Recently, I jumped at the opportunity to speak for Mashable’s National Social Media Day because I’m an avid social media (Instagram, specifically) lover.
I believe it’s the new frontier for connection and collaboration. I also wanted to tell my story, in the hopes it could combat some of the ill-thinking that social media is superficial or vain.
Little did I know that in merely telling the story, its original vibrancy would come bursting back tenfold, and I’d fall even more in love with social media just by remembering.
Where It Began
My first entrepreneurial experience happened when I was 18 years old. I had just finished my freshman year of college and was equipped with nothing but an idea and the passion to bring it to life. In other words, I didn’t know much. I committed to learning as I went along.
The idea was to donate empowering literature to girls around the world in mentoring groups, with a curriculum I’d write to accompany the books. I named it Lit Without Limits. I was in love with the idea, but stuck on how I was going to get it started – I had to put the cart before the horse, so to speak. I was stuck: How do I raise the funds to donate the books if I don’t yet have girls to donate to? How do I find girls to donate to? Remember, I was set on this being an international operation.
I believe ideas come in a perfect storm. You have to be at the right place at the right time, interested in the right thing for ideas to percolate up from beneath the surface. It was a year after Lit Without Limits’ humble beginning, and I had successfully donated to chapters in Georgia and Colorado, and had proven the concept. I happened to be an Instagram-addict at this time; my personal account had grown exponentially once I started to experiment with hashtags and different types of posts, and I loved meeting like-minded #bossbabe’s online. One night, it hit me: if I could grow my personal account this quickly, shouldn’t I be able to imitate the same growth strategies for the Lit Without Limits account?
I started with hashtags. #Bookwork, #Booklover, and #Books were the obvious ones. I stumbled upon numerous accounts owned by girls a bit younger than me who had an obvious love for reading. And, there was another hashtag they all utilized – #bookstagram.
Unbeknownst to me, this secret Instagram world – Bookstagram – was hidden beneath the layers of accounts and hashtags all along. It was begging to be found. Contributors included girls from around the world – all of which were in my target age range, with a palpable love for reading.
Even weirder, they all had email addresses in their bios. A way to reach this remarkable group of girls was right in front of me.
That very night, I stayed up late whipping up a program that would involve each girl in the Lit Without Limits mission in her own community. I also asked that upon joining the program, they make a post announcing it. This intention was twofold: The first, and most obvious from a marketing standpoint, was to quickly attract eyes to Lit Without Limits. But, I also knew what it was like to share big news about an involvement with something important, something that meant something to them. It was their first time being able to say, “I’m a leader in my community, mobilizing something I care about.”
Now, it should be noted that I was very modest about the whole thing. I operated on low expectations because I was scared to think big. Humbly, I figured a few girls would reply and we’d have a good enough start. To make sure I got at least that few, I scheduled nearly 100 emails to go out the next morning.
Much to my surprise…it worked. On a bigger scale than I was prepared for.
Over the next series of weeks, thanks to the posts from the new ambassadors and the sheer amount of connection and exposure, I had nearly 60 ambassadors from all over the world.
Of course, I hadn’t been planning for this. I wasn’t complaining, but I wanted to make sure I was being an effective program leader. What surprised me is that they filled in for me on that which I didn’t know. Where they had been doing monthly book posting challenges (such as: post a picture of your favorite book spine, or your favorite literary hero), they quickly made the #LWLChallenge – the same assignment, but under the Lit Without Limits name.
I realized that with all this online connection going on, a virtual book club had started. I didn’t even necessarily have to donate the books internationally anymore – they were all right there, engaging. So, I started monthly book clubs. We did Wild by Cheryl Strayed in July and Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert in August.
We were talking about what the books meant to us. The books held between their pages all the empowerment that I believed a girl could need – myself included – from sinking into solitary confinement in a hike through the Pacific Northwest in Wild to tapping into the sheer amount of vibrant creativity that lays within our bones in Big Magic. I knew it; books mark the same storylines in all of our palms, they hold vision, inspiration – and I had found a way to mobilize this subtle yet stellar truth that had held together my self-concept and emboldened it.
People took notice. They cared. Although I no longer believed that donating the physical copies of the books were necessary, I still longed for that original dream, and the sharing of my heartfelt intention sparked the same desire in others. Girls in Canada had a bake sale to raise money. We partnered with girl power organization Every Ella, which also raised money for us. Finally, finally, finally – my humble nonprofit bank account had enough cash to support the global trip the books would take.
And even better – I knew who to donate to. It was an obvious choice. Two of my program’s ambassadors had a clear passion for the mission, and were based on Pakistan and Philippines.
I was finally able to make my first real international donation – following suit on the vision that had meant so much to me – initiating global influence and helping girls become leaders in their communities.
What I Learned
- Communities thrive on social media. I’ll never forget that moment I stumbled upon Bookstagram, and I know this same process of discovery can be repeated. People are always looking for their tribe, and will do so via hashtags. Other communities I’ve seen on Facebook include fitness, health, and beauty. If you want to create your own movement, you have to tap into the same type of community.
- Offer something that doesn’t yet exist. One of the common downfalls of finding these communities and creating something for them is that it may have been done before. It’s a numbers game. Someone may have launched your very initiative in a different way. I had to make sure that I was the only account on #Bookstagram that was offering ambassadorship for social impact.
- Give more than you ask for. When the girls became ambassadors, they would make a post about their newfound ambassadorship and tag Lit Without Limits. This helped me spread the mission. But, what I was giving far outweighed this favor that I asked. I was giving a greater sense of community, the opportunity to become a leader in their hometowns, and a resume bullet point. Seek to give, give, give to your tribe.
- Heartfelt intention goes a long way. Be honest and upfront about all the good you want to do. Authenticity resonates with people. If you’ve ever met someone who so wholeheartedly believes in their vision and how it can help others, you can’t help but support them. Once you identify what you want to ignite, remember to always humanize your approach to it and communicate with vulnerability and heart.