Social media is the one of best things in my life… and also one of the worst. It has given me many gifts and made me feel connected, educated, invigorated and inspired. But, equally often, it has made me feel “less than,” lonely, angry, and horribly depressed.
In spite of this, I’ve been unwilling to walk away from social media entirely since it’s my life line to the rest of the world. But, after eight years of heavy use with huge ups and downs, I also knew I needed to make some changes. So, about a year ago, I decided to break up with social media.
This wasn’t like the kind of break-up you have with a fling, where you say, “it’s over” and simply walk away. But rather like the kind you have with a spouse with whom you co-parent, a co-worker or a member of your family–the kind of breakup where you say “I want a relationship where we’re civil enough to see each other on a day-to-day basis, but where you no longer have access to the vulnerable parts of me.”
The break-up was a complicated process that required some strategic thinking. But, in the end, the payoff was huge. Here’s how I did it…
1. Cozy up to email
For many years, Twitter and Facebook served as my daily news newspaper and the sources of all the great content I consumed each day. But, getting to that content often required jumping through a lot of hoops and I often got dragged into other people’s drama along the way. So, I made a shift to getting content by subscribing to email feeds directly from the sources I most valued. Now, I still get the same great info, but without all the noisy debates, pretentious posturing and personal attacks. Plus, email can sit and wait patiently for me in my in-box, which helps me engage more mindfully with my day.
2. Let it go
Working in social media for so many years meant being social… a whole lot, in every platform. But the day came when my sprawling social presence simply became too much to manage. So, for some accounts, I simply stopped posting entirely. You know what I learned? In most cases, no one even noticed or cared. In fact, those accounts continued to grow without me. (It’s like everyone is so obsessed with talking in social media these days, they no longer even care if people are listening on the other end.)
3. Build a new layer
Since I have spoken at a lot of marketing conferences, many of my social friends/followers are fellow marketers. While lovely people, marketers do tend to spend an awful lot of time marketing their marketing, which can create quite a bit of noise and make a social platform a less fun place to actually have conversations. Instead of rebuilding my networks entirely to solve this problem, in Twitter specifically, I simply built a new, less noisy social layer on top of the old one. I followed new groups of people who were talking about the things I’m interested in and then only monitored and engaged with those groups. The result was I made some great connections with new friends and freed up bandwidth for more quality exchanges with my old ones.
4. Prune algorithmically
I have some Facebook friends whom I like quite a lot, but who tend to occasionally post things which are bad emotional triggers for me. I didn’t want to unfriend those people (since the problem is mine, not theirs), just limit my exposure to their use of Facebook as their own personal therapist/affirmation echo chamber. So, I put Facebook’s algorithm to work me. Every time I saw a post that drove me nuts, I flagged it and told Facebook I wanted to see less stuff like that. Over time, it organically started to weed the triggers out, which improved my experience, and my relationship with those people, immeasurably.
5. Flood your feed with happiness
Finally, in order to drown out the noise from things that made me feel bad, I flooded my social networks with things that made me feel good. I followed the pages and accounts of people who talked about things I found inspirational. I made sure to like the posts that made me smile (again, working that algorithm.) I also went back and tracked down those friends who make me happy, (but whose posts Facebook no longer showed me) and engaged with them again, prompting the Facebook algorithm to put those people back on my daily radar.
Like any break up, I miss my early days with social media–where the lines between personal and professional were blurry, my interaction was deep, experimental and feverish and my sense of self worth as high as my engagement metrics. But overall, by making some changes I found I gained more than I lost.
Today I still use social media. But it never uses me.