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Is Social Media Free?

December 1, 2020 | Small Business Marketing

Free for who? Free for you?

Or, free for these social media superstars who have cracked the code and attract millions of eyeballs to their YouTube and TikTok videos?

Social Media is definitely free.

All it takes is time.  Not money.

3 things you need to succeed with online video

  • Story
  • Personality
  • Technology

You Need a Story

If you can tell a story on video then social media is free for you.  Our humans brains are hardwired to listen to, and tell, stories. Stories are our evolutionary superpower.

This modern focus on story is new.


What is a Story?

From an evolutionary standpoint, a story is simply your brain recognizing a pattern in the environment.

The simplest pattern is cause and effect – even simple organisms recognize patterns for survival.

According to Allen Cobb on Medium:

Even an amoeba, lacking a central nervous system or internal organs, must perform pattern recognition to exist. It bumps into something, and the cell membrane performs a rudimentary analog to “tasting” the object.

If the chemical pattern (taste) is correct, the object is recognized as food, and the amoeba engulfs it. If not, it flows around it. If dangerous, it recoils.

But the sequence of taste, recognition, absorption (perception, pattern recognition, consequence) is a cause & effect model, a primordial story, if you will.

The story is NOT your content – the story is how you arrange your content.

Most of the research on storytelling comes with the last 10 years – try a Google search yourself on “hardwired for stories” and look at the references.

Here’s a couple of thought leaders who back-up the idea that storytelling is our ancient heritage and our sustainable competitive advantage on social media.

Yuval Noah Harari

Hariri wrote Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

Sapiens by Harari
Humans cooperate more than we compete.

Harari’s central thesis is that humans have succeeded because we are the only species who can cooperate flexibly in large numbers (ants and bees cooperate but their behavior is instinctive and patterned).

Human beings coordinate their behavior by telling stories and spreading ideas.


Gary Vaynerchuk on Storytelling

Gary V calls storytelling the #1 skill you need to be successful on social media“. 

Gary should know what he is talking about – he took over in 2006 and grew his father’s liquor store from $3 million to $60 million per year by 2011.

He founded VaynerMedia in 2009, a media-focused digital agency that serves Fortune 500 companies and, by 2016, grossed $100 million in revenue.

Basically, Gary tells a story every time he makes a video on social media.


The Proximity Rule

Who do you tell your story to?

The Proximity Rule suggests we should ALWAYS appear with at least 1 other person on video, if you’re going to use it on social media.

Social media is, after all, social.

We all learned this in high school (for some of us, that was longer ago than for others).

We all have these Zones of Proximity: Public Space is greater than 12′ where we are aware of people coming and going but we probably don’t know much about them. 

Think a graduate school classroom with 10 to 20 classmates.

Social Space is from 4′ to 12′ where we know the people who have entered our space on a first name basis. 

Think an after-hours company dinner where we’re meeting folks from other work teams socially for the first time.

Personal Space is from 18″ to 4′ where we only admit people we love and trust.  This space is reserved for friends and family. 

When a stranger enters our personal space it gets awkward really fast.  This is why elevators are so weird.  Thank god they’re quick (mostly :).

Intimate Space is within 18″ of your body and only lovers, babies and puppies get to be here. 

When we inadvertently violate someone’s Personal Space we reflexively say “Excuse Me”.

Why Does the Proximity Rule Matter and Why Should You Care?

The Proximity Rule was discovered over 65 years ago by Dr. Edward T. Hall and described in book The Hidden Dimension.

I first learned about the Proximity Rule in my high school Sociology class in 1985 –“Ok, interesting but useless”.

Fast forward to the 21st century and we now have social networks:

  • Facebook in 2004
  • Reddit in 2005
  • Twitter in 2006
  • Pinterest, Instagram & Quora in 2010
  • in 2014 (acquired by ByteDance in 2017 & becomes TikTok)
  • Clubhouse in 2020

Over the last 30 years, space became virtual.

It turns out that our 200,000 year old brains still perceive virtual images identical to images in real life (IRL).

Here is the brain scans of people playing the piano and people who imagine they are playing the piano – you can see the brain scans are identical!

brain scan of people playing the piano
Brain scans of people playing the piano and people imagining playing the piano are indistinguishable.  But, the control group shows no activity.

David Meerman Scott, who coined the term ‘newsjacking’ and wrote what is basically the textbook for social media says we should use the Proximity Rule in ALL our social media videos and photos:

“Our unconscious brain can respond to what we see as if it were our own experience, even if it is on social media, film, a screen or a faraway stage through something called mirror neurons.  

These neurons are fascinating because they not only activate when we perform an action – biting into an apple, smiling, or getting near to somebody we enjoy being with – they also fire when we observe somebody else performing the same action.

When those around us are happy and smiling, our unconscious brain tells us were happy, and we often smile too. (Fanocracy, p. 69)

David Meerman Scott
David Meerman Scott wrote the book on social media


Your Online Personality

  • Ellen DeGeneres is sassy and she likes to dance.
  • Gary Vaynerchuk (Gary V) is authentic and he likes to curse.
  • Steve Harvey tells inspirational, personal stories about his life.

Each one of these popular entertainers has an online ‘character’ that may, or may not, be the same person they are in real life.

I doubt Gary V curses in front of his wife and 2 kids the way he curses on his podcast or YouTube videos.

Nevertheless, you will be better on camera if you have an idea of WHO you want to BE before you decide WHAT you want to say.

Did you know?  Your brain processes online images exactly the same as in real life!

Think of it like going to visit your in-laws:  you probably wear your nice shoes, you comb your hair and maybe you even take a bath 🙂

Your online personality is little bit like that; you GET to select the BEST aspects of your personality to show to the world.

And, unlike going to your in-laws, you DON’T have to be all prim and proper – you can be wacky or funny or silly if that’s what your audience likes.

Develop YOUR Online Character

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice

Ellen DeGeneres, Gary V and Steve Harvey have spent years practicing their highly successful online characters.

And, they have discovered the specific attributes that work for them as a result of all that practice.

You can shortcut some of this discovery process that Ellen, Gary and Steve used to become famous with our Personality Checklist.

The Personality Checklist

Create your online image
Create your online image – link to the Personality Checklist for Small Biz Owners – click the image

The Personality Checklist is the tool we use to discover unique and interesting aspects of your personality you SHOULD display online.

The Checklist is best completed with a friend or co-worker who knows you fairly well.

The exercise will take about 10 minutes to fill out the Checklist. You should spend another 30 minutes discussing your findings and then you’ll be ready to get started. Like Ellen, Gary and Steve, you’ll continue to learn and develop your online character as you spend time in front of the camera.

Improve your online personality with this 1 tool in 2021

The Company Culture Checklist

Your business has a personality, too.

We often call it the company culture. Your company culture is the personality of each, individual employee or team member.

It’s important to work on your company culture intentionally; if you aren’t intentional and you write it down your company culture will shift each time you hire a new employee.

A good way to create culture is to write down these 3 things:

  1. Who you are
  2. What you believe
  3. Who you serve

Use this Company Culture Checklist to analyze and understand (with your team) how you want your company culture portrayed in online video.

Company Culture Checklist image
Company Culture Checklist – click the image

Simply work your way through the Company Culture Checklist with your team (est. time = ~30 minutes) until all assumptions are clarified and everyone is on the same page.

  • Are you a serious company?  Perhaps medicine, law or finance?  Let’s make sure every team member creating videos understands this.
  • Are you a ‘fun’ company?  Restaurants, event producers or theme park?  Make sure everyone is on the same page.


Is seems pretty self-evident that social media marketers would want to use the most up-to-date technology; after all, without technology we wouldn’t even have social networks like Facebook, YouTube and TikTok.


Get the free app – save time and $$

If you are an influencer who deals face-to-face with people, like a dentist or a real estate agent, you can become an online influencer using short, testimonial videos on popular social platforms.

We can show you how.

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All the hashtags, hypertext links and tech-y stuff?

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