MF 108 : How to be Real and Not Ideal on Social Media, with Ryan Foland
Updated: Jun 17
Ryan Foland is a communications strategist at UCI, a TEDx speaker and social media influencer. Today, you will learn how to engage in social media and why it’s not all about looking pretty.
Successes at a glance:
Communication Strategist, Speaker, Writer.
Host of the Get Notified radio show.
Cartoonist – check out Ryan’s cartoons on IG.
Named Top Youth Marketer by Inc.
Named Top Branding Expert by Entrepreneur.
Columnist for Influencive.
Contributing Writer for Fortune.
Senior Administrator for Social Media and Marketing at UCI.
TEDx speaker (watch Ryan’s TEDx ‘How Not to Get Chased By a Bear’):
Setback failure or time when things fell apart:
Ryan had been working in the mortgage industry and doing quite well. Through his innovative use of stick figures, Ryan became a high performing sales rep. Yes, stick figures. One of the ingenious ways that Ryan used stick figure drawings was to place them on top of loan applications which entertained the loan processors. As someone who had studied acting and been passionate about story, Ryan created episodic narratives around the stick figures and the loan processors became fans; eagerly awaiting the next one. An ancillary benefit was that the loan applications that Ryan submitted got processed a lot quicker than most which generated leads and sales. As a result, Ryan made a lot of money, went on company chairman club trips and lived a high roller lifestyle. As Ryan shares, he made more money than he knew what to do with and unfortunately, he spent it all. On top of that, the real estate market crashed and w/ it, the mortgage company and Ryan’s real estate career.
Ryan transitioned into entrepreneurship, starting several companies which enjoyed short-lived success before also failing. Things got so bad that Ryan’s house went into foreclosure and his car was repossessed. On top of that, Ryan was saddled w/ student loans. This is what Ryan describes as getting hit in the face w/ a “brick” and then falling face first onto concrete. Ryan hit rock bottom and decided to declare bankruptcy.
The “aha” moment that sparked a pivot:
As a storyteller and aficionado, it’s fitting that Ryan’s own story would have a plot twist worthy of a novel or TV series. Ryan managed to scrape together the $375 for the bankruptcy application and dropped it into the mailbox. While that day could have been a defining moment for Ryan, that didn’t come until two weeks later when the application was returned to him. It turned out that Ryan was $0.32 short on the postage. It also happened that the number 32 was Kelly Hrudey’s (Ryan’s childhood idol) number when he played for the Los Angeles Kings! At that moment, Ryan said “screw it” and tore up the bankruptcy application right at the mailbox. That moment was Ryan’s aha where he realized that bankruptcy wasn’t meant to be and that he had to figure out another way out of his situation. It was also a moment where Ryan discovered his humility.
Ryan got a job selling bathroom and kitchen remodels to pay the bills. Although this was a “low point” in his career, it was better than declaring bankruptcy. Ryan also found that he had a knack for this since he could use his artistic skills to draw the vision that people would explain to him. Ryan was having fun and soon became quite successful at bathroom and kitchen remodel sales. Ryan attributes this upswing out of rock bottom to his newfound humility: looking past his ego and beyond prior successes to do what needed to be done.
Ryan’s success opened up doors in the most unlikely places. You wouldn’t think that bathroom remodels would go beyond faucets and fixtures, but Ryan is a consummate go-getter. He eventually made connections in other areas and got back into entrepreneurial ventures: everything from mobile apps to becoming a spokesman for a national campaign against texting and driving, at schools. At the heart of this was Ryan’s passion for story and storytelling. This led to a realization and a crossroads: all of today’s stories were being told on the internet. The modern day pen and paper was Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Ryan also recognized that those who were most successful on those platforms were those that grew up on it, the Millennial generation.
As someone who was between a GenXer and a Millennial (what Ryan calls “Borderline Millennial Disorder”), Ryan had trouble adapting to this new world. He got on Twitter and all he got was “nothing.” But Ryan knew that the future was on social media and he had to get good at it. So what did he do? He came up w/ a three-step plan: 1) get a Millennial girlfriend, 2) get hired at a university (a place filled w/ Millennials), and 3) Millennial mingling. Number 3 was particularly transformative. Sporting skinny jeans, button up shirts, and hipster bow ties, Ryan started crashing events filled w/ Millennials and learn what makes them tick on social media. At one fateful high-end event, sponsored by Microsoft, Ryan sat at a table where the host asked everyone to share the one thing they needed the most help w/. When it came to Ryan’s turn, he candidly (and bravely) shared that he was going thru a “Millennial life crisis” and was not good at social media. Afterward, a gentleman came up to Ryan and handed him a business card; offering to help him out. As it turned out, that gentleman was Leonard Kim, then under 30, and a rising star w/ over 10M views on his content. From Leonard, Ryan learned the power of the personal brand and what he was doing wrong on social media. The big aha was that Ryan had been missing the one thing that he had been passionate about his whole life – story. Ryan learned that Millennials were successful at social media bc they were sharing their stories, both the good and the bad. It wasn’t just about shiny posts and IG photos but the lows as well as the highs, all parts of the story. Hence, the title of this episode and Ryan’s biggest takeaway that to be “successful” on social media, you have to be real, not ideal.
Social Media Tips:
Focus: communicate the one thing you do better than anyone else, don’t try to be a jack of all trades. This is a reversal of the GenX narrative of try to be good at everything.
Use social media as a form of attraction and not a distraction: use it as a connection and relationship tool to attract the people you want to be around rather than a distraction or a chore.
Don’t be ideal, be real: social media is a way to tell your story and your story is filled w/ ups and downs. Share both aspects and convey that you are a real person; that’s who people want to get to know. The biggest lesson that Ryan learned from Leonard was to own your story.
Resource or cultural experience that inspired Ryan to move forward:
The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss (Hardcover | Kindle): this book inspired Ryan to negotiate a remote working agreement w/ UCI. Ryan did this by working hard, showing his supervisors results and earning the trust to give him the leeway to spend part of his week working remotely.
Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People (Paperback | Kindle): this book taught Ryan the importance of improving the lives of the people around you by doing the little things like smiling more!
Favorite app / website / resource or productivity hack:
Google Docs and the type to text feature (under the tools menu): for Ryan, it’s a great way for him to “talk” his first draft of a written piece.
How Ryan recharges when facing a roadblock or challenge:
Get on the water. Ryan is a sailor and loves to disconnect in the middle of the ocean where there isn’t good cell reception. Plus the wind reminds Ryan that you can’t change its direction but you can change the direction of your sales.
Support the Podcast:
The Corporate Cliches Adult Coloring Book: makes the perfect stocking stuffer or white elephant gift.
Try out Audible (affiliate link).
Try out Amazon Prime (affiliate link).
Advice to past self while going thru a difficult time:
Read more: books and audio content. Audiobooks and podcasts will turn your commute into learning moments. Moreover, listening to other stories is how Ryan gets inspired to try different things today.
Parting wisdom (in a few words):
“Smile more, learn more."
Connect with Ryan:
(see more of Ryan’s stick figures on IG)