Friday April 12, 2013 | 08:30 AM
Posted by Rob Gould

Prior to his current position with the HDCC, Levi worked on U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree's (D - ME) 2010 re-election campaign. In 2009, he worked on the "No on 1: Protect Maine Equality" campaign. He lives in Portland with his partner, Tony, and can be seen most days walking through Payson Park with his dogs, Bella and Hugo.

Punditry, controlling the narrative, and obsessive Googling.

As with most of my interviews, what you'll read here is a greatly condensed version of our conversation.

What was your first experience with social media?

"I can't remember if LiveJournal was before MySpace. I definitely had a LiveJournal and I hope that it has all been erased. Of course, I also had AOL IM. I remember being blown away that I could talk to all of these people who had similar interests that I never would have been able to connect with before. The scary part was, this was back in the days before people had photos of themselves with their accounts. So, there was a lot of lying. You didn't really know the people you were talking with. At all."

"MySpace was the first platform that I felt like really represented me. It had my likes, and my photos, and my blog, and my music ... It was also the first time that I had connected with people from my childhood that I hadn't seen in ten years. I think Facebook was just for college students at that point, or maybe it was even before Facebook entirely. I'm not sure. But, MySpace was definitely 'the thing.' It was right before all of the jokes started about MySpace being for geeks and pedophiles. It was pre-that."

"I probably used MySpace for a few years before I got my Facebook page. I didn't get my Facebook page until 2007. Then I kind of migrated over from MySpace. I remember the day I deleted my MySpace account and it was a big deal. It was very hard to let go of. There was a lot there. But I deleted the whole thing. I know there are some blog posts that I'm happy don't exist anymore."

What do you like about social media?

"I think the positive and negative aspects are quite similar. Social media is very interesting to me and I feel like there are two factors. One is about the larger community conversations. Not everything is left up to punditry anymore. Or, at least punditry has a broader base of people now. I mean, on Twitter you can follow a hash tag on gun control and get a very real sense of what people think about the subject. And, these are real people without any sort of filter. Everybody has a platform on which they can launch their own agenda. I think that's fantastic. Personally, I also think it's great because I get to follow the things I care about and I'm interested in."

"The second factor is about being able to keep in touch with people I wouldn't have time to keep up with otherwise. Whenever I think about deleting my Facebook account I think about all of my friends from high school that I'd have a very tough time keeping in touch with. Facebook is really the only way to keep in touch with them and others like them. I mean, it's nice to be able to see the photo of the new baby and you can just 'like' it. You're still involved but not at a hugely emotional level. It's a 'like,' or 'not a like.' You don't have to have a 45 minute conversation. Sometimes seeing that kind of stream of information is really nice."

"It's funny how personal the whole 'liking' and 'friending' thing can get though. I mean someone burned someone's house down for de-friending them. That's crazy to me."

"I also like that I get to control my narrative a little more. I'm very public about certain parts of my life. So I feel like because people get enough information from me in those areas, they don't push me on other areas that I choose not to post about. I just feel like it gives me a little more control. I like that. That's the power of it."

"On Twitter I feel like, to have a real presence, it's much more important to create your own content. Whereas, on Facebook you're much more likely to be regurgitating someone else's content. So, oftentimes with Twitter, I feel like I'd have a much stronger presence if I could content-create a niche."

"While I think there's room for Twitter in politics, I think it's dangerous. For many reasons. Especially after people have had a couple of glasses of wine. With or without wine, it's just too easy to make mistakes. I mean, you can end up with an Anthony Wiener situation."

What do you dislike about social media?

"I really don't want to hear about your relationship problems. Especially when it's a public calling-out or a public shaming. I mean, that's just ... I'm embarrassed for you."

"If you're a person who's prone to depression—and who isn't sometimes—you really need to censor. The pity-party posts can get old. I really do want to comfort and help people, but when it plays out on social media it can be very uncomfortable."

"I think that the positive is the same as the negative. Everyone gets to have a voice in public discourse, and usually that's really great. But, sometimes it can be very destructive. A big positive about social media is that sometimes it can give a voice to the voiceless. The negative is that sometimes you're giving a voice to people who maybe shouldn't have one."

"I look up everyone on Twitter, on Facebook, on LinkedIn. I feel like I Google every person I meet. It's crazy. It's a horrible habit. People make fun of me for it."

"The challenge with what I do for work is that I always represent someone else. I'm not my own entity. No one cares what I think. Until I say something controversial. Would that reflect on the person I work for? Yes. Absolutely. That makes me pull back from expressing personal opinions about politics and, really, any controversial topic in a public way. My identity if connected to the people I represent in a big way. Do I have my own political opinions? Of course I do. Should I express them publicly? Probably not."

What would it be like for you to disconnect from social media for six months?

"My boss would probably be happy."

"I think it would be really, really nice for the first month. I think I would be very at peace for the first month. Then, I think I would go through withdrawals. I would start to feel very disconnected and I would have anxiety. Definitely. So, I think it would be relaxing and calming for about a month and then I would hate it."

If you could only use three words to describe social media, what would they be?

"I don't think it can be done in three words. It can only be done in 140 characters or less."

Is there a person or brand that you think uses social media effectively?

"I don't know if it's a firm, or if they handle them individually, but Broadway musicals are doing a great job branding on social media. Book of Mormon @BookofMormonBWY and Disney's Newsies @Newsies both do a fantastic job interacting with their fans in manners which reflect the energy of their shows."

"Politically speaking, I love seeing tweets from Michelle Obama @FLOTUS and Chellie Pingree @ChelliePingree. I may have biases here. Maybe."

"I'm also a big fan of @SethKoenig. He RT'd me a couple of weeks ago and I felt very important for a few minutes."

"My personal local favorite is Rachel Flehinger @rachyrach1."

I want to thank Levi for taking the time to talk with me about his opinions on, and experience with, social media.

You can find Levi on Twitter at: @jleviknapp

You can find Levi on Instagram at: @jleviknapp


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Social media has changed the way that many of us learn, purchase, interact and explore the world around us. And, things are just getting started. Social, Social is a place to discuss social media with people from all walks of life. No experts allowed.

About the Author

Rob works as a digital marketing & public relations consultant to agencies, brands, and individuals. He has 20 years of marketing experience. He also currently serves in a volunteer capacity as director of pr/communications for TEDxDirigo. From 2005-2011, Rob served as director of social media & agency communications at The VIA Agency (Portland). Prior to VIA, Rob worked with several PR & advertising agencies in London & Boston. He is a graduate of The University of Vermont (UVM) and a Maine transplant (2002).

Follow Rob on Twitter at @bobbbyg

His real-life interests include art, travel, writing, design, psychology, the beach, & exercise (grudgingly at times).

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