Social Media: eight Lessons from an ex-noob

Until about 10 years ago, I was a total noob. Not only in Social Media Marketing. In social media, period. It was already there, but it was for “everybody else”.


  1. Lesson 1: you must know why you need or want to have an account with a certain social network. Even if it is not all that clear, there must be an objective.

Social media started for me in 2004, during a course on “Intelligent collectives and social networks” organized by the Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO). It was a special class for those of us who worked for them and needed to master concepts regarding digital interaction so as to develop health information systems. Until then, I didn’t know social media existed. I participated in professional bulletin boards and mailing lists, that’s all.

During that course, the professor proposed an experiment to the class. He proposed we created an account on a social network that doesn’t even exist anymore: orkut. We were all engaged in same way with PAHO and most of us had Ph.D.s in the health sciences, and not in the social sciences or the humanities. I had double background, which helped. Honestly, the course wasn’t that great, there was too much emphasis on the francophone methodological traditions that offered no useful tools to apply and I left my account sitting there. I didn’t know what to do with it, but forgot to delete it.

The account suffered vegetative growth for one year. In 2005, I was starting to change professional fields. I was studying Strength & Conditioning and I was lifting. I created my first blog and, soon after that, I bought my first domain name and website: . Social media acquired a new role: I shared my content there.

I changed my profile picture and deliberately produced a new public image. My account exploded with friend requests.

The first lesson was that I needed to know why I was there. If I could answer that question, than I could answer many others:

  • Who I want to engage with: people send requests based on suggestions automated by the network’s bot. Most people follow that. What you accept or reject depends on what you want from that network
  • Who will I be in that network. We all have multi-faceted lives, or “personas”. To each sub-group or sub-culture we interact with, one facet shows more than the others. You may be a organic gardening person in a organic gardening group, a high performance basket ball player at another and a celebrity on a general network, crafting your image to show your speeches, your contract signings, etc
  • How and what will I communicate

That changed over time. My use of social media became increasingly professional. In 2011 I became national news by disclosing a 30 year secret of the organized ultra-left in Brazil. I became even more so by discussing and writing about suicide. In that same year, I published two books: one is a 400 page long manual on strength training and powerlifting and the other a series of essays on health and beauty.

By then, I already had the tools to determine how much I should sound personal in my updates, why that was so important and how to protect myself and my privacy.

These principles apply for everyone. If you create an account to find your childhood friends or to interact with your college buddies, you need to understand that this is what you are doing there. Find pictures related to those times, engage in conversation about them and use the search tool to improve your chances of succeeding.

Even professional drug dealers and other people from the “parallel economy” need to shape their media according to goal. Or those hunting for sexual partners or online dating.

There are problems when people don’t observe these principles. If you are hunting for sexual partners and decide to do it on a “general” network, such as Facebook, you will need to invest extra time selecting your targets and elaborating approaching strategies. It is obviously easier to create an account in an adult content network where all this time consuming and dangerous work, with a high level of uncertainty as to results, will not take place.

People who use their Facebook accounts for subjective, emotional reasons, to create an inflated image of themselves and obtain the social approval they otherwise fail to get in society should consider investing in therapy instead. So many members of this class end up repetitively deleting and creating accounts as they reach some catastrophic interaction with others. These people are the most vulnerable to internet addiction syndromes. I would offer an educated guess that this is related both to the previous emotional problems the person brought into the web, but also to the nature of the digital network interaction.

Most people are there with one objective, though: entertainement and gossip. Yes, gossip. And just like you have your marketing objetive in mind, you need to keep in mind your consumers have theirs. Part of the job of engaging people is satisfying those needs (entertaining and, well, I avoid gossip in spite of the fact that it is shown to sell).

So: know what you want at each network.


  1. Lesson 2: it takes time. A good network is built over years

I have three stronger social media (Facebook, LinkedIn and Youtube), the ones I first learned to use for professional purposes and a couple of weak ones. My Facebook account was created in 2009. Approximately the same time I created a group for my Powerlifting association, then the National Strength Alliance, today called Brazilian Powerlifting League. In 2011 I created the first Brazilian Strongman group on facebook. Today there are a couple of other groups in each category, but because I came first and maintained strict discipline and high standards on both, they became the reference for information in the country. A third group about “weightlifts” (meaning the two Olympic lifts and the three powerlifts) was created in 2012. These groups grew steadily, not as much in numbers (I have strict moderation rules), but in recognition.

I also created a couple of pages. My own page, “Marilia Coutinho, Ph.D.” is where I invest most of my effort. It was created in 2012.

My profile reached 5000 followers pretty soon and the reason was obvious: being cover of one of Brazil’s most reputable and highly distributed cultural magazines created a huge wave of requests. At the time, I simply accepted all of them until I realized that letting the personal profile to reach 5000 did not allow me to interact with the people who wanted to send me requests.

That was when I started to create standardized replies to requests, asking people to follow my page instead of the profile. What I did was to divert the “natural” flux of friend requests and turn them into page followers. My page grew fast, strongly based on the Brazilian following that my media appearance, my books and teaching generated.

With time I created different and better standardized responses to optimize the conversion of requests into page followers.

At some point in 2012 I took an online course by Amy Porterfield to learn the basics of fanpage management. I believe I still fail to follow the best guidelines. They are not complicated, but not easy to enjoy. Especially for those of us coming from the sciences or from teaching, the foundations of fanpage construction are sometimes disgusting. But that is how network dynamics is – end of story.

Six years later, I control a couple of very active groups, pages I am still struggling with, but the biggest one has about 14K followers and my personal profile has always about 4900 people, with around 4000 followers. Six years, not six months.

When I see small companies in Brazil spamming groups (and getting banned on mine), using personal profiles for commercial purposes and trying to hitchhike on whatever they find on the web, I realize that a solid social media structure is not made overnight, cannot rely on one media alone and necessarily must be anchored on a website with good content (with few exceptions). Instagram celebrities may crumble to the ground easily: few of the stronger influencers actually add content to image and video. Youtube celebrities are less dependent on a website: since the video can have any length, once your account reaches a certain age and usage, it is just a different kind of content, but as stable and searchable as a website.

LinkedIn is one of the hardest media to learn and use properly. My account was created soon after the Facebook account, but I honestly didn’t know what to do with it. It took me a couple of years to be able to start using it, obtain results in terms of professional networking and I am not even close to having a decently constructed profile.

Do we need to have all the important media? Does every professional or small company need a Facebook account, page, group, LinkedIn, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr accounts and whatever more specific media is offered? I don’t think so. Technical writers in SMM tend to agree that you need at least two, but it is hard to manage well too many media.

Although data shows again and again the SMM dramatically cuts down costs with marketing, it is important to track down what is being efficient and what is not. In my case, I need my media active and interesting so that I have successful advertising six times a year for the courses in our continued education program. I can’t just leave them sitting there, growing cobwebs and use them when I need to advertise. It doesn’t work that way. And I can only use them now because I have been feeding them for four, five or six years.


  1. It is time consuming. You must take that into consideration when choosing where to invest in SMM.

Even with very efficient organization, automated posting, etc., expect to spend no less than two hours each day just managing social media. There are platforms that automate periodical tasks to a very high degree, but they are expensive for a small business. After a while, though, you learn the minimum interaction needed to keep yourself properly networked, your networks functioning well, your content properly shared and not disrupt your day because of that.

The focus, however, should be to optimize interaction while spending the least time on it.

Compared to e-mail marketing, SMM is orders of magnitude more efficient in our case, so it is worth the time I spend tending to it.


  1. It is complex and there is carry-over from one to the other

If you have a great facebook page, does that mean you will populate your mailing and thus communicate with your audience more efficiently through a newsletter? If you have a great website, does that mean people will want to click on your social media widgets and follow you? Will your youtube followers follow you on facebook?

No. To all the questions: no. In our case, the best alternative for direct communication with our ex-students and prospective students was a network service called NING. It is not plug and play, not that efficient, but we are using it more effectively with time. We tried to drive traffic from facebook and the blogs/websites to NING: it was a total failure. What really works is offering good free content, such as very good e-books. Each time we create a “NING campaign” with an e-book or a video-class, we get around 20% new members.

So why keep all the other social media? Because each one of them serves a specific purpose: the classes are stored on youtube, in closed access format. When we do a webinar, our youtube followers, our facebook followers and our NING followers are notified.

People who follow me on facebook have a higher probability of following me on Instagram, but the overlap is not even close to 20%. As said before, each network has its own dynamics.


  1. “Content is king” must be taken with a large grain of salt

Very large. The Strength & Conditioning field is so close to Fitness that they are often confused. To understand how much the huge amount of experience, technical knowledge and scientific practice the top influencers on serious Strength training in Brazil have on the Fitness world, I calculated the influence overlap between us and the Instagram celebrities. Of those, one has the highest following: 1.4M followers, with each post ranging from 20-50K likes. She is known for publishing shockingly wrong fitness, health and conditioning advice and being close to illiterate. She has exactly 6 common “friends” with me on facebook. I didn’t even care to measure the other media.

I haven’t mapped the super power digital misinformers in the American fitness world, a world in which I am very timidly growing now. Numbers would be dismal and uninformative: while in Brazil I do represent a recognized reference, I don’t come even close in the USA. I believe, however, if we calculated the influence overlap between serious strength & conditioning coaches/intellectuals and out-of-line fitness gurus, the result wouldn’t be that different from my comparison with the instagram celebrity.

So, should we just give up producing good content if we need to promote our media? No: we are what is known as a special niche. Our influence is and will remain limited given the nature of this industry, but both for the sake of our businesses’  economic health and for the sake of our missions concerning the Greater Good, we must stick to the principle that “content is king”.


  1. Shortcuts are dangerous

A couple of days ago I blocked an individual from 4 groups I created and am the administrator of.

Two of the groups were somewhat abandoned. I was cleaning them up and organizing them when I saw a name I recognized: it was a guy who had a conflict with me years ago. Pretty disturbed person: he wrote me endless e-mails with horrible insults because I had to ask him not to intimidate every other member of the group. He claims to be a coach, he has a Facebook professional page, where he posts texts he copies from other authors (giving them credit, but not sharing from the original URL source). From his page, he shares the content into as many groups as he can.

Sounds smart, doesn’t it? As members of the group see good content, they might be interested in interacting with that member and following his other media. He is just curating content, after all.

The problem is that he is taking a shortcut: he did not create the groups (they belong to me), he did not create content (he just copied from others, so he is not technically curating content) and he is trying to get his name out there hitchhiking in other people’s investments. Those specific groups are Portuguese speaking (I am the administrator of others, that are English-only). There are no other good groups where his target audience is. Taking a shortcut has cost him a lot.

Other shortcuts may be even more dangerous, such as buying followers or likes. On facebook, the bot can recognize fake accounts as soon as they like a page. You may have your page closed down.


  1. Social is social: it requires interacting with your public

There is no way around social interaction. There are automated “like” systems, but they don’t really work. When you see comments completely out of context in your updates, such as “great picture”, when you shared a video or just text, that’s an automated system posting. They end up damaging your digital reputation and that is not a good thing.

A good social media has engagement and the only way to achieve that is to share good content and respond to followers’ reactions.

And yes, you must follow other people and interact with them, unless you are a super uber celebrity and then you don’t interact out of your own media.


  1. Reputation is constructed like in presencial networks. And lost the same way.

All this said, your digital presence is exactly like your physical presence. If you cheat, lie, take advantage of others, it is almost impossible to “clean” your dishonorable reputation. Adults who act as teenagers and engage in bickering online must think twice. If they have a business and social media to promote their business, this behavior might be damaging to their marketing, their customer service and, consequently, to their finances.

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