiment, if people came to my account, and did the three scrolls and say that content wasn’t there, I don’t think I would have gotten those follows. So I would say keep at it because you’re kind of building yourself like a little bit of a library of content that when people do come and decide, they’ll say, “Oh, you know, I think I like what she’s sharing,” and decide to follow you. So you need to put in that time, and then things will start happening, towards the end of those 30 days.

J.S.
Yeah, I think that’s perfect advice. Even one struggle I have is I can be my own worst critic and just kind of demand perfection for every tweet. And you know, it’s my personal account. If I’m going to tweet something every day they’re not all going to be winners, you know? Sometimes I’m going to tweet out a dud and that’s fine, my reputation is not ruined if I post something that’s not absolutely perfect but it’s a matter of taking…

JLF
We’re so hard on ourselves.

J.S.
And, you know, all of those, it leads up to becoming better at it, and sharing and you post something that doesn’t resonate with a lot of people that they go over it and they’ll forget about it and then the next thing you post kind of explodes, or sometimes you’ll surprise yourself. I think my most successful tweet was something I almost didn’t tweet. I didn’t think it was funny, I thought it was kind of overdone. It was a Tiger King GIF, it’s just like, what was it? “Social media managers: what’s your target audience for this?Clients:” and that was the Tiger King saying “on the internet worldwide” and I just… I was in the drive-thru waiting in line at Wendy’s and I was like, whatever I’ll send it, it’s Friday afternoon. And it just blew up and you know sometimes you’ll surprise yourself that those things you talked about imposter syndrome earlier those things that don’t really seem that profound to you might really resonate with others so yeah keep at it.

Yeah, you had that funny thought, and he shared it, and it resonated with people, you know, and I think, too, I think sometimes you have to let your people find you. You have to let your niche find you, you know? I think another thing that I’ve learned, so it’s like those days where I was like, gaining one losing a follower gaining you know one losing two. I think my audience was starting to find me, you know, and you have to let that just happen organically.

J.S.
Yeah, exactly. I got a retweet from somebody who is really big in the sports social media world and I got a lot of sports social media followers all at once in one day and I think I’m gonna lose them all very quickly because I’m not a sports person. Like, very quickly they’re gonna learn that it’s nothing but, you know, higher ed social media tweets and DUNE references, but that’s fine. They’re not my niche, I’m not an athletics person, so yeah. Find your niche, find your audience, and speak to that.

So awesome. Thank you so much, Jenny! Thank you for being on the show, taking the time to be with us today, and like we said, if you’re not following Jenny already get on that because she’s, she’s killing it out there and she’s putting out some information that you need to read.

JLF
This has been great, thanks for inviting me.

J.S.
Thanks for coming.

JG
Thanks as always for listening to the Thought Feeder podcast, you can find us wherever you get your podcasts, and we would appreciate a follow, a subscribe, a rating, a review, whatever you can give us! We are @ThoughtFeedPod on Twitter, and you can also find us at thoughtfeederpod.com where all of the episodes are listed with links to every possible subscription service that we are on. Thanks again for listening.

Thought Feeder is hosted by Joel Goodman and Jon-Stephen Stansel and edited by Joel Goodman.

Thought Feeder is sponsored by University Insight.

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