Goodbye, social media
Updated: Nov 28, 2021
Why I’m giving up Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram for 2021.
Many of the nonfiction writers I admire most have something in common: They configure their work and personal lives to optimize for long-term rewards. They forgo opportunities for instant gratification when that gratification comes at the cost of achieving more meaningful and lasting goals.
This is the heart of why I've chosen to give up Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram for 2021. It is not because I see no benefit from using these platforms. On the contrary, I’ve benefited a lot from social media over the years.
I’ve used these platforms to gain email subscribers, earn tens of thousands of dollars in my freelance business, and discover countless great books, thinkers, and ideas. Social media has helped me stay connected with distant friends, learn about important causes, and easily share my own ideas and stories. A lot of this wouldn’t have happened without the serendipitous moments that are so commonplace on social media.
But social media has also stolen time and attention from me that I’ll never get back. I have my suspicions that by taking a long break from these platforms, I will find more fulfilling ways to reap the same rewards—or hopefully greater ones—without enduring the mental health and attention costs that can come through using these platforms.
I'm giving up social media in 2021 as a professional experiment. And as with any good experiment, I have a hypothesis about what I will find. Well, actually I have two running hypotheses—one about marketing, the second about writing:
Marketing: Organic social media marketing requires a lot of time and attention to reap rewards. Most of these rewards are trivial: likes, comments, and the occasional share. Substantial rewards like paying clients or new subscribers are more rare and mostly unpredictable. By shifting my attention to other marketing efforts, I believe I can receive a much higher return for my invested time and attention.
Writing: Social media encourages fast publishing in exchange for instant gratification in the form of trivial social triggers (again: likes, comments). Fast publishing does not challenge me as a writer. Instead, it encourages lazy work when deep down I want to publish my best. On the other hand, editors and even search engines are much tougher critics. By moving away from social media publishing, I believe I will improve as a writer and create more meaningful work that lasts.
Why I’m taking a break from social media
For a couple years, I have wrestled with my feelings about social media. I simultaneously dislike most social media platforms and at the same time feel like my writing and business, to some extent, depend on them.
I've taken occasional small breaks over the years, most of which were inspired by the author and blogger, Cal Newport. But now, I'd like to take a longer break to really test how necessary these platforms are for my writing and business.
While this experiment is mostly a professional decision, I also expect to reap some personal benefits. We've all seen articles about how anxiety, groupthink, and unhealthy comparison are exacerbated by social media. I'm just ready for a break from it all.
What I will do instead of using social media
I want to be intentional about this long break. I plan to fill the void of social media in both business and personal use by finding new ways to market my business and writing—while also connecting in more meaningful ways with friends and family.
For a long time I've wondered how much more writing I could produce without the distraction and instant gratification of social media. But this begs the question, how do I plan to promote my writing without the help of some of the biggest distribution channels ever invented?
Here are three marketing tactics I plan to use more in the new year:
SEO blog writing: I intend to write articles that rank in Google for topics my clients and readers care about. I've written SEO articles a lot more for clients than for myself over the years. I no longer write blogs for clients, but it's time I invest more in my own blog ranking.
Guest posting: The opportunity to guest write for other blogs, newsletters, and publications is also very interesting to me. This approach requires a lot of work, which is why I haven't done it as much as I'd like. I hope to get published in many new places next year.
Podcasts: Interviews are a fun way to spread ideas. This year Sarabeth and I have appeared on a handful of podcasts (and even the radio) without much effort. I have a hunch that if I invest in this a little more, we could appear on many new shows in 2021.
On the personal side of things, I want to find more meaningful ways to foster connection. I plan to explore new hobbies this year that force me to get out of the house more (while, of course, remaining socially distant). I also plan to make more time for phone calls with friends and family—something I've been quite bad at for a long time.
And finally, I'm excited to return to slow news by subscribing to publications I trust. As a freelance copywriter, there's seldom news I need to know about as soon as it happens. I'd rather understand the full story by reading about it the next day—instead of having my attention hijacked every time something bad happens in the world.
Where I’ll publish my findings
This wouldn’t be an experiment without published results. I expect to learn a lot over the next year. Everything I learn will be published in my weekly newsletter, The Craft & Business of Writing.
If you would like to learn how I’m distributing my writing, marketing my freelance business, or read my ongoing thoughts about digital minimalism, please subscribe below.
Oh, and Happy New Year!