In my 45 years of living on this earth, there is one subject that is absolutely taboo in a discussion with my parents…and it’s probably not what you think. We can talk about sex (even though I’d really prefer not to), we can talk about my dating life, we can even talk about my kids’ dating lives, but the one thing we will not address is social media.
Social media has been a strain on our relationship. They can’t seem to understand why I love it. And they definitely, without a doubt, have huge disdain at the fact that some of their peers on active on social media.
In the words of my father, “Twitter is the devil.”
Not only do I love social media, I’ve found social media to be the current center of my career in marketing and as a writer. When I’m not writing here or here, or mommying those who I love the most, I am a social media coordinator at a large organization. From 8 am until 5 pm Monday – Friday, I speak the language of likes, follows, hashtags, and boosts.
My parents don’t even try to take interest in the specifics of my job, and conveniently forget that social media is a large part of it. They tell their friends, “Toni has a job she loves in marketing and public relations and she works with the media.”
For my kids, some days having a social media-astute mom is helpful. I show them how to internet stalk people incognito (it is a necessary life skill). I show them how to maximize and leverage their social media for good (we often use status updates to promote humanistic causes and efforts). And I show them how we can keep in touch with our family across the country.
And yes, I’ll even admit there are days when the awesome threesome probably don’t enjoy having me as active as I am on social media, but like many things with parenting teens, that’s just the way it is.
Recently though, an old friend asked me how work was going for me. To his surprise, my face lit up and I couldn’t stop talking about it. He then said, “Wow Toni. I thought you loved what you did when you were working exclusively in higher education. Now, I see that you have truly found your niche in life.”
I thought for a moment after he said that and wondered to myself, he’s right. But how did I get here? How did I get to a place where I can unequivocally be me, and use my voice to impact others in such a unique and positive way?
It’s in the magic of the journey.
In 4th grade, I realized that I loved to write short stories, poems, and plays. As I got older, my mother would encourage my screenwriting dreams by giving me a concept she had in mind for a school assembly. I would do some historical research on the topic, and then I’d create whatever she needed. She’d then sew the costumes for her students and together, we would make props and items for the set design.
In high school, my 9th grade English teacher told me that my writing was not a skill to be honed, but a gift to be shared with the world. When I mentioned to her that I loved poetry, she said, “I’m glad you like fiction, but non-fiction needs story-tellers like you Toni. Non-fiction needs people who evoke emotion, serve humanity, and create a legacy with the truth.”
Those words were the foundation for my love of the news, an interest in journalism, and a pursuit of a career as a writer. When I graduated from college in 1994, I was ready to take on the world with the eyes of a naive news reporter.
Like so many of us, my life journey has not been a straight one. My life in news transitioned (fairly quickly) to working in marketing at a local community college. They needed someone with a journalism background to write about the college and I needed to feel the homey embrace of a college environment again because truth be told, I hated the real world. For the next 20 years, my career in education took on a life of its own, and before you know it, I referred to myself as an educator.
But my love of writing never waned.
Even though I worked in education and even though I eventually married and had three kids within three years, I still found time to write, even it was just for fun.
When social media and blogging entered my life years ago, those two things became my main canvass for my writing. I didn’t have time to realize that I didn’t write for a career because I truly loved the work I did in higher education and whenever I wasn’t at the college, I was writing something.
From 2006 – 2017, blogging and social media took various shapes in my life. In 2006, I wrote a couple of articles for local Dallas magazines and my social media experience was limited to status updates on MySpace.
In 2008, I discovered that Ning groups were the new thing and joined several and reconnected with college and sorority friends. Eventually, I got tired of telling my divorce story to different people at different times, so I decided to blog about the divorce.
When a friend told me about something called Twitter and thought I would love it, I created an account but I had no idea how it worked. For the first year, all I did was retweet celebrities. In 2010, because I used Facebook a lot in my personal life, I started volunteering to manage organizational FB pages (the college campus I worked at, community organizations, etc.)
2011 brought Instagram and a new interest in photography into my life because FILTERS. ARE. EVERYTHING.
My cancer experience of 2013 is one I have not been shy about. When I first diagnosed with the disease, I clearly heard God tell me to create awareness about thyroid disease through my voice. That experience did so much for my knowledge about health issues, and it also put a lot of other things in perspective. During my time of recovery and recuperation, I committed to writing more, posting more, and sharing my story more. I entered the very sacred space of Christian blogging and social media management; a place that intrigued me, to say the least. Before I knew it, I was talking to my friends about algorithms, engagement, content creation and Jesus in the same sentence. Could it get any better than that?
Keep in mind though that social media and blogging was still a hobby for me…even as we reached 2014. I toyed with the idea of making it a career but didn’t really know how so I prayed about it and put one foot in front of the other to learn more about my hobby. By the end of that year, my only thought was, This really is a science and I feel led to make this a career.
2015 brought another health scare – not a cancer diagnosis – but a stern recommendation from my doctor to manage the stress in my life better. With God’s guidance, I took a leap of faith and committed to learning as much as I could about blogging and social media. I hired a writing coach, I took classes, and I read books. I prepared myself for my dream job in the social media and blogging space.I started applying at several organizations and even went on several interviews.
I was rejected several times. That rejection reminded me how much I loved being a “creative” and the void I felt in my life when I wasn’t creating. I wanted to be a better writer and I was committed to becoming one. Even now, my writing is evolving and my writing coaches are household names.
Eventually, I started using the techniques I learned from my coaches and in class on this blog and on my own personal social media accounts. Family, friends, and larger companies started to take notice. I was approached for contract and part-time work. In that season, I even did pro-bono work just so I could gain experience.
If you know me, you also know that I started a photography business and did some corporate blogging. While I love both of those fields, part of my journey included realizing that neither of those areas where was God wanted me to be. That was probably the most difficult part of my transition.
No matter what, I always studied what was happening in the faith-based world of social media and blogging, and that also included shifting my focus of this blog to include elements of my parenting as a Christian mom.
Which leads us to today, where I’m working full-time in church marketing and social media and still writing. Those were a lot of words…a lot of words…to get to my next points about what I’ve learned from my work in social media, my personal desires when it comes to posting (or not), and what it means to follow your dreams and share your God-given talents with the world.
But first, a few simple facts about what experience has taught me that social media isn’t:
- A place to get validation from. I know the likes feel good. I know that when an ex-boyfriend from your college years slides into your DMs just say hello is quite flattering, but really y’all, the validation we get from the love of the Lord is enough. I promise.
- A place to date. I am the first to admit that I ummm…have different views on dating. (i.e. I don’t believe in it in the traditional sense but that’s a blog post for a different day) HOWEVER…if you are dating, it should involve more than selfies and instant messages.
- A place to throw passive-aggressive shots at someone. Communication is important. If someone is important enough in your life to be your friend on social media then they at least deserve a conversation if something goes awry in your relationship.
- A place that encourages higher levels of intelligence. Case in point: the President of the United States. Social media is a place to share ideas and say hello, not a place to debate the theories of apologetics or hermeticism. I’m not a theologian, nor do I play one on TV.
- A place that can free you from strongholds. The only thing that can free anyone from strongholds is a relationship with God. That relationship could lead you to professional counseling, rehabilitation programs and/or medical treatment. And those things should take you deeper still into your relationship with God. Social media is none of that.
I’m very grateful that the end was only part of my marriage that saw the light of social media. The very end. I think I posted on Facebook the day the divorce was final and maybe a few other sly, petty comments about my ex-husband, but for the most part, we were spared from that drama. My advice to anyone going through the demise of a marriage or any relationship (including a job) is to keep it off of social media. If you must talk about it, then you need to completely get off social media yourself. It’s amazing what can be used in a court of law these days and Facebook posts are one of them. Thank you, screenshots.
While I love my career, my life, and I recognize the awesomeness of social media, here are some of the top questions I get when it comes to the profession.
“I tagged you in a post and you didn’t respond. I figured since you are on Facebook all the time, you’d answer me. Why didn’t you?” I am on Facebook all day as the company I work for, not as myself. I rarely see tags on my personal accounts during work hours, and oftentimes, I wait until the weekend to check them. To be perfectly honest, Facebook is really the last thing I want to check at the end of day, so I usually don’t.
“I never see any posts from ________ and I like the page. Why not?” Facebook changes their algorithms ALL. THE. TIME. Just because you like or follow an organization, that does not mean their posts will show in your newsfeed. If you are a true follower of an organization, you will need to make the effort to visit their page every couple of days or so, even if they post regularly. *shrugs*
“You love talking to people. You talk all day on social media What didn’t you return my text or call me back?” I love talking and communicating so much that you’re right, I do it all day. I reserve my non-working hours to communicating with the ones I love the most; i.e. my kids, my parents, the cousins, my prayer partner. It’s how I protect my peace. I will get back to you, though, but in the words of my kids, you may be “left on read” for a minute or two.
“Do you really have to keep checking your notifications?” Yep. Social media happens fast and things can go south pretty quickly. I don’t respond to things instantly, but I do glance at my notifications a lot. My intent is not to be rude, I just need to be aware of what’s happening in the ministry, especially when there are events at the church.
“Do you work on Sundays?” Not officially. My typically work schedule is Monday – Friday. However, my pastor preaches on Sundays and I make references to his sermons a lot. My church-going experience is spirit-filled for me, but I’m also feverishly taking notes and thinking about how I can use them in my posts for the coming weeks. Additionally, I use Sundays to volunteer in the ministry and meet with my friends from church. All three kids are very active at church, and church for them is busy. Even though I may not be on the clock I’m usually at church from 7 am – 3 pm. When I finally get home, I eat and sleep.
“What don’t you post on social media?” The really good, juicy stuff…lol. The kids have to give me permission to tag them on anything. If I think something may be questionable or possibly embarrassing to them, I always ask. I NEVER EVER post about my parents. Sometimes their friends will post to ask me about them and I reply with simple answer or emoji. For the most part, the cousins know that any photo we take could end up on social media with a tag, so they generally tell me upfront if they don’t want me to post something. Cheryl and I talk about this subject frequently and we agree that working in social media gives others the illusion that we post everything when in reality, we don’t. We’d much rather create actual memories than post about creating said memories. It’s just better that way.
Y’all. I appreciate you for reading all of this. I know it was a lot. But in the words of my writing coach, the way you know you’re in the right business is if you could talk about something endlessly. Welcome to my life in social media. I wouldn’t change it for the world.