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My social media mid-life crisis

A writer shared this with me recently:

“I hate social media so much it’s not funny. I wish that I didn’t have to use social media ever to promote my books. It’s such a colossal waste of my writing time.”

Today, I want to give an update on my thoughts on social media, especially on the aspect of managing it on an emotional level, day in and day out.

In the past, I have shared other posts on this topic:

My response to the writer above — the one who told me that she hates social media — was to encourage her to find the joy in it. The joy in sharing her work. The joy in connecting with readers and like minds. That, from both a personal and business perspective, it should be both joyful and effective.

In 2014, I did change how I use social media, and I found that many of my friends and colleagues did as well. These were early adopters who had been tweeting for years, and watched the ecosystem change as it went from:

  • Point A: Insider back channel of passionate people excited to meet each other, to…
  • Point B: A firehose of media, advertising, and people seeking attention.

In other words, it just didn’t feel good anymore.

Well, from my own perspective, I have fallen back in love with social media again. No, I never gave it up, but there was a period there where it just didn’t feel as good as I wished it would.

Below, I would like to frame this analysis in terms of how I think about social media, so I asked myself: “What would I lose without (insert name of social media channel)?” This is what I came up with:

What I would lose if I weren’t on Facebook:

Without Facebook, I would lose connection to 80% of the people from my past. Those to whom I have a sentimental attachment, but are not people who exist as part of my daily life. Those I met in school; those I met at various events and interests during a moment in time; colleagues I used to work with, but have now long since moved on to other careers; distant family; so many others.

I try to keep Facebook “small” and personal, I tend to only accept friend request from those I have met in person or have had long conversations with. I want to have had a personal connection with people on Facebook.

I have chosen not to count how many times I check Facebook per day, because I honestly believe it is more than 50 times. I just pop in for a moment, and pop away. CONSTANTLY.

To me, my entire motivation around Facebook is joy. Maybe 1% of my Facebook activity has anything to do with my career; my time there is spent mostly “liking” and commenting on photos and status updates from friends and family.

None of these people are “influencers” I am hoping notice me. They are the kid I sat next to in third grade. The person I thought was cool in high school. The friend from college I lost touch with at age 21. The person who sat one cube row away from me at a job.

You may feel these people should be insignificant. But I don’t. I deeply value what these people have brought to my life. And it is incredibly meaningful to me to experience their lives via Facebook.

Is there too much political stuff on Facebook for my taste? Sure. But I will say this: I NEVER block or unfriend someone who has the opposite political view as I do. In fact, I have found that Facebook has been the primary thing to allow me to understand “the other side” of contentious issues. Because I see a normal person who I have a personal connection to openly state why they believe in something. That creates empathy in me for what that issue means to them. Honestly, I think we need more of that in the world today.

What I would lose if I weren’t on Twitter:

Twitter is the social network that caused me the biggest social media mid-life crisis. As it matured, it felt more and more impersonal, more crowded, and full of people seeking attention for the sake of attention. The “best practices” that used to be intriguing started to get annoying. For instance, thousands of links to “aggregated” articles. Constantly.

With Twitter, I got tired of reading the world’s most disorganized newspaper of links to news and articles.

So I did two things to help change this:

  1. Even when I felt the most disenfranchised with Twitter, I never left it. Yes, I changed how I used it, I used it much less for a time being, but I kept showing up to try to find the joy in it.
  2. I focused. Years ago, I created a special Twitter list called “focus” which allowed me to choose a smaller group of people to pay special attention to. So, when I followed 1,000 people, the Focus list would consist of maybe 80 names.

Because all of this evolved over the course of years, the things that some of these people tweeted about became less relevant to me. My work evolved, as did theirs.

This past year, I created a new list: “Focus 2.” It started with zero names. Then I added Rachel Fershleiser. Then Tina Roth Eisenberg. Then Austin Kleon. Then Sean Blanda.

I chose these people as PEOPLE, not “feeds.” These were folks who I deeply admired. They were voices I felt honored to have in my life.

The “Focus 2” list currently has 33 people on it, and it evolves. I will say that limiting Twitter to 33 names has brought an incredible amount of joy to my life.

Is that the only way I use Twitter? No, of course not. I absolutely browse the other lists I have created in the past, and am always looking people up on Twitter and checking in.

But on a day-to-day emotional basis, focusing Twitter to 33 people who inspire me has allowed me to find joy in Twitter.

What I would lose if I weren’t on Instagram:

What I love about Instagram is that it feels more personal than other social networks. It is largely filled with original photos that people take, not aggregated and curated content.

Because I’m tired of aggregated and re-shared content. I’m tired of the firehose of content. I want connection to people, not things.

My least favorite Instagram feeds are those filled with nothing but inspirational quotes. No offense to anyone who does that; it simply doesn’t interest me.

What does interest me about Instagram? SEEING WHAT YOU CARE ABOUT. SEEING YOUR JOY.

This is why I am never offended when people share photos of their food on Instagram. That person is feeling a moment of happiness and sharing it. How great is that?!

Everything Else

Those are the three social networks that I actively share stuff on, but clearly there are so many others worth mentioning. Okay, let’s do a review of the other social networks on my radar:

YouTube is my favorite social network overall because of how personal it is, especially for vlogging — which are basically video diaries. To be able to see people’s eyes and hear their voices is an incredibly personal connection. Recently I wrote about Casey Neistat’s vlog, and he is a great example of being able to truly experience someone else’s life via social media. Twice a day, I sit down for a break and YouTube is always my companion here. To check in with the YouTubers I follow.

While I have been creating more videos as part of my consulting and courses, and I have experimented with vlogging in the past, I haven’t made public vlogging a focus for myself right now.

YouTube is a social network that I consume, but don’t contribute to as much as I could.

Tumblr. Oh, Tumblr, I want to love you. But Tumblr eludes me for a few reasons. I began exploring them in length in this post, but then just cut all 800 words of it. I need more time and space to fully explore certain aspects of Tumblr.

For now, I will say this: I LOVE LOVE LOVE how Tumblr empowers people to express their creativity in ways they can’t anywhere else. How it can connect people with ideas and with each other.

Medium is a publishing platform that has a built-in community. That is a powerful thing, and something I will be looking at more closely in the coming weeks.

I will add this, an interesting example of the power of Medium, as shared by David Heinemeier Hansson, whoannounced that the 15 year old blog that he runs with Jason Fried is moving from their own platform to Medium.

Snapchat is a social network I have been experimenting with, and is one of the “newer” social networks that took me a long time to even understand. It upends so much about what I had known about social media. It doesn’t do what Twitter does: encouraging people to grow as many followers as possible, and post everything publicly for the Library of Congress to archive. Snapchat is more private.

The more I experiment with Snapchat, the more I understand why it is so immensely popular, and how it serves a need that Twitter, Facebook, and others didn’t.

That you can share with who you WANT to share with. That everything you share doesn’t have to be a statement that is attached to your name forever. That it encourages different ways of sharing moments.

LinkedIn is the most boring thing on the planet, yet a social channel that I constantly use to research others. Okay, that’s enough about LinkedIn.

Conclusion

I think it is important to assess your social media health now that these are such mature channels. Not from a strategic standpoint, but from a joy standpoint.

The person whose quote started this post — the one who hates social media — I can’t help but consider ways that she makes a similar shift. Replacing an obligation that she doesn’t like in social media to something that brings her joy. That will be a process unique to her.

I would like to end with a little excerpt from another post I wrote in 2014 called “Truly Embracing Your Audience,” which focused on Amanda Palmer’s ability to connect directly with fans of her writing, music, and art:

But Amanda chooses to. This choice is hers. This choice creates meaningful moments, and I have to say, it’s pretty inspiring. This is how she pitched her appearance in New York: “Just come and hang out. I will leave no human unhugged.”

Writers and other creative professionals are often overwhelmed with ideas for how to connect their work to the world. They may look for “marketing tactics that scale,” such as publicity, social media, getting reviews, blog tours, book tours, strategic partnerships, events, giveaways, bestseller lists, awards, and so much more.

Now, these things are good, and I work with authors every day on many of them. But I never lose sight of the goal: that real human connection between a writer and a reader, via their work. And that the 1:1 connection creates a powerful effect in the world.

Have you had a social media mid-life crisis? If so, I’d love if you would tell me about it.

Thanks!
-Dan

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