Harnessing the power of social media

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I’ve been on the internet long enough to have seen just about everything on these social media platforms. People won’t ordinarily admit to these kinds of statements in lieu of “showing their age,” but that’s not the case for me. I’m just 27; I only have the privilege of admitting this because I was born at just the right time and got to come up with the internet.

I can distinctly recall the sound of dial-up internet. My summers were filled with blogging, first on Xanga, then on MySpace. At this point, I think it’s only fair to give a shoutout to Tom for discreetly teaching me how to code and filling my brain with useful information, even when I didn’t realize it. (How starkly this contrasts to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, but I won’t even go there.) Eventually, my MySpace days gave way to me designing my own website at just 14. That site didn’t last long at all, but I did it. By the time I entered high school, Facebook was all the rage and MySpace bit the dust. What’s that old saying…? “The more things change, the more things stay the same?” Sounds about right when we think about Facebook.

Twitter came into play around that time. I, along with the rest of the world, took up “tweeting.” Next came Instagram. I am one of the early users who can still recall the brown camera icon that represented “IG,” as it’s referred to today. Snapchat, oh, the infamous Snapchat, came after Instagram. There was a short spell back in 2014 and 2015 I actually used that app, but I rarely get on it today. The appeal is lost on me, but again, I won’t go there.

TikTok is the latest social media platform. You may have seen news segments centered around TikTok, specifically talks about banning it here in the United States because of safety and privacy concerns since the app is based out of China. To the best of my knowledge, those talks have been suspended since the app’s owner is working with Microsoft on a deal to transfer ownership. I’m praying to the high heavens TikTok doesn’t get banned, and if you’ve ever spent a good 15 minutes scrolling the feed yourself, you understand why! Videos are limited to just 60 seconds, although they can be shorter than that, and the algorithm uses your “likes” to curate specific videos to your taste. My feed is filled with delicious-looking recipes, light-hearted pranks, encouraging Christian messages, cute dogs, funny jokes, singers and their original content, some infertility stuff, and lots of conspiracy theories, among a few other straggler subjects.

After reading all that, do you believe me when I say I’ve seen just about everything on social media? I have. Most of the time, what you encounter on social media is negative. I could dedicate an entire column to why I think that is often the case, but I’ll just say this: it’s so easy to share your opinion online, insist you’re right, and move on. As hard a fact as it is to accept, people in general are negative, so that probably plays a part in the overall negativity of the internet. Now that’s not to say I haven’t seen some heartwarming stuff online—because I have!

In fact, I wrote this column to share two stories I consider uplifting. I hope in the end, you’ll understand why I call this piece “Harnessing the Power of Social Media.” Because that’s just what these two situations did.

Think about how difficult it is to make it in the music industry. If you don’t know about the music industry specifically, I guess you could defer to the entertainment industry as a whole. Everybody wants to be somebody, and there are so many talented people in this big ol’ world that it’s hard for everyone to find a spot in the limelight. Nashville remains the go-to spot for musicians across the country. Priscilla Block moved from North Carolina to Music City to chase her dreams in 2014 and started working on her craft, playing in bars and networking. When TikTok became mainstream, she made an account and eventually grew her following to 330,000 followers. Today, she’s got almost 400,000 followers and more than 3 million likes across her 400-something videos on the app. Still, her music didn’t hit the airwaves until last week. Block started with an original called “Thick Thighs” and released it on all streaming platforms, then released a teaser just three weeks ago for her new song, “Just About Over You.” She released that teaser on TikTok and her followers went berserk! Music TikTok (akin to Conspiracy TikTok, Christian TikTok, etc.) loved the track and raised money for Block to buy studio time to professionally record the new ballad. She photographed her album cover herself and hyped up the coming release on her account. By the time she released “Just About Over You” last Wednesday, it immediately jumped to No. 1 on iTunes’ all-genres chart. She’s been interviewed by CMT, Rolling Stone, Country Now, and several other big-name music reporting outlets. Bobby Bones, host of a radio talk show in Nashville, has invited her to come onto his show, and she’s now down in Florida working on more original content and a touring arrangement.

I was already impressed by this particular example of how much power social media gives us. Thursday night, I got a more personal experience to add to my amazement.

Back in the 1980s, my parents found a class ring at a now-closed Emanuel County establishment. There wasn’t a way back then to track down the owner compared to social media platforms today. The ring directly got tucked away into a family grandfather clock for safekeeping and it stayed there until 2018 when my husband and I bought our house. I wanted the clock as a decorative piece for my living room, so my oldest sister and I went together to transport it from my grandparents’ house to my own. While in route, my sister found the ring. The two of us had a conversation about it, then she put it into the center console of my car, where it remained until last week when my husband and I were on the way to town and he found it. Naturally, he was curious, so I retold the story to him.

The inscribed name read “Lisa G. Cranford,” a 1979 graduate of Jones County High School. We did a quick Google search for her, but the only connection we managed to find between her first name, maiden name, and what I now know is her married name was unclear. Right away, we decided to take pictures of it and post it on my personal Facebook page. I had zero connections to Jones County but knowing my family’s long-time desire to reunite this ring with its rightful owner or perhaps the owner’s family as a second resort, I called for help, asking people to tag anyone they knew from the Grey area and to share it in hopes of reaching the right person.

Within an hour, the post had 80 comments and around 100 shares. By the night’s end and into the morning, the post had 291 shares, 26 reactions, and 126 comments. Thanks to all of those elements, we managed to find the owner after 40 years!

In the midst of all those comments, someone tagged Lisa’s brother. (First to locate him was Lavonna Johnson, who had better luck with Googling the ring’s owner than I did.) About 45 minutes after the post went up, I received a message from her brother, Mark, who said his sister had, in fact, lost her ring “years and years ago.” He also told me her middle name. It matched the middle initial, which was a clear indicator we were on the right track. The final piece of the puzzle was that Lisa had a November birthday, which matched the citrine stone in the middle.

He put us in touch. I called the number he gave me and had to leave a message. Around 10:10 that evening, I received a text while lying in bed. She introduced herself and described the ring to a tee. I asked her to call me, and when I heard the house phone ring, I jumped out of bed with excitement. For the sake of time and space, I’m going to sum up that phone call by saying this: while I certainly am convinced that the power of social media helped, I’m even more certain that my family’s success in reuniting that ring with Lisa was very much a God thing. I plan to do a more in-depth story on this particular matter when we meet to give it back to her; the relevance to Emanuel County requirement is very much fulfilled in that the ring was found here and one other specific she shared with me Thursday evening. For that reason, I don’t want to say too much more… But I’ll leave you guys with this: never underestimate the power of online networking. It might make you rich and famous, like Priscilla Block… Or it might help you help someone else. Our words are already so powerful. The things we say can never be unsaid. The things we put online are there forever, despite that deceitful Delete button, so make sure you’re harnessing social media for good—not evil.

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