I learned a lot from taking time off of social media recently. Over the 2013 holidays I took a two week break from all social media – posting, reading, tracking, all of it. The first few days I slipped a couple of times out of habit, but I soon caught myself and after that I was “clean”. I learned some lessons about how I view social media, how I use it and how important it is to my “success”.
While I think it is vital for nonprofits and professionals to be engaged with social media in ways appropriate to them, I think it is important to understand what is actually gained – or not – from our time spent on social networks.
1. Taking Time for Thoughtful Writing is Rewarding
Unlike posting or tweeting on social media where I’m trying to be concise, punchy and grab attention, writing longer, more thoughtful pieces provides a chance to organize my thoughts, express myself more accurately and delve deeper into the subject matter. Creating quick, short social media posts shifted my standard for how long it should take to write something. I often became frustrated by the fact that, no matter how much I try to finish a blog post quickly, it never seems to take less than two hours to write, edit, gather images, gather links, insert links, insert images, copy edit and then post it. By getting out of the “do it quick and concise” mindset and freeing up time I usually would spend on social media, I found myself much less frustrated. I now accept the fact that for me, two hours is how long it takes to produce a blog post. It is neither too long or too short, it is just what it is for me. I find the finished product more rewarding and I think it is more valuable in the long run.
2. I Didn’t Miss Much
I found that I missed no piece of information vital to my survival or happiness. All of the noise about what former classmates, colleagues and acquaintances did, saw, heard, ate or thought that day was actually not missed by me at all. It reminded me that my brain can only take in so much information before it gets overloaded, needs to pause, absorb, reflect and then clear out room for more. It reminds me of the metaphor about pouring water into a glass for someone to drink – you must stop and let them take a drink. I realize that I can unconsciously overload on information when I think I am just casually perusing social media feeds.
3. Influence Trackers are False Indicators of Success
Each one of us must define success for ourselves. Services like Klout and others serve up what they see as our social media “success” or lack thereof, but it is often quite misleading. While the “influence” that Klout tracks might be useful if you are trying to change public opinion or get legislation passed, I find it is not a useful metric for me. I am not trying to influence people to think how I think or to necessarily share my opinions. At most, professionally, I try to share my experiences and hope others can benefit. Comparing my score to others is not a reflection of what real success looks like to me. In fact one of the reasons I don’t like Klout is because it is so easy to compare yourself to folks with a higher score and find yourself wanting, when in fact you are doing a great job and don’t need an algorithm to tell you otherwise.
The treadmill of social media can be relentless. Making decision after decision and taking action after action without reflection leaves practically no room for improvement. I find my best insights, ideas and understanding comes in moments of quiet reflection. But in the always-on, constantly “might miss something” culture that social media fosters, time for reflection is made to feel like time wasted, when in fact it is the opposite. I know many folks who admit to using Facebook and other social media channels to procrastinate and otherwise waste time. Little useful information is gained, but the brain gets filled up from the input, making it hard for the information that is useful to get through. As Frank Lloyd Wright said of television, I find social media is often no more than “chewing gum for the eyes”. I realize I need to curb the amount of time consuming information and increase the time for reflecting on actions I have taken, decisions I need to make and things I have learned.
5. Tools Don’t Want You to Take a Break
Most popular social media tools like Facebook and Twitter get their money from our attention. If we pay less attention, they make less money, so naturally they don’t want us to stop paying attention, even if it is in our best interest. For example I found Facebook to be aggressive. After less than a week of not signing into my account, I began getting notices of “pending notifications” from Facebook. This notices continued until I signed back in. I find the tone almost scolding, playing into the whole “you may have missed something important” fear. While I may have missed some interesting things that folks in my network posted, there is a big difference between interesting and important. Did I actually miss something important? No I didn’t.
Based on these lessons learned, I will strive to consume less, write more, reflect more, define success for myself and not let it be defined externally. I will spend less time on social media, even setting up personal limits as to times of day and days per week I will engage with those networks. I realized that I get very little actual consulting business through social media – most comes through referrals over email – so the actual income benefit from social media is quite small. I will put my efforts more into those activities that produce results I desire, whether that is related to income for my business or personal fulfillment.
I plan to spend more time on building relationships in person, either on the phone or face to face. I am very happy with the results of my social media vacation and highly recommend it to others who may feel overwhelmed or out of balance.