Tag Archives: sharing

Social Media Experiment

Just before the beginning of Lent, I saw some posts on Facebook and and Twitter which said things like, “See you after Easter! I’m fasting from social media.” I wished those people all the best, but I didn’t feel inclined to copy them. Instead, I was inspired to go in the other direction: for Lent, I took up posting on social media every day. This is an aim I’ve had in the past – on most social media platforms, your posts are seen by more people if you post regularly, so if some of your posts ask people to do something (anything – my examples include: help a charity, join a course, buy a book, answer a question…) they will be more likely to succeed if you’ve been posting regularly in between. And maybe I’m a little contrary, because social media is generally a positive in my life and I didn’t feel like fasting from it!

I’m active on several social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and since the middle of March, TikTok – so I shared my posts round. I posted on at least one of those almost every day – I gave myself Sundays off when I felt like it, and I missed a few days when I was ill. A few things, like blog posts, I shared on two or three platforms, but mostly I created different content for each platform. My goal was to try things out and connect with people. In the following, I’m going to look briefly at the results of my experiments. I’ll explore which type of content worked best on which platform and use that to formulate some ideas about how I might use them in future.

On Facebook, I posted 18 posts during this period. (I was also tagged in a lot.) 8 were public and the other 10 were limited to friends-only (not especially private given that I have almost 3600 Facebook friends, but also not open to everyone in the world). The friends-only ones were mainly about our wedding anniversary party and going on holiday, and it’s not a surprise these were popular (the biggest number is 175 reactions on the picture of the wedding cake, just to give you an idea). Of the public ones, this post asking a question about Quaker worship got the best engagement (in stats, 32 reactions and 52 comments; qualitatively, good answers and interesting conversation). I also shared content from other people, posted about my books and World Book Day, and other more general theological or writing stuff, and that didn’t get the same level of engagement. Posts about this blog get low engagement on Facebook, but the blog stats reveal that it’s the second most common way of finding it (behind the major search engines, which are grouped together). In general, this supports my usual Facebook policy which is that it’s ‘advanced level Rhiannon’ – a mix of personal stuff and in-depth Quaker discussion. When I write for Facebook, I imagine mainly people I already know and already have some background in the topics I talk about. 

On Twitter, I tweeted 15 times during this period (and sent lots of replies). I had one runaway success with a Quaker twist on a meme – almost 3900 impressions and a 7% engagement rate, far above Twitter’s average (most brands are pleased with themselves if they get a 1% engagement rate, meaning that 1 in a 100 people who see the tweet do something, such as clicking ‘like’ on it or clicking a link in it). People also responded with some great answers. Other successes include posts about events and projects I’m involved in – especially where I can tag or be tagged by others who are involved – and some of my replies to large-ish accounts also got good numbers of impressions. Lesson: connections are important, joining in with memes sometimes is worthwhile, and it’s okay if Twitter content is often reactive. When I post on Twitter I focus on interacting, and I cover a wider range of topics than on Facebook – for example, I enjoy connecting with the writing community on Twitter and sometimes post about writing, or archaeology, or just jokes. In contrast,  when I’m connecting with writers on Facebook it’s in dedicated groups and not visible on my profile.

On Instagram, I posted 14 times during this period. (I also shared 1 story and didn’t get into Reels or anything else…) Instagram isn’t a medium which comes naturally too me because it’s so visual, but as well as posting some pictures of books and food, I experimented with making specific Instagram content with Canva. I only used free elements on Canva, and I tried creating content focussed on my usual themes – Quakers and philosophical stuff. Those posts did better than my others, and this one about Quaker meeting for worship did especially well – it didn’t get comments, but it did have 212 impressions and was seen by 188 accounts – of which 55% weren’t already following me. That’s reaching significantly more people than my other posts and means that ‘keep playing with text in Canva’ will be my Instagram plan for the next few months. I’d like to know a) whether this trend continues and b) whether I can adjust so that there’s more conversation, not just likes!

Finally, midway through March I was overcome by some sort of social media energy and started a TikTok channel. At first I’d ruled it out – isn’t TikTok too visual for me, like Instagram? – but on exploring TikTok further I discovered a subset of posters who are all about the verbal content. That I can do! So in the 8 videos I’ve posted so far I’ve done some experiments. My most successful post so far was a book review, and since I enjoy connecting with other readers I’m planning to focus on book reviews and some posts about my own books for a while. It’s too early to say much more but if you’re interested please come over and say hello!

I didn’t count Goodreads in this experiment, because I post there when a book thing happens, but it’s another social media site where I am active. Very few people in my circles seem to be using CuriousCat any more, but it’s there if you want to ask me questions anonymously. In general, I plan to keep using social media, and perhaps this post will help you choose where to follow me or think through how to use any social media you participate in.

What social media do you enjoy? What kind of things do you want to share and what conversations do you want to have? Have you ever done an experiment like this?

Posting Poetry

My poetry practice was starting to get a bit tired. Not everything about it, but I had some poems which I liked but which weren’t finding homes – so I decided to build them new ones. And then I remembered that I also had an old home for poetry, sitting around somewhere on the internet like a really useful spoon forgotten at the back of a cupboard, and decided I should renovate it.

So let me introduce you to two places I am now sharing poems. One is my Instagram, @rhiannonbookgeek. Short poems, especially ones which can be made into images using Canva or a similar service, can be very at home on the image-drive social media site. (This wasn’t my idea – check out hashtags like #poetrycommunity and #poemsofinstagram for many other people doing similar things.) I’ve been enjoying making the images, as well as sharing the poems. I’m not an amazing graphic designer, but choosing a simple layout and picking a photograph is fun and it makes me consider my writing in different ways. At the moment, I’m only posting poems which already existed – some of them first drafted before I’d ever heard of Instagram – but it will be interesting to see whether in the future, what I write is changed by imagining it in this form before it’s finished.

The other is my poetry blog, Unprogrammed Poetry. I first used this back in 2012, and I posted there regularly for a while – but then it faded, for all sorts of reasons. I’m now sharing there everything I post to Instagram, with both the image and a plain HTML version in the hopes that this will improve the accessibility. (I try to add an alt text to my Instagram posts for screen reader users, but this doesn’t always work well with poetry.) I might also post some longer poems there, with or without images.

A while ago, trying to work out where to submit what to see whether I could get things published, I wrote a list of reasons for writing different kinds of work. For poetry, I wrote that my reasons for writing are to be heard, to express myself and be recognised, and to form community. I’ve been pleased to publish in some formal spaces, and to have the support of editors – you can find a list of places I’ve published on my poetry page. But I know there’s also a lot of community to be formed online, and benefits to sharing in a more immediate way. I hope you find the poems rich and thought-provoking. Some of them might even be enjoyable.

Choosing how to help your community

In my recent post, ‘Choosing what to be good at‘, I wrote about how I made choices throughout my life, but especially as a teenager, about what skills I would work on and which things I would choose not to be good at. In discussion of this on Facebook, one of the themes which came up was: how does this interact with other people? How do my choices about what to do and what to be good at affect people in my community, whether that’s a small community like a household or family or a larger community, like social groups I might belong to? I want to spend a bit longer exploring this now because I think it raises all sorts of good questions about expectations, needs, agency, and the relationship between an individual and a community. I’m going to keep using personal examples because that’s what I have to go on, but of course my experience as a white middle-class British cis woman may not generalise.

Here’s a story from when I was about thirteen. At my school we had ‘food technology’ classes, mostly cooking but with a veneer of industrial process. I had mostly already done all the forms of cooking involved at home, I intensely disliked the way that ‘team work’ in the kitchens mostly meant boys threatening people with knives and girls doing the washing up, and I found some of the activities, such as ‘designing’ a pizza topping, laughable. One day the exercise was to bake bread rolls. My mother bakes bread at home, all the bread the family eats and almost all the bread I had ever eaten was homemade, and I had been joining in and making my own bread since… well, for longer than I could remember. I could make loaves and rolls and hedgehogs and basically any shape of bread. So I baked a batch of bread rolls in the classroom. They were fine. They looked just like the bread I ate every day. The teacher came over and she said, “I don’t think anyone would want to buy those, they’re a bit uneven.”

(I hope this teacher is now cringing every time she sees something ‘artisan’ for sale.)

Here I was at the crossroads between two sets of expectations. The expectations of my family about the right appearance for bread, about what qualities mattered in bread, and how to make bread rolls were at odds with the expectations my teacher wanted to create about quality control, regularity, the relationship of appearance to acceptability, and where I should focus my efforts. I hadn’t baked bread for sale, I had baked bread for eating. I was, unwittingly, choosing which community and set of values to follow.

Years later, I laid some of my frustration at what I saw as an unfair criticism to rest when I used my skills in bread making to make the bread which would be used in the communion service in Iona Abbey. That’s bread to be seen, but also bread to be eaten, and bread to bring us closer to God. (As a Quaker who had never taken physical communion before, I did put myself in a slightly tricky theological spot that way, but I really couldn’t think of the God I knew having me qualified to bake the bread but not eat it. And there was a non-alcoholic option. So I took communion there.) It’s also bread for the community of worshippers, and their expectations are not so much about the quality of the bread – although using ordinary home-baked bread instead of wafers does attract attention – but about the way it is used within the ritual to form spiritual connections.

If I hadn’t been so well supported in bread making at home, so relatively experienced and used to eating my own baking, I might have concluded from that lesson that I couldn’t bake bread. I’m sure some of my classmates did. I don’t know whether the teacher at some level intended us to conclude that home-baked was inferior to factory made bread; perhaps she did mean for us to appreciate how difficult it is to make and therefore learn not to waste it, or something of the sort. Instead I chose to reject her feedback and go on thinking that I was perfectly capable of baking bread. If I had drawn other conclusions, would I have been willing or able to serve a later community by getting on and baking the bread we needed on Iona? I would certainly have needed more and different support from the colleagues in the kitchens there.

What about a case where I am on the other side, lacking or refusing to get a community-useful skill? These are harder to identify and own up to because of course I think that my reasons for refusing some tasks are legitimate and discerned rather than excuses to get out of an unwanted task! However, I think I do have an example: hospitality. I am not naturally a very welcoming or indeed a social person; I find most people tiring and anxiety-inducing, and it usually takes a really friendly extrovert or a particularly close match of common interests, or a long time, to overcome that. At some times, I have made the effort to perform hospitality. As it happens, I also have an example of this from Iona. When I arrived to work in the kitchen there, I was told that part of the job was to eat meals with the guests, talk to them, and create a welcoming atmosphere. It was one of my least-favourite parts of the work, but because I had been told it was part of the job I did my level best. I did have good conversations and I hope I made people feel welcome. I also spent moderate amounts of time lying awake at night going over and over what I’d said or people’s reactions, frightened of doing it wrong, and thinking of ways to get time alone despite working in team, sleeping in a shared bedroom, etc. Near the end of my seven weeks there, someone else on the team said me, “I really appreciate how seriously you take the hospitality part of our work. So many people don’t bother but you’re really good at it.” Now, actually I think that people who are truly good at something make it look effortless, and it wouldn’t have occurred to anyone to say this to them; but it is evidence that I tried and mastered some of the skills involved.

I know that my Quaker community also needs those skills. All communities need some hospitality work doing, and Quakers can fail at this easily. I have felt unwelcome or been ineptly welcomed at many meetings over the years. Even at the local meeting where I attend now, I wish I felt more welcome, and I don’t stay for refreshments after meeting because I don’t want tea or coffee or biscuits of unknown ingredients (and hence probably not vegan). That’s my fault – I could sign up for the rota and change things. I do sometimes welcome people at the door, and I can do door-holding and hand-shaking, and if necessary answer questions about Quakers and meeting for worship, but I very rarely know people’s names and I have to leave the small talk to others. I like it best when the weather is unusually hot or wet because then there’s something easy to say! I could try harder, as I did on Iona. But the fact is that I don’t.

Why not? Partly because I do at lot of this sort of work in my paid work, so I don’t feel I have spare energy to do it on a voluntary basis as well. I find it a little bit easier at work, where my role gives people a reason to engage with me and I don’t count ‘discussing something on which I am knowledgeable’ as hospitality in this sense. I still find it stressful and worry a lot about all my minor failures, though. And, ironically, I sometimes teach about pastoral care, of which hospitality is an important competent. I say ‘teach’: I don’t try and tell people what to do, but instead ask them to reflect on their experiences and compare with others to get a better of idea of what works and what doesn’t.

I could give other reasons, about the situation and the timings and lots of practical stuff, but the deeper truth is that I don’t want to and at the moment improving hospitality in my meeting doesn’t feel like a good use of my energy. There are other people who can attend to it, and many of them are better at it than me; and some of them, whether they have the skills or are learning them, are led to offer that service. I think I’m also especially resistant to the idea that I should be good at some aspects of caring and hospitality which are stereotypical traits of women: when I’m not good at them, I’m not going to work harder to correct that than a man would be expected to.

Is it fair or wise to expect from a community something which I am not willing to give? Yes, it is. If I trust that the community is diverse enough, large enough, strong enough – Spirit-filled enough – to work as a community, I have to do exactly that. Sharing is a community function. If I had to do everything myself, I might as well be alone. Sometimes, especially in a small community, there needs to be compromise and I will need to step up to do things I’d rather not do, but am more or less capable of. (Some jobs are better done adequately than not at all: I’m no good at arithmetic, but I can make a computer do sums for me, so I’ll step up to run the accounts if nobody else is better qualified. Other jobs should be skipped or passed on if they can’t be done well: it might be better to donate to someone else running a foodbank than to start one and run it badly.) I think what I’m talking about here is a finer grain of discernment. We might need to distinguish not just between what makes the heart sing and everything else, but between ‘makes my heart sing splendid operas’, ‘makes my heart sing an acceptable pop song’, ‘more like my heart having an earworm but I can live with it’, and ‘not so much singing as a horrible grinding noise’. A few horrible grinding noises and some earworms are necessary parts of life, but it’s okay to ask whether someone else might get at least a pop song if not an opera out of the same task.

Personal and social transformation: should we share more of our struggles?

What am I going to do about it? This is a recurring question when people bring up this big issues of the day – and I suppose I mainly have climate change and climate justice in mind here, although other forms of social justice will be close behind. Coming away from Yearly Meeting Gathering, a week in which I have heard many people urging the community to act and act quickly, many people talking in more or less abstract terms about movement building, and, as someone put it in conversation, many “impassioned pleas for something”, it seems like an important question.

My instinct is to look for something clear and preferably dramatic to which I can commit in my own life. Change made, rules nice and simple, done. That’s what I did in 2011, when my Quaker community made our original commitment to being a sustainable community and I went vegan as a result. Of course, being vegan isn’t actually a single change, and the rules are neither clear nor simple, and it’s never done. There will always be a time when there’s no vegan option, and an argument about why it would be more environmentally friendly/socially just to eat local venison/sheep’s milk/misshapen avocados/nothing but water, and the eternal shoe problem, and someone on Facebook who thinks I’m the scum of the earth for eating Lockets with honey, and compromises to make even within plant-based food (like this: organic soy milk and a vitamin tablet, or fortified but non-organic soy milk?). For just as long, I’ve wished I could commit to going plastic-free. Wouldn’t it be clean, and simple, and give off the impression of being morally good, to not have anything to send to landfill?

It would also have the consolation of being extremely difficult, taking up a lot of time and energy and attention and thought, and being easy to explain to people and show off about. It would be satisfying because it would be entirely within my control – and its effects would be very minor, because it would involve going to considerable lengths for results which only affect my life. It is, if not a selfish answer, then at least an introverted one. Like other ways of shaving a tiny little bit off one’s own environmental impact, it lends itself to lots of research (and a certain amount of arguing on social media) and not to reaching out or making common cause with others.

(This might, of course, be just another excuse for not doing it, because it’s difficult and tiresome. But I think it can be an excuse AND genuinely onto something about why it appeals.)

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Allotment produce. Easy to brag about on social media, difficult to live on.

When I think about trying to break out of this way of thinking – moving the focus away from controlling the effects of my own life and towards working with others to change the world – I don’t really know what I’m aiming for. I am rather inclined to tell myself, for example, that I don’t really know any people, or that I don’t know the right people, or that I can’t do anything because most of the people I know don’t live in the same city. These things have a grain of truth – but I also have nearly 600 Facebook friends and my blog posts often have fifty to a hundred readers, so my sense of shouting into the void is mainly an illusion.

One of the things which creates this illusion is the choices I make about what to share and what to keep private. Sometimes I think this is right – my online presence is, among other things, a professional one, and some things about my life should be left out of that (everyone moans about work sometimes… except me, obviously, this is still a public space!). Sometimes it’s just a personal choice – I could tell you about the train wreck which passes for dating in my world, or my invisible illnesses, but I don’t think either of us would gain by it. Sometimes, though, it’s easy to post things which are good for my ego – look, I did this and that; look, I got published; look, still vegan; look, no hands! – and keep the moral dilemmas and hard work which underlie these things all to myself. A first step to building a movement around something has to be to talk about it, or I (and you?) will keep imagining being alone with the issue.

That being so, perhaps my next series of blog posts will be about my open questions, the problems I haven’t solved yet in trying to live a sustainable and just life, and the cases where there may be no single right answer. Would you read them? Will you share your own struggles, in writing or in person or somewhere else? (Is it too clear and simple? Too me-focused?)