I’ve always been quiet. In school, I barely raised my hand–not because I didn’t know the answer, but because I didn’t want everyone turning to look at me as I spoke.
It still happens sometimes–the rush of nerves and feelings of anxiety that come with being the center of attention. While I never really had to, I’ve taken every type of Myers-Briggs test to confirm what I’ve known all along: I am an introvert.
For me, being an introvert is no better or worse than being an extrovert; it just means that I interact with the world in a way that demands more energy and requires me to spend time alone to recharge.
That said, if there’s one thing that’s challenged my introverted self, it’s self-promotion. As a designer, I’ve always known the importance of visibility and discoverability, but the idea of having to develop an online presence has always made me cringe. How could I talk about my work–let alone myself–when I don’t want attention?
Before I got started, the online design world used to feel like a popularity contest for likes. Now, five years after my first tweet, I see social media as a place for building meaningful connections with others.
Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.
Be choosy about the platforms you’re on
Researching various online platforms was the first step in figuring out how I wanted to use social media. I read articles, created accounts and tried several platforms to see what resonated most.
I made a public Instagram account and after two weeks, I realized it wasn’t working. I was constantly feeling pressure to post the perfect photo and began stressing about every image. The question I felt most helpful to ask myself was: “Do I feel drained or inspired after my interactions here?” If the answer was “drained,” “overwhelmed,” or “anxious,” then I knew it was not for me. I also kept in mind; how does the community interact with one another? Is there a code of conduct? What format does the content follow? All were important to me.
After further trial and error, I decided a public Twitter account would be the best way for me to branch out into the world of social media. The short format, minimal imagery and micro-blogging appealed to me. Having this public account would allow others to find my content by searching. I particularly liked that I could follow others in and outside of the design field and contribute to conversations on a variety of topics.
Seek meaningful interactions
Trying to define myself through this small part of the internet can be exhausting and nearly impossible, so I post as a way to get to know others and for others to get to know me. Being a designer with an active online presence is about more than just exhibiting my portfolio. It’s a way to show my interests, personality and insights, which would usually only come out in person.
Even now I constantly curate and reflect on who I follow and why. In doing so, I notice that I am able to build conversations around topics that I am passionate and curious about. This creates community. My friend Joelle and I met this way; we emailed and met in person after continuously overlapping in deep conversations about education and the lack of opportunities for young designers from underrepresented backgrounds. What may have started with a simple like or one brief comment, in time, allowed me to build a friendship and community around common interests and causes.
See every share as an opportunity to teach or learn
Writing out my thoughts publicly takes a lot of energy — and even now this is exciting and scary for me. While I still shy away from receiving too much attention, I know that sharing my perspective and narrative is important and might inspire someone else to do the same. How do I manage these two ever opposing feelings? Very slowly. I worry less about being liked online and focus on what I can learn and share. I express myself through funny re-tweets that show my sense of humor. I talk about music and writing, and things that I am involved in because I am proud of it and believe in its impact. I post about typography simply because it makes me happy. I think of sharing as an act of courageous learning because I push through my shyness to connect with people while learning from others as well.
Don’t get nervous when you aren’t seeing the likes you thought you would
Managing the expectations of what happens after you have an online account is important. It takes time for others to learn about you and to find your common interests. These also change over time. Initially I struggled with this, thinking that my posts were boring because no one was liking them or because others did not follow me back. Then I let go, remembering that I post to overcome my shyness and share more about myself.
Engagement is important, but doesn’t have to occur with every post. If you want to expand on your posts and chat with others, find a pace that is comfortable for you. There are times I engage on Twitter daily; other times I am offline or an observer. You decide. Don’t want to reply to every comment immediately? Come back to it when you are ready. Set limits for yourself and follow them to establish a healthy balance.
As I always tell myself: my voice may not be the loudest, but it is equally as important. It’s the shy, introverted voice; the Afro-Latina voice; the voice that loves reading and gets excited about typography. I can still be my true, introverted self online and share as much or as little as I want with others in the online community, without competing for likes.