10 Lessons from the Micro-Stage of Social Media for the Main Stage of Life

Social media can bring out the best and worst in us.

It can be a place to pretend that your life is always roses or broadcast just how rotten you feel about it.

It can be a place where we build people up as well as tear them down because they think differently than us.

Because it lacks the personal contact of real life, social media is a lot like the Wild West of personal conduct.

While there may be no rules beyond what each platform sets, the micro-stage of social media still has its winners and losers.

And those who are the most successful tend to follow their own set of guidelines. (Except for the trolls. I would argue they’re only successful at trolling, which is like winning a poop-flinging contest!)

Even the most socially inept people (myself included) can find success on social media.

But, how can we transfer that success into the real world?

We often try to take lessons from life and figure out how to apply them to social media, but I wanted to flip that around.

Let’s look at some lessons from the micro-stage of social media and see how we can use that to be successful on the main stage of life.

Lesson 1: We’re All Just People

Regardless of whether you’re online or offline, always remember that we’re talking with real people. Normal people.

The glory of being online is that the social constructs that separate us can just melt away.

When you don’t always know who you’re talking to, you find that you have less of a tendency to allow any kind of stature get in the way of a good conversation.

Bryan Eisenberg‏ says, “The value of social media is the ability to connect with like-minded people, but the true-life value is when you actually turn those connections into real-life social connections. Bring it from online to offline.”

Young or old, male or female, rich or poor, religious or atheist, gay or straight, republican or democrat, none of these matter to those who seek genuine conversations.

You don’t have to put aside your convictions, but convictions rarely result in conversions outside of a conversation. Online and off, be willing to see past labels and just see people as people.

Lesson 2: Be Kind

Life is full of choices. And with every interaction, you have the choice to be kind or unkind to someone.

While I believe there is room for varying opinions, there is always the need for kindness in how those opinions are delivered.

There’s a reason our mothers taught us that if we don’t have something nice to say, it’s best not to say it at all.

It’s not our job to “fix” people, and berating, shaming, or pointing out their flaws never once changed someone’s mind. What does, is kindness.

Remember, bad things are not always committed by bad people. Often they are committed by hurt people. Ian James Smith writes, “No matter what, be kind. People’s ‘perfect’ online personas hide a world of pain you know nothing about, so above all? Be kind. Always.”

Bekah Matz echoes that. “Support others and be kind. Basically, just be a decent person because you don’t know what someone may be going through in the real world.”

Lesson 3: Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

It’s easy to assume that everyone’s life is better than yours.

You see the pictures of their exciting vacations, smiling kids, and rambunctious pets…

But what you don’t see is all the frustration that occurs in all the other minutes before and after that picture was captured: Lost luggage, bratty kids, your favorite shoes chewed to pieces, etc.

It’s easy to hide a pile of problems under a veneer of happiness.

Bambi Sommers tells us, “Don’t assume everyone is doing better than you. It’s easy to see the ads and statements of others and feel you can’t live up to that. It’s just not true. We all struggle.”

Most people only show you a fraction of what’s going on in their lives. At best, it’s an incomplete picture.

If you try to live up to the great life you think everyone else has, you’ll find yourself disappointed when you learn that you can’t. Because neither can they.

Lesson 4: Small Things Get Amplified, Important Things Get Buried

It doesn’t matter where you are, you’ll find that people don’t hear what you want them to hear.

All too often we get caught up on the details rather than focusing on the big picture. This is true online, just as it is true with our 24-hour news cycle, just as it’s true at your workplace.

Jason Channell says, “Social media has become an echo chamber that amplifies the sensational. The quotidian, boring things that are really important often get short shrift in the ‘attention economy.’”

You cannot control what people focus on, which means that sometimes your great thoughts and ideas will get overpowered by that other thing that’s sucking the air out of the room.

You can’t let that get to you because sometimes that’s just the way of life.

Lesson 5: You Don’t Always Have an Edit Button – Choose Your Words Wisely

Always be careful what you say and to whom.

You never know who may overhear or see something you say or do in the real world.

And while social media does offer edit and delete buttons, in real life, there is no “undo”. The best you get is the chance to apologize for your mistakes and hope to minimize the damage.

Kelly Dodd tells us, “As a former divorce lawyer, I recommend you remind people their social media posts will be ‘Exhibit A.’ In other words, the micro stage of social media IS the main stage of life (at least as far as a court is concerned). People should act accordingly.”

And the truth is, you never really know who’s listening.

In today’s surveillance age, your Alexa can pick up a personal conversation and email it to a stranger.

You might even butt-dial someone while you’re talking about them. The point here is that no matter where you are, you have to be careful.

Chris Silver Smith reminds us, “Just because it’s social media doesn’t mean it doesn’t have real-world consequences. Opinion is fine, but defamation or fraud are not ok.”

In short, always be careful.

Lesson 6: Don’t Say Anything You Wouldn’t Say to Someone’s Face

Ryan Freeman says, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the fingers type. Social media gives an unfiltered view into your own heart, with the constraints of personal interaction and accountability removed/lessened.”

There isn’t much different on social media than there is with using email or even talking about someone behind their back.

We often speak what we think when we feel it’s safe, but how many times has word gotten back to the person you were talking about?

Probably a lot. Especially in enclosed ecosystems such as friend groups or work.

As my wife says, don’t type anything anywhere that you don’t want the world to see, because sooner or later someone will.

I’ll take that a step further and suggest that you don’t say anything to anyone you don’t trust implicitly unless you’re prepared for your words to reach unintended ears.

Julie Joyce sums it up nicely with this, “Think hard before you say something stupid that you’ll regret.”

Lesson 7: Have a Thick Skin

Along the lines of Lesson 6, there will come a point where you will be hurt, offended, made fun of, or otherwise disrespected in your life. It helps to develop a pretty thick skin to let this stuff roll off your back.

You can’t live your life letting other people’s thoughts about you have an effect on how you feel about yourself. Kristy Morrison nails it on the head when she says, “The opinions of others are just that. Treat them accordingly.”

Where there is always room to learn from other people’s perspectives, you can’t let those perspectives drive you to misery.

There is no such thing as a person who is liked by everyone. All you need is a few supportive people and the rest won’t matter.

On a similar note, D C Wright-Hammer reminds us that, “People don’t think about you as much as you think about you because they’re too busy thinking about themselves. Don’t make assumptions about someone based on how often they respond to you but by the quality of their responses when they do.”

We often get inside our own heads worried about what other people are thinking (or not thinking) about us, when they really aren’t.

They’re more likely to be worried about what you are thinking about them!

This is even true in situations when you do something dumb. Ten minutes later, the only person who remembers it is most likely you. Just walk it off.

Lesson 8: Know When to Unfollow, Unfriend, and Walk Away

This is a big one I think most people have a hard time with.

We often pride ourselves on the number of friends and connections we have in both the real and digital worlds, but not every connection is a valuable one.

And sometimes, the people we surround ourselves with bring out the worst, rather than the best in us.

Online, I make a point of unfollowing people who are either constantly negative or frequently crappy toward other people for any reason. Why not do the same in real life?

I get it, everyone has an opinion about elections, laws, politics, and who’s doing what. So do I.

But I don’t need to make it my mission to let everyone know what I think about it all. Nor am I obligated to listen to it from anyone else.

Family or friends, it doesn’t matter. You get to choose who you surround yourself with. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Danny Goodwin advises to “Surround yourself with people who:

  • Are positive.
  • Make you happy.
  • Accept your ‘imperfections’ as features (rather than bugs).
  • Make you think.
  • Are willing to evolve.
  • Don’t assume bad intentions when none exist.

You can choose your ‘family’ – online or off.”

Lesson 9: Learn the Art of Engagement

I’ve been saying for years that social media is not a publishing or broadcasting platform, it’s an engagement platform.

So if you want to have friends in the social or real world, you have to learn a few things about how to engage with people. Here are a few of my hard-learned tips.

Start with Gratitude

This is something I try to do every day. In fact, I try to make my #FirstTweetOfTheDay one of #DailyGratitude.

And why not? It’s not like there’s too much positivity in the world.

Just today, (as I write this) someone replied to one of my daily gratitude posts and told me I helped restore their faith in humanity.

Wow! And it wasn’t even some really deep thing to be grateful for, just my daughter Bella, babies, and berries. (I was having a ‘B’ day.)

But that’s the thing, it doesn’t take much to have an impact. For years I try to make my first thought rolling out of bed one of thankfulness.

Well, maybe the first thing after “stupid alarm!” But if we all started our days with gratitude, I’m willing to bet it would make an impact, not just on others, but on our own selves as well.

Don’t One Up

In the right situation, the game of one-up can be fun. But in normal, everyday conversations, one-upping someone is just one person stealing the focus to put it on themselves.

If you are engaged in conversation and believe sharing a similar experience will be appreciated, then go for it.

But, before you accidentally create a game of one-upmanship, take a few minutes to ask questions that will dig deeper into the other person’s experience. This is how bonds of friendship are made.

Don’t Be All About Yourself

Going one step further, great communication and relationship building means we can’t always focus only on ourselves.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced “friendships” where everything seemed to flow one way. They typically don’t last long.

The more you focus on others the higher quality relationships you’ll build. Especially if everyone else is others-focused as well.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t ever talk about yourself, it just means that you need to care about what other people are saying just as much as what you want to say.

Address People by Name

On social media, sometimes you have to be careful about responding to someone, especially if you’re asking them a question.

More than once someone jumped in and replied thinking the question was asked to everyone rather than a specific person.

No worries, but that could have been remedied simply by addressing the person by name when asking a question.

In the real world, people love to hear people say their name (in a non-condescending way or gossipy way). Saying “Hi!” and “Hi, Sandy,” have two totally different levels of appreciation.

Any chance you get, use someone’s name when addressing them – because it’s little things like this that count the most.

Don’t Give One-Word Answers – Make Conversation

Anyone with teenage kids (or a husband) can relate to this: trying to start a conversation and all you get are one-word answers.

If someone is asking a question to make conversation, you can bet they are looking for more than a single word reply.

So instead of just saying: yes, no, good, dumb, sucks, or whatever; how about you follow those single words up with some flavor! Because a conversation actually does take two.

Add to – Don’t Take Away

And to build even further off the previous two points, always seek to add to a conversation rather than taking away from it.

There is a rule in improv comedy that you always have to say “yes” to whatever the person before you is suggesting.

If they say you’re a horse, you’re a horse. Because the minute you say, “no,” you’ve killed the momentum.

Same with social media. Same with real life.

While you don’t always have to say, “yes” to everything, you do want to measure your responses so you are adding to any conversation rather than discouraging it from going forward.

Even disagreements can be said in such a way to foster conversation, rather than shut someone down.

Lesson 10: Manage Your Reputation – You Are the Only You That You Get

And finally, and probably most importantly, don’t do anything in any avenue of your life that can hurt your reputation.

Kristy Morrison reminds, “You are 100% responsible but the brand image you put out into the world. But only 50% in control of how it’s received.”

That’s a warning to be extra careful. Even when you think you’re playing it safe, your words are open to interpretation by someone else who may have a platform and desire to do you harm.

Chris Silver Smith puts this into perspective. “In that latter vein, note how Logan Paul’s video in Japan’s suicide forest impacted him, and how terrible those selfie pics in Holocaust death camps make people look. Think about what you’re doing in the real world to get ahead in social media, or your real-world reputation is toast!”

Yet, in all of this, you have to be who you are. Protect your reputation, yes, but as Jenny Halasz tells us, “Be authentically you in all things. Do not hide or censor elements of yourself. Your passions, your faults, and your desires are all critical parts of who you are.”

There is nothing wrong with presenting the best version of you, but always make sure what you present is truly you, not a version of you that someone else wants you to be. And don’t be afraid to try something new.

Mona Elesseily agrees. “I like to focus growth & getting outside of my comfort zone. I aim to do this in all aspects of life like work, gym, family, etc.”

When it comes to managing your reputation, it all falls back to you. Joe Hall drives that point home: “If you aren’t paying for it, you are the product. Nothing in life is free.”


People tend to look at their life on social media as something that is separate from their life in the real world.

In truth, we live in a single intertwined ecosystem. Everything crosses over.

Who you are online is likely who you are off, and vice versa. Live both as well as you possibly can because life is what you make it.

We get one final warning from Bill Slawski. “The Web is filled with myths & legends, facts & information. In many ways a mirror of the World we live in. As you journey both, keep a clear head, a critical mind, and a kind heart. Those will serve you well as you travel to your final destination.”

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Featured Image: Created by author, June 2019