This post originally ran as this week’s Monday Motivation for Writers email. If you’d like to get an email full of writing advice and insights in your inbox every Monday, plus two free e-books for writers, you can join here.
Also, this email generated a TON of great responses, and many of them had helpful insights that I hadn’t thought of myself…so I got the authors’ permission to include their comments with this post. (They’re at the bottom. Apparently there’s a limit to the length of a WordPress post so I couldn’t include all of them. However, I am opening the Comments on this post in case you have something you’d like to share! Thanks!)
Why I killed my social media accounts (+ why you may want to too…and what to do instead)
You’ve probably read a lot of those “Why I Quit Social Media” posts all over the Internet, and the arguments usually run along the lines of “Twitter is a time-suck” and “Why is it that everyone on Facebook is madly in love with their spouses, taking amazing vacations, landing lucrative (and fun!) freelance writing jobs, and gazing for hours at their perfect, adorable children? I must be a huge loser.”
This post will be different. And it starts, ironically, with an amazing vacation. (Sorry!)
My family and I just spent two weeks traveling around Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, and France.
I decided this would be a non-working vacation — my first EVER since starting my freelance writing career in 1997. I can’t remember a single trip where I didn’t bring my laptop and stress out over the availability of public wifi. I was determined that this time would be different.
So, we visited old friends and a former exchange student, climbed the tallest church tower in The Netherlands, went to a genever festival and tried Belgian gin in chocolate cups (gin = yuck. chocolate = yum), toured an abbey that was founded in the 1100s, went on a food tour of Paris, and climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe at night.
I love my work and thought it would be damn near impossible to keep my mind off of email, the blog, the classes I teach, marketing, writing, and so on. But, shockingly, I felt ZERO urge to do any work for the entire two weeks. I didn’t even take notes, write a to-do list, or check email. That was…different.
In the middle of the trip, I noticed something funny: My Tourette’s tics had completely disappeared, and the persistent heartburn I had been suffering from for the last few months had vanished as well. Hell, I even LOOKED better. (See that photo of us at the Notre Dame? Guess how old I am. I’m not trying to brag…I’m trying to say I DON’T USUALLY LOOK LIKE THAT.) I felt amazing, my skin glowed, and I even lost weight. I wondered if this was the result of actually, you know, relaxing. (Which is kind of a foreign concept for me, no pun intended.)
Then It All Came Back…And Ended with Social Media Suicide
On the drive from Paris back to the Düsseldorf airport for the flight home, it was like some switch went off in my brain: The tics came back, the heartburn returned in full force, and the stress eczema I sometimes get on my feet cropped up. This all occurred DURING the 5-hour drive to the airport. I won’t fuel your nightmares with a photo of what I looked like at this point. Let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. 🙂
As much as I enjoy what I do for a living, and have a wonderful home and family life, clearly something about returning home was stressing me out enough to cause strong physical symptoms. The body is sometimes so much smarter than the brain! But what was it telling me?
On the long plane trip back home, I did a lot of thinking and researching. (I had brought my iPad and paid for wifi on the plane.)
I normally work just six hours per day, Monday through Friday, which doesn’t seem like a lot…but I am such a productive Type-A person that I manage to get more done in my 30-hour workweek than most people can in 50 hours per week. (And I know this because they always tell me, “I work 50 hours per week and don’t get done half what you do!”)
However, I am also easily overwhelmed by the sheer number of things I should/could be doing. We business owners have to do it all!
I got to wondering — are there any activities in my work life that I don’t really need to be doing? Activities that are crowding out more important tasks that will have more of an impact?
An obvious one to look at was social media. It’s like a monster that you can never feed enough:
- “I should post on Facebook.”
- “I need to check Twitter in case someone sent me a DM.”
- “How can I get more followers?”
- “I better find some posts to fill my Buffer with.”
- “Oh my God, I haven’t checked LinkedIn in DAYS.”
- “I better respond to all those @replies!”
Social media takes only a few minutes per visit, but the overwhelm wasn’t about the amount of time I spent there — it was about the number of times I felt the need to stop what I was doing, check into one of the many social media platforms, respond to messages/add posts/share/etc….and then try to get back on track with my original activity.
Then there’s the matter of being at people’s beck and call in three more formats (outside of email). Not to mention feeling the need to learn about and implement every new social media marketing strategy some Internet guru comes up with. (Facebook ads! Tweet chats! LinkedIn posts! Twitter contests!)
I can’t sleep on planes, so on this lengthy Lufthansa flight, I started reading blog posts and articles from people who had quit social media, and ran across a post on the Forbes blog about how the author discovered that his tweets actually brought very little return in the form of clicks onto his articles.
I checked analytics.twitter.com and noticed that while many of my tweets were shared, few were actually clicked on. Then I checked analytics.google.com and realized something much more shocking: Of the 15,000+ unique monthly visitors to the Renegade Writer Blog, just 200 of them come from Twitter. That’s about 1.3% of my visitors.
Then I remembered the last tweet chat I did, which was hosted by a large media company. My tweet chat was not only promoted by the company in social media and on their blog, but it was also splashed across a huge electronic sign in Times Square.
To prepare for the chat, I wrote questions for the host to ask me, and planned out my answers in 140-character increments. I dug up helpful posts from my blog that illustrated the points we were chatting about so participants could click to get more info. I promoted the chat in email and on social media. And I took an hour out of my already-short workday to actually do the chat.
I watched my Google Analytics during the chat…and noticed that during the hour-long event, a big THREE people followed the links in my tweets. Three total. It’s not that the host company did anything wrong — they were amazing and I love them. And I think I did a fine job preparing for and promoting the event. But for some reason, potential Renegade Writer readers were not interested in or motivated by the chat.
Okay, so I was pretty convinced that Twitter was not very useful for me, business-wise. But what about Facebook?
While Twitter is more of a marketing platform for me, Facebook is mostly personal. Lately, my experience on Facebook has been people with clearly fake names and photos sending friend requests; me scrolling endlessly through political rants, click-bait posts, and photos of abused animals every time I felt a modicum of boredom or was stuck on a word while writing a newsletter; and feeling anguish every time I received a friend request from a student or reader. (A year or so ago I trimmed my FB friends list to IRL friends, but still felt bad saying no to requests from writing acquaintances and clients.)
The people whose news and photos I really wanted to see, and who were interested in MY news and photos — we are connected by phone, email, or in real life. At the point when I was considering shutting down my account, I hadn’t posted in three weeks, and let me tell you — I was NOT inundated with messages from Facebook friends asking, “Where have you been? We miss your cat photos, brags about your son’s ballet performances, and musings on the writing life!”
Then, the kicker: There’s a woman who annoys the hell out of me on Facebook, and I came to realize that every time I posted a photo or update, I secretly hoped she would see it and be in awe about how great my life was going.
LIFE IS TOO SHORT to spend time and psychic energy making spite-posts on Facebook.
As for LinkedIn, every time I thought to check it — which was once a week or less — I would have to sift through a load of messages from people I don’t know very well asking me to connect them to other people I don’t know very well. (Early on in LinkedIn, I accepted every connection request even if I didn’t know the person. I realize now that’s the wrong way to do it.) Not to mention mass messages from people asking me to buy, read, or do something that I was 100% not interested in. And InMails from PR reps pitching me clients in industries I have never written about in my life.
The upshot: While most other people on the flight from Germany to Chicago snoozed, watched movies, or drank booze — I made the crazy decision to kill my social media accounts.
I deactivated my Facebook account (not too drastic, since you can always re-activate it later). Shut down my Twitter account. And closed out my LinkedIn profile.
The Results So Far
It’s only been a few days since I killed my social media accounts, but I feel much more peaceful knowing there are three fewer things I need to think about. Much more than three, actually, because now I don’t have to worry about tweet chats, direct messages, friend requests, @messages, Buffering posts in advance, scrolling through my feed reader looking for posts to Buffer, social media marketing, learning about social media marketing, and much, much more.
And strangely, it’s a really nice feeling to do, see, or experience something amazing and not immediately think, “I should put this on Facebook.” Experiencing something in real life and not through the lens of a camera — ahhhh. It gives you a sense of quiet confidence, knowing you can do something cool and not need to show it off to the world. It feels…classy. Confident. Peaceful.
What About Marketing?
Most of my business these days is teaching classes; mentoring writers; and writing books, blog posts, and newsletters to help freelance writers succeed. The little writing I do these days for clients such as magazines and blogs…well, I have enough contacts in the industry at this point that they come to me offering gigs.
I’m no longer on the prowl for writing clients, and I’m not looking for a full-time job, so dinging clients on Twitter, networking on FB pages, and updating my LinkedIn profile are not the best forms of marketing for me.
I maintain an email list of about 7,000 writers, and have 15,000 monthly blog readers, and these people — the ones who trust me with their time, who come to me of their own volition seeking help and advice — are my priority. For them (you!) I write newsletters, blog posts, and books, teach classes, and create new products such as meditations and mugs (coming soon!). I simply focus on producing the best, most helpful content I can, and my lovely readers read and share. Creating amazing value for writers — that’s my marketing.
But I know that YOU, my reader, are looking for freelance writing jobs…and every writing guru on the Internet is imploring you to network with editors on Twitter, connect with corporate clients on LinkedIn, comment on magazines’ Facebook pages, and update your accounts daily with the freshest, wittiest posts to keep your lovely face top of mind with whatever potential clients happen to be online at that time.
But here’s the thing: When writers ask me what forms of marketing they should do, I always tell them to focus on the marketing technique they like enough that they’ll do a LOT of it.
For example, when I was starting out as a freelance writer, I really enjoyed writing and sending query letters and sales letters. So I wrote and sent out a ton of these things — like dozens every week. I didn’t do cold calls, or send emailed introductions, or go to networking events. I just sent queries and sales letters, over and over and over. Because I didn’t like those other things, but I liked this.
And it worked. I launched my freelance writing career in July 1997, and within a few months realized I would be earning 50% more than I had at my last office job. Three years in, I was earning $80,000 writing only for magazines and corporate clients — and my ONLY form of marketing was writing and sending queries and sales letters.
Eventually, as social media grew — and marketing gurus decided everyone absolutely, definitely needed to tweet, comment, post, and friend — I ventured onto Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. While I did get a few freelance writing jobs from these platforms, the vast majority of my gigs came from good old pitching. It’s one of those Pareto Principle things: 80% of your results come from 20% of your activities.
So in my experience, it’s better to pick ONE form of marketing you love and feel good at, and really work it. Maybe you:
- Make 50 cold calls per day.
- E-mail letters of introduction to dozens of prospects every week.
- Write and send queries until your fingertips bleed.
- Go to every networking event in your area, speak at as many of them as you can, and invite prospects and colleagues out for coffee every week.
- Work consistently to build a Twitter presence, hire someone to craft a beautiful background for your profile page, write and post many compelling tweets every day, and connect with prospects via DM and @replies.
- Really do your LinkedIn profile up right, spring for a Premium account and send InMails to prospects, write amazing posts, and become an expert presence in the Q&A forums.
So maybe your one thing is a social media platform. But maybe it’s not. Whatever the situation, you should NOT feel like you need to be proficient and active in every possible type of marketing in the known universe. That just dilutes your power. If you’re really good at networking and not as good at LinkedIn, you know which will be the more effective marketing tactic for you. Every minute you spend on your LinkedIn profile is a minute you’re not taking an editor out for coffee.
What About Staying Relevant?
I know…we writers fear that if we’re not visible in all the social media, the world will rush right by us and we’ll be seen as old fogeys without a clue.
But think of this: I’ve been on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for years, and I can’t think of a single time this fact gave me more cred with clients and prospects. One of my best friends writes for some big-name magazine and corporate clients and she has never been on ANY kind of social media.
If you think high-quality editors and copywriting clients are trolling around the Internet and judging your lack of a Facebook page, you’re madly overestimating how much time they have. These people barely have time to answer their email, much less wonder if you’re using Facebook effectively.
And consider this: I had 300+ FB friends, 500+ LinkedIn connections, and over 6,000 Twitter followers. I had not been on social media for weeks before I killed my accounts, and not one of these close to 7,000 people noticed.
We’re all busy. When you’re following hundreds of people on social media, it all becomes a blur, and you’re not likely to even notice when someone stops posting unless they’re power posters and you’re a hardcore fan.
We have enough to think and worry about in our freelance writing careers to spend time contemplating whether we’re no longer “relevant” because we’re not posting links to cat videos. Focus on your core values: Your writing skill, your compelling ideas, and your professionalism.
If you have a website, even a simple one, you’re good to go.
Should YOU Quit Social Media?
This is a highly personal decision. Many people get great pleasure from connecting with friends on Facebook, or land a quality freelance writing jobs through Twitter or LinkedIn. If that’s you, great!
Also, if your main complaint is that social media is a time-suck and you’re kinda-sorta addicted to it, you can always block your bête-noir sites with an app like anti-social.cc when you need to focus on a project.
I challenge you to think hard about what social media does for you. Does tweeting 20 times a day really help your writing career? Could your time be better used elsewhere? Do you truly enjoy being on Facebook, or does your blood pressure rise every time you scroll through the posts?
If you’re on the fence, try taking a social media sabbatical. Have your partner change your passwords and hide them away from you. Or try one of the social media-blocking apps.
Don’t announce it…just do it. Block or log off of the offending sites and see how that changes your productivity, your emotions, and your day. And consider: Has anyone noticed you’re gone? If so, are these people you really care to stay in touch with on a daily basis? Are you able to find another way of marketing your writing — one you feel good at, and like to do?
And if you discover you really don’t like social media, and you don’t need it, and you’re more productive in your writing without it — consider pulling the plug for good.
Do your research before taking the final step. You’ll learn, for example, that you can deactivate your Facebook account without actually deleting it, which could be a good intermediary step. And supposedly you can reactivate your Twitter account within 30 days, but I’ve heard that some things, like your favorited tweets, don’t come back.
I hope I’ve planted a seed in your brain that will help you get more out of your writing time, boost your freelance writing career, and create more peace in your life. If you enjoyed this Monday Motivation, please forward it along to your writing friends!
COMMENTS FROM SUBSCRIBERS:
THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!!!!!
This post is exactly what I needed at this stage of my freelance writing career. I am just starting out. My business is in the gestational stage with the birth coming soon. The thought of marketing on social media has been a huge obstacle for me in terms of just-getting-going.
I am happy to report that at 48 years of age I have finally figured out what I really want to do “when I grow up” and am thrilled to focus on getting paid for my writing — something I have always longed to do but have been too afraid to try — until now!
Then, bam! As I am tooling about getting my website ready, finishing a business plan, and brainstorming on marketing ideas and niches, I read all over the place about the importance of social media for marketing purposes. My heart sank into my stomach. My gut aches now as I type just thinking about having to spend time on these platforms. I really do not like social media, huh? And to admit that makes me feel old and out-of-date. And brings angst that I cannot be successful without these.
A year ago I took down my Facebook account because reading through endless posts made me dizzy and wanting to scream at myself for spending time on this or at others for sharing yet another bliss-filled day in their lives. I accepted LinkedIn requests from people I barely knew and never looked back. Great networking!
I realize I will need to venture back into this area at some point but simply knowing that I can focus my efforts on the marketing I enjoy and am good at brings a smile back to my face. And gives me a desire to place butt back in chair, fingers on keys, and get going!!!
As someone just starting out, I had the notion to ignore what my inner wisdom and knowledge about myself and how I operate (having had a different successful small business prior to embarking on this one) simply on the merit and drumbeats of the online gurus/masses.
So thank YOU for nudging me in a direction I know is best for me in this particular here and now.
Time to get this baby kicking!!
Keep up the great work! The Renegade Writer blog and site — what a find!
I love this, Linda. Experiencing life in real time? What a concept.
Just want to say thank you so much for your email today. (Why I killed my social media accounts …)
I am a freelance journalist from Kentucky. I now have so many story assignments that I have to pace myself. I haven’t taken any of your classes, but I HAVE gleaned from your emails and I have watched/listened to some of your podcasts. I am appreciative of your enthusiasm and your expertise. I lead a writers group and I routinely refer to your wisdom.
I am going on vacation on Friday and will have the chance to be unplugged (mostly) from social media for over a week. I have made a conscious decision to NOT work on work while I am at the beach. (We will see how the guilt works on that one!)
Anyway, thank you so much. I am a small voice from the Bluegrass, but let this small voice encourage you as well. You are doing good things and I am ever so glad.
Wow, Linda, this is such an enlightening post. I’m on five social media platforms but need to be as I do social media work for clients. This does serve as a great reminder for me to really focus more on the platform that actually brings me clients which is LinkedIn and I understand LinkedIn well and like networking there.
Linda. This is so insightful! Actually, this morning, I realized I hadn’t logged into my Twitter account in awhile and started to feel “irrelevant” as you say. I quickly looked you up for an RT and found some old accounts of yours! I was thinking, IMPOSSIBLE.
Thanks for sharing. This is definitely something I need to think about!! I want to be a writer and not a slave to social media!
WOW! My daughter, wife and I talked til 2 AM this morning about this very topic!
I told my daughter to stop staying up til 5 AM and tweeting and posting. Cease or at least seriously cut back.
She tells me that, in addition to wanting to be a writer — and she does have clients — she wants to act. I said, “Well, eliminate the tweets, FB, etc and take acting classes. Get rid of the negatives and add a positive.”
Fascinating, Linda! I actually went to look for your Twitter feed a few days ago, because the Pitch Clinic handout that goes over how to sniff out editor email addresses references being able to find yours via your Twitter feed, and I wanted to give it a shot. After a bit of digging, I noticed all your accounts were gone, and I wondered why!
I wish more people would make this decision. I run social media for clients, and I can’t tell you how often I’ve counseled people to give up all but one or two social accounts that they like or know they get engagement from. It’s just not sustainable to try to be on five, six — sometimes ten! — social media sites. And for some people, like you found out, it’s not worth it at all. Business and individuals would be a lot happier if they would stick with what really works for them, rather than trying to fit the mold of what “marketers” or “society at large” says you should do.
Anyway, hope you don’t mind me replying — this was a very inspiring post and congrats to you for pulling the plug for your personal peace! And hoorah for a wonderful vacation!
Thank you for this thoughtful and insightful post, Linda. As a writer with 15 years of experience and a decent career established, I still worried at night that my lack of a twitter account (not to mention my lack of interest in stalking people through their instagram photos!) was making me less relevant, that I was somehow missing out, even though my career didn’t seem to be lacking because of my lack of social media participation. This post made me feel better about my choice and confirmed things I’d often thought were true — in our busy world, nothing replaces beating the pavement with solid queries and/or choosing the method of marketing where you’ll be most effective.
SO, I did the RIGHT thing!
I already kinda killed my social accounts a couple of months ago.
Well, didn’t delete Twitter and LinkedIn accounts but deleted the FB profile, completely.
BUT I never logged into any of the social accounts – so it’s like I killed them when I took an oath not to use any of them.
You may or may not be aware that in Europe and Asia, people use WhatsApp on their mobiles phones more than they use other social apps. I deleted that one last year after trying it for 2 months and it was eating my time.
I love my work and thought it would be damn near impossible to keep my mind off of email, the blog, the classes I teach, marketing, writing, and so on. But, shockingly, I felt ZERO urge to do any work for the entire two weeks. I didn’t even take notes, write a to-do list, or check email. That was…different.
I also usually can’t live off of e-mail and my computers and Internet, but when I’m doing spiritual service and am with my group, the happiness I get is so so much, that I forget everything else. At times, this can be a week or more. This last August, it was about a month. No internet and no e-mail checking at all. I didn’t have my lappy even. 😀
Without any doubt, like you said, our diseases go away, we don’t know where. So, it’s like freelancing brings into us some diseases?
I hope you get better with your small/big ailments. But, please know one more thing – these things are also internal and at the sub-conscious level. You’re into yoga so I’m sure you’ll at least listen, even if not believe me. There are MANY diseases and ailments which go into the next births because they’re in the subconscious mind, mind is a part of us (us being souls).
If you would like more on the above, do let me know. I’ll be glad to give more info.
Thanks for the interesting post with your experiences and the tour. Seemed like I was with you on the tour, to those countries too. So, thanks a ton. 🙂
BTW, if you wish to know why I stopped using social media, it was a determined decision I made with about 3,000 other youths in a spiritual class, when we were asked whether social media wastes time and we all had raised our hands. 🙂 I’m glad I’m very strong on the decision and won’t revert back or change it. No excuses at all.
Even though you had to research and read about how to stop using social media, you made a super wise decision and God’ll bless you for that too!
Thanks a TON and stay social-media-less forever, like me. I’m writing an article in my institution’s spiritual mag, in Hindi, though, to help my spiritual brethren stop using social media.
This newsletter of yours struck a chord with me. Social media’s great because, at its core, it helps you connect and reconnect with people you care about. It’s been morphing into more than that, however, and in a very stressful way. People you don’t know, people you just met once (and ever-so-briefly!), batch mates from your kindergarten class whom you don’t even remember and whom you know don’t even care if you don’t even remember… they all request to be Facebook friends. I tried to limit my network to those just nearest and dearest to me. Unfortunately, I failed miserably at that. It’s just hard to reject people, especially when it’s the likes of that co-worker who you see daily and who must be secretly wondering when you’d accept his friend request.
That’s partly why I’ve limited the frequency I check my Facebook feed from once a day to just once a week. It’s a huge time-suck. It also doesn’t make sense to check the posts of all your contacts when you’re not even close with half of them. It results in a disconnect on a platform that’s supposed to connect.
Wow. I should write a blog about the stresses brought about by social media relationships.
Anyway, re: your tip about focusing on that one thing you’re good at, marketing-wise, well… that’s given me food for thought as well. I have an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus. I also blog twice a week and manage my social media posts thrice a week. It’s a lot of work, and so far it’s not working so well. Most of my Twitter followers just favorite my tweets; they rarely retweet them. Most of my Facebook page followers just like my page because they like me, and not necessarily because they like what I advocate, which is wellness. Needless to say, I rarely get post likes there. It’s on Google Plus where I seem to have the most meaningful engagement, and it’s something that surprises me endlessly. I need to lessen the frequency of my posts elsewhere and just focus on that one marketing strategy and that one media platform that really works for me. I can’t give up social media, but I can work towards limiting my social media time whilst maximizing its benefits.
I’m very happy that you had a great European holiday! Europe is beautiful!
More power to The Renegade Writer!
Thanks for writing this email. It’s refreshing to hear someone who is as well known online as you are say that social media is a waste of time. I did a lot of marketing on social media a few years ago for a software company and generated a lot of sales leads for them doing that. But since I went out on my own doing marketing consulting and freelance copywriting, I’ve been doing social media and seriously wondering if it is a waste of my time, as even though I have solely focused my content on marketing-related topics to attract VPs and directors of marketing (my main target audience), I appear to have a lot of followers who definitely aren’t my target audience. But I suppose that’s because everyone wants good info about marketing. However, the one exception is having a LinkedIn profile, which has been invaluable to me because I’ve already gotten two clients that way.
In addition, I have been wondering how realistic freelance copywriting is. I know there is plenty of work out there. But I do seem to be hearing a lot of stories about people who tried to make a go of freelance copywriting and failed. And since so much of what is written about freelance writing (not yours, but a lot of other content) is written in such a hype way (i.e., make a million dollars writing from home in your bare feet, and get rich working only one to two hours a day while you sit back and royalty checks roll in), it seems too good to be true/not believable.
But I’m still going to pursue it, because I do believe, being a marketer myself and working in companies where the marketing departments have been short on staff, that there is plenty of work out there. The key is identifying which companies you want to work with, finding out if they even work with freelancers (I’ve worked at some that do and some that don’t) and whether they meet your ideal client criteria (e.g., will pay you what you are worth, have ongoing work/projects, are easy to work with, etc.), and then proactively going after them. To me, the difference between those who succeed and those who fail in this business comes down to those who are willing to be a true business owner by working hard and wearing multiple hats at one time (e.g., the writing hat, the new business development hat, and the marketing hat) and those who aren’t. Those three things are the only true/real recipe that I’ve found for success anyway.
More to add? Please leave a comment below!