My wife and I are expecting our first child in 5 weeks. As part of preparing for that process we did a final clean-out of stuff that has been sitting in boxes since we moved into our first home. Six years ago.
While going through everything, I found a photo of me from when I was sixteen that, well I looked like a scumbag. All the sense of teenage angst and awkwardness came rushing back and so I did what any millenial would do, I shared it on social media.
I popped it up on Twitter and said that "Sixteen year old me does not look like someone I'd like to spend time with."
The response was pretty strong, people enjoyed taking a look at teenage me, especially now that I'm a big boy with my own business, and a Herald column.
Realising the thirst for nostalgia, I suggested that others should also post their sixteen year-old selves so we could all revel in each other's dorkiness/awkwardness/beauty/glamour.
I didn't expect the response I got. Pictures came pouring in from people, ranging from black and white pictures from many decades ago to some that were only a handful of years back. As people responded to me with the hashtag #SixteenMe I'd retweet them so everyone could enjoy. Soon it was organic and I wasn't being included but I could still follow what was coming out by searching for the hashtag.
National Party leader Simon Bridges got in on the act.
The hashtag was trending as #1 in New Zealand for over 24 Hours. TV3's The Project even had a section on it with the hosts showing their own #SixteenMe photos.
Three and a half days later and it's still going. The most recent one posted as I write this was just an hour ago. Since my first tweet on Sunday evening, there has been nearly 2 and a half million impressions of people looking at the #SixteenMe hashtag.
So what made this so appealing to people? It was a personal thing, it was humanity. Often social media can be a viper's nest of arguing and nastiness (see: treatment of women online), but this wasn't because it was embracing our embarrassment. We walked right into it and owned it, from bad hair dye jobs to dodgy outfits, to, in my case, disgusting cigarettes hanging out of our gobs. It also appealed to a slightly narcissistic trait - we got to tell our own stories through photos of our younger selves. And then we got to see others. And we realised that we weren't the only ones who were like that.
There were a number of messages from people who would say things like "I wish I could tell #SixteenMe that they were gorgeous and that everything would be ok", so we had that element of hindsight too.
Other than this blogpost, it's not something we've tried to cash in on, so it was also authentic and real. There was nothing commercial behind it, other than a bit of fun.
So what I'm trying to impart through all this is a series of things to think about when engaging with people - particularly on social media:
- Talk about them, don't just focus on you - people would rather they got the opportunity to tell their own stories, so give them that platform
- Make it authentic and a shared experience that people can all contribute to - strip away exclusivity
- If you're putting yourself out there, it can give people the confidence to do the same.
This is the sort of thing that is our bread and butter, we know how to talk to people in a way that's interesting to them. Social media is a conversation, not a broadcast. Because this is our business' blog, it would be remiss of me not to do a plug - we're currently running an Open Home System, where people can come see us for 20 minutes and tell us their business problems and we suggest ways communications can help - it's free and no obligation and you can book us here.
And don't be afraid of who you were at 16, that teenage version of you might give a lot of people a lot of fun for a day or two.