Lessons learned from my social media detox
I swear I didn't plan it that way when I left on my break but it's nice to come back at the start of a new month. Of course September for most of us has this 'new' and exciting feeling to it even if we've long since stopped going to school.
I hope you've all had wonderful summers and are looking forward to the fall ahead!
This week I'd like to talk a bit about my time away from social media and what that did for my business. To my surprise, a lot of people had questions about it and some folks even considered doing their own 'detox' or cutting back on their own social media use.
The whole idea of a social media detox came about because a number of people I respect were doing them. A friend from the circus arts community. Several entrepreneurs. People I know from the Buddhist community. So I had this wealth of knowledge around me and everyone was saying how much of a difference this made in their lives.
But I'd also really been noticing my own struggle with being On The Internets so much. I'd work long hours on work stuff yet still spend hours each day surfing social media, both to check in with friends as well as to rather obsessively check my likes/shares/etc. One day I looked at my screen and suddenly felt ill. That was my cue to get off the computer and start spending time on other things. Instead of spending time on things that mattered to me, I was wasting time. I wrote a bit about those things back when I signed off social media for the summer.
When I told people I was going to be going off social media for an extended period of time, reactions were mostly very positive. Some really wanted to follow me but felt they couldn't due to personal or business connections they have to maintain. Some wondered how long I'd last. Others were curious about my reasons why and wondered if they too had to think about their own use. This was not my intention when thinking about doing this, but I really appreciated the dialogue it created with other people. How do we use social media? How much should we be using it? Is it more stress than it is worth? Does it really matter?
For me this was an exploration of what being online means to me and my work, the identity I have there, and the connections I have off the so-called computer world: people, pets, nature, and life itself.
So on July 15th, I logged into Facebook and made sure all notifications of any kind were shut off. I did the same on Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. I removed all bookmarks/quick links to those social media sites from my browsers. After posting a quick update to various social media platforms to let folks know I was ok, just taking an extended break, I logged out and closed them. Then, I shut down Tweetbot on my Mac, and moved all my social media apps into what I called the App Jail on both my iPad and my iPhone. The App Jail was a folder that said DO NOT TOUCH, a message that would glare back at me if I tried to use any of the apps while on my break. And then, it was done. I was off social media for 6 weeks.
Or so I thought.
Within the first few days came the first two lessons from this experiment (if you can call it that): People actually expect you to be on social media, and many local businesses/organizations use Facebook or Instagram as their only way of keeping people up-to-date on things like business hours or dates for events.
The day after I went on this detox thing I attended a brush lettering workshop with LigaturesYYZ. While I was there, the instructors mentioned social media a number of times: how we could add them on twitter or Instagram, how they'd post photos from the class on Instagram, and what accounts to follow for inspiration. Not once was it even considered that people might not actually be on twitter/Facebook/Instagram etc. Given my detox status it was surreal to say the least.
A couple of days in, I decided I wanted to start investigating local running groups, since running can be more fun with others. But almost every group I found used Facebook as their way of keeping everyone up-to-date on runs days, meeting locations, and other really important things if you’re going to join a group activity. To be totally honest, I cheated myself and logged into Facebook to check out a few groups before logging back out. I felt kind of gross doing it; the facebook notifications box was glaring at me letting me know how many notifications I had missed, and really, I was on a detox because I needed to spend more time away from the computer, so this cheating thing wasn’t really going to fly.
From a business perspective, this really made me pause. Sure, maybe Facebook or Instagram are preferred platforms for these people and they aren’t ready or willing to build a website and keep it up-to-date. But I think it’s important to ask yourself if you’re really reaching everyone in your audience if you rely too heavily (or solely) on social media. Expecting everyone who is interested in your business to have a Facebook account might not be a crazy assumption, given that they report they have 1.71 billion monthly active users. But even with those stats, there are plenty of people who just aren’t using the platform, or aren’t using social media in general. You aren’t doing yourself any favours by choosing a platform that requires signing up for an account as your sole means of communicating with your audience.
Getting back to my detox, then…
As time went on, I noticed my habits shifting. When I started, I’d grab my phone many times a day and flip through the screens mindlessly. Then I’d quickly realize I was doing it out of habit, because I usually do that to check my notifications/likes/tweets. So I’d put the phone away again. Funny enough, a side benefit of this was that I needed to charge my phone less. Usually I’d get a day out of one full charge, but now I was getting two, unless I was using my phone’s GPS a lot.
But what about my business? Several people close to me pointed out that since I run a business that is almost completely online, going off social media would make things difficult. They weren’t wrong in that assumption. However, I did plan for that. That’s why I chose the summer, a historically slower time of year for my business, to do this detox. It’s also why I knew it was going to be for a limited time, as reasonably speaking I couldn’t just walk away from things for good (nor did I really want to).
Those things aside, I had a few big lessons around using social media and my business.
The first was that running a business that relies heavily on social media is strange and somewhat difficult when you’re not on social media. That much is true. However, my business didn’t suffer all that much. In fact, in some ways it grew! I had more people sign up for my email newsletter and the number of people listening to my weekly podcast went up. Other entrepreneurs who have done this social media detox thing have reported the same thing. It’s strange but true! Absence makes the heart grow fonder, perhaps?
The second thing was that I realized I had created a lot of bad habits around using social media to waste time during the day. Now that those escape mechanisms were off the table, I was able to focus more on my day-to-day work, and was able to get more work done in less time. That’s probably not a huge surprise. But as well, I had a number of great new ideas for my business jump out at me when I least expected it. Not filling my brain with extra things allowed my creative side to sift those kinds of things to the surface.
The third and probably most important thing was the fact that I had to untangle the success of my work from the ‘success’ of my life. Now, I really do believe that you need to make your work part of your life (because it is part of your life!), but it’s easy to lose yourself in that and think you are your work. This is especially true for we small business, entrepreneur types. Putting time and energy into our work is vital for success, yes. But it’s just as important to put time and energy into all the other things we do. Like sitting in the sun on a beautiful late summer morning. Or having a cup of coffee with a trusted friend. Or cleaning our house. Or picking your kids up from swimming practice. It’s all important.
Am I going to stay away from social media completely? No. I have wonderful friends and family who I connect with there - some of whom I actually met online. That’s just the way we communicate these days, and that’s fine with me. My business also greatly benefits from sharing my work on social media, and that's great too.
But this whole process has made me examine the ways that I use social media and how I can do things much more effectively, without wasting hours surfing YouTube for cute videos of cats, or reading the latest #TOpoli debate on twitter. I think my business is going to be healthier for it.
Addendum: funny enough, shortly after I came back to Facebook a friend posted a 'let us guess your age based on your social media use' quiz. I took it and got 54, based mostly on the fact that I don't post daily and prefer Instagram to Snapchat. Tongue in cheek, sure, but there's some honesty to that. Folks my age (late 30s) usually are on social media almost constantly, so I'm now a bit of an anomaly!