I have seen many guides of how to start using social media. But recently I have found myself in a place where I have been on social media for years, but have fallen out of love with some aspects of it. In particular: Twitter. When speaking with friends and colleagues, I would find they have come to the same place. Some simply stop posting; others continue to do so only out of obligation; and still others abandon social media, only to pick it up again a few months later.
Recently, I decided to fall back in love with Twitter again. I want to take you through my process for doing so, and frame it as a guide that you can follow to help you fall back in love with social media again too.
My mission: to ensure social media is fun and meaningful.
I want social media to be filled with a sense of real connections with other people; of being fun instead of soulless, and of creating a sense of momentum in how I share my work with the world. This is the opposite of how many creative professionals I speak to describe their experience with social media:
“I feel overwhelmed and insignificant. Like I am late to the game, and don’t even know how to play.”
Sounds like fun, right?! Not really. Okay, let’s dig in.
One of my biggest problems with Twitter is that since I joined it in January of 2008, I accumulated too many people who I follow. Each person I follow began with a good intention: I wanted to connect with them and see what they shared.
But over the years, that added up to following 1,600 people. Which meant that logging into Twitter was a mess — a firehose of updates on a wide range of topics. For years I have known about this problem, but refused to address it. The idea of unfollowing someone gave me angst. I worried:
- What if they noticed and were offended.
- What if they noticed and unfollowed me back.
But I also had internal resistance to the idea of severing a past connection. Each unfollow feels like a little death, because I am cutting my ties to a person.
I am a very sentimental person. As I scrolled through the list of 1,600 people I followed, I would remember the context of my life where I knew them. To unfollow them felt like ripping out a page from an old diary and burning it.
Reviewing the list, I was reminded of these people who:
- I spoke on panels with.
- Took my classes.
- I met at an event.
- Were former coworkers and colleagues.
I kept finding myself split between feeling sentimental and not wanting to unfollow people, and the reality that following all of these people made Twitter unusable.
To overcome this, I had to confront my own fear. I am not honoring my past by clinging to following a social media account that doesn’t need to be a part of my life right now. Unfollowing someone is not a taunt, encouraging them to unfollow me.
As I write this, I am realizing that I was treating Twitter as one does a hollow relationship. I was too scared to break it off out of a polite formality.
In the past several weeks however, I have taken action to unfollow as many people as I could. There were phases to this process:
- Unfollowing people who I knew were part of a single moment in time. For instance, many years ago I moderated a panel of Mashable employees at a conference at Columbia University. This was a huge deal for me at the time, so I followed as many Mashable employees on Twitter as I could find in order to prepare for the event. Now, years later, these connections are no longer relevant. In fact, many of these people have moved on from that company as well.
- Unfollowing people whose primary focus wasn’t mine. For instance, years ago I worked for a large media company and worked with journalists in many different topical niches. At the time, it made sense for me to follow these people, but now, I really don’t need to see a flurry of updates on manufacturing or construction industry news. This is where the difference between Facebook and Twitter becomes relevant. I will absolutely stay connected to these people on Facebook, because there I am staying connected to the person, not their industry news. I love seeing photos from old colleagues on Facebook, and would never consider unfriending them there. In this step, I had to honor the difference between the purpose of each social network.
- Unfollowing people who haven’t Tweeted in years. This was a surprise to me — how many people I followed who haven’t been active on Twitter in years. It made me question: why did I ever follow them in the first place?
- Unfollowing people who tweeted way way way too much for my preference. These are people who I really like, who are relevant to my work and life, but whose personal Twitter practice doesn’t fit with mine. I am not judging them here, I am simply deciding what to fill my feed with.
- Unfollowing people whose primary focus just didn’t engage me on a day to day, even if I like THEM as a person. This was another category of person to unfollow: someone who I really liked and wanted to stay connected with, but who Tweeted too much stuff that simply didn’t align with my interests.
Each layer of the onion that I peeled away (or, unfollowed) was more difficult. I slowly went from following 1600 people to 1400. 1400 to 1200. 1200 to 1000, etc. By the time I got to 500, I know I was cutting away people who I worried “What if they see I don’t follow them anymore?” Even if what they Tweet has little to do with what I wanted to read each day. This is where I had to keep reminding myself:
“Twitter is not Facebook. It is not a collection of PEOPLE, but a collection of what people share.”
As I went through this, I found Twitter’s main feed to be DRASTICALLY more useful and fun. It was easy to check in and Like a few Tweets. To not feel like I was drowning in the firehose of content.
Right now I am following just under 500 people and have found this to have made Twitter entirely usable and enjoyable. I will likely make it an active practice to follow and unfollow people with greater ease from now on. This would also alleviate my biggest source of guilt with twitter: “What if someone I know sees I don’t follow them?!” I’m giving myself permission to publicly focus my attention and not apologize.
Going small is about focusing on the quality of engagement, more than the quantity of followers & following. Think about it this way, would you rather walk into a cozy cafe and have a deep conversation with a few friends, or walk into a large hotel conference room filled with 300 people and have to shout so they can all hear you? We often dream of the power and validation that comes with being on a stage reaching 300; but in reality, we prefer intimate conversations with those who we can truly connect with.
If you are frustrated or overwhelmed with social media, my advice is to go small.
Focus on Joy
Whether I follow you or not is not a sign of whether I like and validate you or not. For Twitter, my goal is simply to ensure my days are filled with clarity and joy. Awhile back, I gave this advice to a writer I was working with about how to manage their life as a creative professional:
“Maximize for joy.”
In other words: focus your work so that it leads to the likelihood of experiencing joy on a daily basis. This, as opposed to maximizing for something like profit or time.
Cleaning out my Twitter feed is my way of doing that. I want to wake up each day looking forward to opening up Twitter. Not as a transaction I make, justified as “Well, you know I have to do this,” but as an experience that fuels me.
What fuels you? Follow people who provide that. Social media should be social, meaning that it should lead to an action. You replying back to someone, resharing a message, or giving it a like, or one of those little hearts. Make time for joy.
The other day, I was working at Starbucks and someone came up to me, “Are you Dan Blank?” It turns out, this woman had seen me speak several years back at a writing conference, and remembered me. Before social media, this type of interaction would have been a fleeting connection — gone after a few moments. But because of social media, we are able to stay connected.
That is a true connection between humans. It isn’t a “social media strategy” and it is not a transaction that I am making. Social media is not about leveraging Twitter to increase some business metric. It is about connecting with real people across channels. I can tell you I am wildly more connected with my neighbors because of social media. If you bemoan this because you miss the days when we didn’t need social media to feel connected with neighbors, ask yourself: when was the last time you sat down for a cup of iced tea on the porch with your neighbors? Then, when was the time before that, and before that? My gut is that you will say, “Um, it’s been years.”
Social media can bring joy not because of technology trends, but because it connects us to real people.
Last week I wrote about the power of generosity, and how it can fuel your ability to connect in meaningful ways to others.
Social media provides us the ability to be the change what we want to see in the world. Several years back I wrote a post based on feedback I had heard from a writer, “I tried Facebook, it didn’t work.”
Too many people approach social media with the question, “What is it giving me?” They are calculating a return on investment on a microscopic level. To them, it is a transaction where they hope to benefit in some way. Yet, these same people are those who are most upset that they feel an obligation to “become a marketer” when they simply want to focus on their creative work.
In their 1968 song “Mrs. Robinson,” Simon & Garfunkel asked where Joe DiMaggio has gone to, and says that the country misses him. The implication is a pining for the heroes we knew, the embodiment of a simpler time when we had role models we could look up to and emulate.
Joe DiMaggio famously responded to the song saying he hasn’t gone anywhere. Meaning: he and his accomplishments remain unchanged, but the world’s perception of him had. If you pine for a “simpler time,” that is what you get to create around you.
The reason I bring this up is that your perception of social media is just that: a perception. If you approach it from the viewpoint of seeking clear and immediate benefits, you may indeed be disappointed and become jaded. But if you approach it modeling the things you want to see in the world: generosity, connection, and trust, then you will be on your way to building each of those things.
When I look through my Twitter feed now, I focus on empathy. I ask myself, “How can I support these people?” I find myself “liking” more posts, retweeting more posts, clicking more links, sharing more replies.
The classic advice for how to develop meaningful relationships applies here: show up. Show up to be there for others. Don’t schedule out your posts. Don’t repeat the same post again and again because you read that doing so optimizes for those living in different time zones. Be consistent instead of just popping into a social network every few weeks when you need something. Keep your social media accounts separate — don’t automatically feed your Tweets into your Facebook feed because it makes the process 8 seconds quicker for you.
Have you fallen out of love with social media? What is one step you can take to make it fun and meaningful again?