The social networker
Between the rolling hills of Facebook and the amber waves of Twitter reside a lot of kids who have no idea how to navigate their way. Social-media producer Thomas Dodson says he’s recognized the escalating issues stemming from children’s unguarded use of social media and has decided to do something about it. Alongside the launch of his social-networking-strategy business, Selvage Media, Dodson is also heading a crowd-funding campaign to support Above the Fray, a program aimed to help teens steer their use of social media. Dodson, a former TV news producer, stopped posting on Twitter long enough to talk to SN&R about today’s youth, the power of social media and his ability to write a sentence.
You just launched Selvage Media— how does that feel?
Nerve-racking. I’ve felt like an expectant parent for the past few weeks, you know, just getting ready for the baby. The nursery’s painted, the crib’s in, the sheets are done, now we just gotta wait for the baby.
How did you get into working in social media?
I was working at a [public-relations] firm back in 2011, and I started to see the need for businesses, nonprofits, political candidates … [that] were all kind of missing the mark when it came to social media. My approach to all of this is that I treat social media like it’s a media. I concentrate on ongoing, engaging content.
Has your journalistic background influenced your approach to social media?
First of all, I feel like I can write a sentence. There are far too many marketers I see and they just can’t even write. If you can’t write a sentence, how can you engage? It’s the power of the written word. I sit down with my clients … and we create the social-media strategy together. We talk about tone and voice and tenor and content and schedules, and when we are done with that, we have a blueprint to follow. You gotta have that plan in order to be effective. I know this because I’ve done it and failed. You can’t just run in and start posting shit. You’re not going to be effective that way.
Who was one of your favorite clients?
I really enjoyed Steve Hansen’s Sacramento City Council campaign. I believe in Steve and what he brings to city council and his vision for Sacramento. Getting to create and execute a social-media strategy … no one had done anything like this prior to Steve’s campaign. It was exciting for me, because it was a new time in my business.
Let’s talk about Above the Fray.
Above the Fray is something I am very passionate about. It’s [about] creating open and honest dialogue about what’s really going on on social media for our youth. I’m a social-media professional; I’m on social media all day … and it scares the shit out of me what’s going on out there. The programs I have seen to date, you read a lot of the anti-cyberbullying stuff. That’s pretty much all that’s out there right now. That stuff to me is very reactionary. It’s the “stop, drop and roll” of the new era. Let’s prevent the kids from catching on fire in the first place, so we don’t have to get to that “stop, drop and roll” mentality.
So, what’s the first step?
We have a focus group of local teens that we’re going to be getting real with. I have my own preconceived notions of what it’s like [for teens], but the majority of my time on social media is spent on Facebook and Twitter. They are using Snapchat and Instagram and Tumblr and other platforms as well, so while I think I have a good understanding of a lot of the issues, I know I have a lot to learn, as well. The conversation starts by listening to them, getting as much information as we can from them, and then turning it into a curriculum we can share.
What do you hope this will become?
I want to pair it with an in-person and an online curriculum. I want to have something that’s Web-based, that’s maybe an app, the parents, teachers and kids can go on and use, study the curriculum, maybe take tests, get a certificate that says they passed the Above the Fray social-media [test]. Part of that, too, [are] social-media contracts between parents and students. I have seen them be very effective. The issues are only getting worse, and there is no real solution right now.
How did Above the Fray come about?
I started thinking about what would it have been like if there had been social media when I was in high school. That is almost enough to make me sick to my stomach. I barely survived the tumultuous trials and tribulations of teenage angst. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like had there been Snapchat and Facebook and Twitter. I look at these kids and think, “I’m so sorry you have to go through this.” The analogy I keep using is, in essence, we have given the kids the keys to the cars without having made these kids take driver’s ed. We have given them these incredibly powerful tools, and no one has taught them how to use them.
What’s been the reaction so far?
Every parent that I’ve talked to, every teacher that I’ve talked to about Above the Fray has said, “Yes, there is a need for this, for dialogue.” Not one person has said, “Oh, you’re stupid. That’s not going to work.” I’ve had very few moments of clarity in my life—very few. This is one of them.