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I Am Changing How I Use Social Media: MORE Social, LESS Media

I have been changing how I use social media, and want to talk a bit about the ethos I am trying to keep as the center of it: MORE SOCIAL, LESS MEDIA.

Why am I doing this? A few reasons:

  • To ensure social media remains something more than a promotional tool for me.
  • To not feel overwhelmed by all the “opportunity” to broadcast stuff across 8 social networks at once.
  • To encourage more of what I love: true 1:1 connections with real people.
  • To discourage what I don’t love: that feeling that everything I see is link-bait, trying to get me to click click click instead of slow down and interact with real people in small ways.

So there are some very practical actions I have been taking:

  • I am no longer scheduling (or Buffering) posts on Twitter. This is a big one, as scheduling allows you to feel as though you are getting the maximum value of “exposure” on Twitter, without actually having to show up all the time.
  • Finding a unique purpose for each social media channel I use. I don’t want to just cross-share the same post everywhere, but not really being present in each of these places. Rarely do I share the same thing on multiple channels. So the intention is to use Facebook differently than Twitter that Instagram, and share different things on each network.
  • Sharing more original photos and original content overall, and AGGREGATING less. As I mentioned before, I LOVE the generosity of sharing links to others, and I plan to keep that as a core way I use social media. But… I don’t want to see my role as a “newspaper editor” on social media, sharing links to dozens of articles per day. So, for example, I am now using Instagram more since I like how I get to see original photos my friends and colleagues share.
  • Checking in on other channels I haven’t used as much (EG: Google+ and Tumblr) to try to slowly discover a special differenting purpose for each, even if I’m not actively sharing stuff on them.
  • Resisting strategic-only and promotional-only uses of certain social channels. EG: using Google+ JUST to build Google juice, or using Tumblr JUST to promote my courses.

These actions are based not on “best practices,” but what FEELS right. After all, my goal is to have wonderful experiences and small moments with other like-minded folks.

This is a process, and one filled with little decisions that don’t seem as straightforward as I’d like them to, such as:

  • I’m owning up to the fact that I can’t be everywhere.
  • I’m being honest that I want to respect each channel, each community. I still have no idea how to use Google+ in a distinct manner from Twitter or Facebook. And I resist just sharing the same stuff there as a mere obligation. Likewise, I think Tumblr is amazing, but have yet to FEEL a way that feels important and unique to me. That is actually the social channel I feel most guilty about not using more because I KNOW how lovely their community is.
  • I feel pressure to “MAXIMIZE EYEBALLS” on social media to help move my business forward by just broadcasting 100 posts per day across every social channel. And I try hard to resist that pressure.

As you approach how you use social media, I would encourage you to forget what is expected. Forget “best practices” that feel hollow, that put you on the treadmill of always trying to keep up with yet another social media channel, and never feeling connected to real people because of it.

But I will be clear about two things:

  • There are no rules, and PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE ignore my advice if it doesn’t feel right to you. Use social media in a manner that you enjoy.
  • I am not judging how others use social media – I am simply reflecting on how I am using it and the deeper value I try to help writers and creative professionals find when using it.

Using social media means you are likely always doing a couple of things:

  • Improvising constantly.
  • Making yourself vulnerable.
  • Searching for meaningful moments amidst a feeling of solitude.

I want to relate all of this back to how we do these things in real-world situations, because to me, social media is very much about the human things that haven’t changed regardless of “Like Buttons” “Pins” and “ReTweets.”

Let’s use an example from one of my favorite moments in music history: U2 playing Live Aid in 1985, and how that relates to finding a HUMAN CONNECTION amidst one of the biggest media events in history.

The band had about 15 minutes on stage, and the reality for Bono is that he is one person on a stage in front of 72,000 people in Wembley Stadium, and nearly two billion watching live worldwide. Because he is a “rockstar” it can be easy for us to forget how hard that responsibility is – to create a special experience for billions of people within 15 minutes.

Midway through their set, Bono goes completely unscripted. Watch what happens 6 minutes into this song – when Bono drops the mic with a loud thud, and beings to wander offstage:

What you see is Bono playing with boundaries, looking for personal connections, and INTERACTION, not mere promotion of their music.

These are the actions he takes in those 6 minutes, and what we can learn from them:

  • He explores the physical limitations. He wanders to the very front – to where only the TV camera is supposed to operate, and then to the far right side of the stage, then all the way to the far left. These are the boundaries set for him, and there are big bays of TV cameras and photographers at either side, representing the MEDIA of the event.
  • He focuses on individual faces, not the crowd in aggregate. He spots one person in the crowd, and motions to the security guards to bring that person over the barrier, and onto the stage. What comes next is frustration for Bono – NO one in the event staff is prepared take that action. Bono kills an entire minute onstage with his actions getting lost in translation, because the event staff wasn’t trained for this, and could care less about it. They are focused on managing tens of thousands of people, not on allowing one to pass through.
  • He takes a leap of faith based on what feels right, not what is logical or expected of him from others. He jumps down what was estimated to be a 20 foot drop to reach the stadium floor. It happens so quickly in the video you almost don’t realize how nuts this was.
  • He dances with a member of the audience, slowly. Touching ONE person meant a lot to him, it demystified the goal of the concert, from MEDIA to HUMAN. I think that with social media, we are often encouraged to consider social media as MASS MEDIA, which is why folks tend to love the idea of “going viral” – that this is all about scale. But I think the best use of social media is what happens between two people – JUST two people – and that is enough.
  • He allows the crowd to participate As he climbs back on stage, Bono grabs the mic again and resumes the song, but quickly begins exploring again – singing impromptu covers versions of other people’s music. He holds out the mic so that the audience can sing along and be heard.
  • He kept improvising forcing his band to do so with zero notice. You can see him giving them physical cues as to what they should do throughout – to bring the music up or down, or to cut the guitar completely.

None of this was planned, and in fact, Bono walked off the stage with the other members of his band incredibly furious at him. He thought he had just broken up the band, and relationships were strained with them for weeks. The following quotes are from the book U2 by U2:

“The band were very, very upset – they nearly fired me. My own depresson continued for a few days.”
– Bono

Why? Because that last 6 minutes was supposed to be saved for them to play their big single – the song they wanted to promote. As the band’s manager watched, this is what he felt:

“I was on the side of the stage with my heart in my boots because I thought he’d completely fucked it up. I couldn’t see him, I didn’t know where he’d gone. Afterwards we all though he had completely blown it.”
– Paul McGuinness

But as days passed after the concert, something unexpected happened. The result of Bono trying to make their performance SOCIAL and not MEDIA is that viewers found it to be a highlight for the event. It became a watershed moment for the band:

“All of U2’s albums went back into the charts and their status took a huge jump. Nothing was really quite the same again because now everyone knew who Bono was.”
– Paul McGuinness

“Looking back, as I did a week later, I started to see what it was. It was the sense of real, total jeopardy, which is always very exciting for a live event, and Bono’s complete determination to make physical contact with the crowd and eventually getting there after two minutes of struggling over barriers. I think there was something about the amount of effort he had to put in to do it that somehow made it even more powerful.”
– The Edge

It was a human moment, and the effects of those 6 minutes still affect the band to this day.

For how you use social media, forget what is expected. Instead, focus on individual human connections.


  • Nora Lester Murad

    Wow, Dan, one of your best posts in a really long time–not because it’s honest (you’re always honest) but because you’re pushing boundaries and being really provocative. Thanks for this one. I’ll share widely.

  • Johanna Harness

    Not scheduling posts on twitter is really important. Part of what makes twitter hum is the immediacy. #Amwriting started because a few writers from across the globe pulled together to enjoy the same writing time & report progress as it happened. We’ve grown too big to avoid it, but it’s still annoying when a #hashtag conversation is interrupted by scheduled tweets.

    I’m not convinced we can fully participate in any community until we understand what sets it apart and makes it unique. Our posts may be similar but, if we understand the group, we will shift the way we tell our news. It’s very similar to reporting the same news differently to different people. If we understand the communities, we no longer want to treat them as if they are all the same.

    • So well said – thank you Johanna!

  • Chi

    This is by far my favourite email/article, not only from you Dan, but from all the emails I received. So honest, so truthful

    Thank you and have a great weekend,

  • KeciaDilday

    Really well done post, Dan. I enjoyed this not only for Bono’s iconic hairdo (best mullet evah!) but for how you articulate the fact that U2 + manager were so royally pissed off at him for going so badly off script. But that it WORKED because of the connections he made. I didn’t see U2 live but I remember going to a Thompson Twins concert (remember them?!) in about the same era and the pushing and shoving that those barriers represented. But the experience was a memorable one for me when Alannah Currie and Tom Bailey leaned over the barriers from the stage, and we got to touch their sweaty rockstar hands. Worth every push, shove and bruised rib. 😉
    I have noticed and been irritated lately on Twitter that every post seems to be promo. I try to dig into individual streams now to get to the real 140 characters moments instead of looking at the firehose news feed. But all the promo has discouraged me from going on there somewhat. I feel like if I find a jewel of content, it’s entirely by accident. Or after much digging.
    A human moment. Yes. Well said.

    • I was a fan of the Thompson Twins, definitely! So cool you got to see them live. I like how you describe trying to get around the firehose feeds – very smart! Thanks! -Dan

  • Jamie Wallace

    This post brought my morning routine to a screeching halt. You are putting into words some big ideas that have been tugging at the edges of my thoughts for quite a while now, and the video you shared was such a perfect illustration of those ideas in action. I have never been a huge U2 fan, but that clip moved me to tears – the obvious frustration and urgency of wanting to connect and all the barriers that are in the way – keeping us from making that connection. Social is like that – an army of security guards and bouncers who let us interact, but only through the glass, so to speak. I love that you are looking for ways to take down those barriers or at least bend them to your own way of interacting and connecting.

    Thanks for this post. Wonderful.

    • Thank you so much Jamie! The way you described the link in the video is so so so good. Have a great day!

      • Jamie Wallace

        You’re so welcome.

  • I agree with what you say here, and as a matter of fact, I was just this morning thinking how much I *missed* having conversations and interaction on Twitter with my friends. I’d gotten away from some interaction habits and have started this week trying to get back into them in hopes of fixing that issue.

    Also like you, I *like* the G+ platform and format, but I can’t seem to figure out how to use it differently from other platforms so I’m not just repeating everything over there. Thanks for the great reminders!

  • This post was very thoughtful and I think so many of us can relate. I passed along to my writer-ly friends. Thanks!

  • KathyPooler

    Dan, I keep thinking I’ve read your best post yet, but this one really speaks to me,especially the part about being in as many places as possible. The power of this post lies in your willingness to be vulnerable and share your thoughts and feelings. When you do this, I feel a call to action to examine my own practices. You are connecting on human level. I love the idea that there are NO rules! Now I will be sharing this across multiple platforms because I feel it is that important. Thanks!

    • Thank you Kathy – I really appreciate that!

  • Love, love, love this, Dan. The video is one I had never seen before and illustrates your point so beautifully. The primacy of 1:1 is universal across time and transcends technology. Countering conventional wisdom, as Bono did here was very risky, but that’s why it paid off in the end.

    However, without the video cameras following his every move and a crowd of thousands, would any of us would know about this moment? And did he build his audience the same way?

    On the larger point, you managed, again, to name the thing I was feeling. That it’s time to reassess how I’m using social media. I in fact was talking to an author friend about that very subject today.

    • Thank you Shirley! Great point about the VALUE of the media in this equation.

    • Yes, Shirley. Major point here. One-on-one interaction in front of a camera. Otherwise, the tree falls in a very small forest. So where do we find the cameras?

  • Linda Parriott

    You’ve articulated a frustration so many people feel and don’t quite know how to say. We’ve all been so conditioned to go for the numbers… of followers, of RTs, of Likes etc. I was at a seminar today where the presenter said, “If it’s important, it’s worth measuring. And if it’s not worth measuring, it’s not important.” He wasn’t talking about social media, but it is representative of the emphasis we place on the thousands over the one. I’ve yet to find my balance on any of the social media services. When it gets to be too much, I simply disappear and lose both numbers and connections. Thank you for describing the video in your post. Online video is a form of torture for me, and you gave me the feel and message of the video without my having to watch it. (Plus, I am not a fan of U2. Nothing against Bono and the band’s message. But the medium doesn’t connect with me at all. Definitely not part of his target audience.) Your message, Dan, of connecting, connecting, connecting is one I’ve taken to heart. You continue to teach by example. Thank you.

    • Thanks Linda! And I appreciate your making it through to the end even though you are not a U2 fan!

  • Ellen Shriner

    Dan, I’ve been reading you for about 6 months now, and I really appreciate how much heart you put into your blogs. I love that you go deeper, think more thoughtfully about what social media means and can be–it’s hard to find that anywhere else.

    • Thank you so much Ellen, that is very generous of you to say!

  • Sara

    This is really wonderful. I am an avid social media user – both personally and in my work as a social media manager. It really confirms my view that social media, like any social interaction, needs to be authentic and intuitive. It is about connection between two people, and just as if you were face to face, it is about your attention and the quality of that interaction, not what you can get our of each other, which feels icky and gross in social media just as it does in real life.

    • Sara

      PS where are your social media share buttons???

    • Thanks!

  • CliqueOut

    Good one; the problem with this modern, fast -tracked world – things move too fast, and this spoils society. They get excited by one thing; overdo/overuse it and then they get bored.

    • Now that’s an interesting issue to explore. When you look back in history, the past 100-150 years, you found that with every technological advance, cultural backlash was “things move too fast already!” I had recently read some quote about how nervous people were about the effects of cars that drive faster than 25mph, or the radio, etc.

      I will say this: there is a HUGE distinction between being merely reactionary to being truly selective about the actions you take. EG: not watching TV, not reacting to the media, etc. What many corporations have found is that there is money in getting people to react to polarizing things – so we now have 300 channels rushing for our attention (and of course, the internet._ But… we don’t have to give that attention. It’s a choice. Time doesn’t move any faster – only our perception of it does.

      As I said – this is a huge topic, and one I am barely even scraping in this comment. But thank you for bringing this up – I really appreciate it!

  • Penelope Silvers

    We are made for “human” interaction and your post sums this up very succinctly, Dan. Thanks!

  • So awesome. I grabbed the gist of this and tried something new with LinkedIn. Amazing results. Now to make it last … that will be the real magic. Thanks for the inspiration and nudge out of the box. Let’s all float free!

    • Thanks Sharon – and congratulations! Ah, “making it last,” always the trick, isn’t it?

  • Great post. As one of those who never scheduled tweets to begin with, it’s nice to see others who use Twitter professionally coming around to the idea that Twitter is about a conversation. Scheduled tweets make the conversation very one-sided.

    I teach a course in social media practices (for college PR/advertising students) and often provide ad hoc consulting to small businesses and nonprofits (understaffed, no community manager). One of the biggest challenges I have is convincing them that cross-posting the same content to all channels at the same time is a bad idea. Likewise, I advise them to stop linking Facebook and Twitter so that FB updates are broadcast on Twitter.

    Each social channel is unique and the users interact differently. I’ve been engaging online since the early 90s, starting with social bulletin boards and chatrooms. I quickly learned that each community and outpost had a unique “culture” and expectations for social interaction. Those experiences carried over into my forays into Web 2.0 social media.

    It’s been interesting to watch the social media late-comers (especially businesses and brands) seek to change the human dynamic by often adopting mass media practices into social networks. The success of social networks depends on the interactions and those require a human presence.

    • Sheree,
      Thanks! It’s funny how much expectation and self-imposed pressure affects our behavior on social media. Like most folks, social media started as purely social. Over time, I began to feel greater and greater pressure to be STRATEGIC and to MAXIMIZE ROI, blah blah blah. I think my reflections here are about ensuring it feels right, it’s a bit of a reset button for me.
      Thanks for sharing all of this!

  • Bonnie

    Thanks, Dan. I have been frustrated to say the least with social media. It robs me of my writing time (okay, I know I need self control!) and I am tired of the posts “6 easy steps to ….” Impersonal to say the least. Finding my way …