Is social media really social?

A couple of years ago a friend of mine, who also runs his own business, confessed that he had had "a lonely year". I was kinda shocked. From the outset he had everything you seemingly "need" as a small biz owner:

  • engaged email subscribers

  • a high volume of traffic to his eCommerce site

  • a constant flow of paying customers

  • the lifestyle to work from wherever he wanted

  • a hefty social following

But, as he said, "Throughout the entire year, I was more about being on social media and this whole online world, than making time to actually be social offline. I realised at the end of the year I was incredibly lonely and...kinda depressed."

Part of my business model is running public workshops — mainly on marketing and business strategy and planning, but also on getting published, launching your own business while working for someone else and content marketing. The one question I hear throughout each workshop — no matter who the audience is — is: "Do you think I need more followers on social media?"

As a society, we have become obsessed with social media. My husband (who is rarely on it) suggested it's like smoking was in the 1940s. We just accept that everyone does it, but we'll look back in decades to come and wonder why we didn't notice the damage it was doing sooner.

Don't get me wrong, social media definitely helps businesses connect, collaborate and grow brand awareness and sales. It is a normal part of being in business today. It's also an incredible source of inspiration, especially for those of us in the creative space. Like anyone else, I've dedicated a portion of my time to engage with other folk and build my following. I regularly post (what I hope is!) useful content to my IG account. But, I am also aware of the damage social media can do. From comparison through to self-doubt, it's all too easy for small biz owners to get caught up in the "fame game" and equate followers with self-worth.  

As I always bang on about in any workshop or speech, social media is simply one of many  channels to connect with your audience. It is not the ONLY channel and should be balanced out with nurturing audiences into your owned space (email, website, in-store) as well as offline activity (such as events, panel discussions or meet & greets).

So, what do can we do to ensure we, as a small biz owners, strike a balance between cultivating a community on social media (which IS important for biz) and getting so caught up that we forget to nurture what exists offline?

1. Remember, it's not 100% real

I watched the film Brad's Status last night which highlights this first point brilliantly. It's so easy for us to get caught up the small percentage of life that people highlight on social media, rather than understanding the full picture. Few biz owners will regularly post the arguments they had with their significant other, the tears of stress they cried over a tech breakdown or a customer complaint, or the guilt they felt putting the iPad on for their kids so they could get that last email or landing page set up. Yes, we should congratulate and celebrate the wins we see from other biz owners on social, but we should also remember this isn't what life is like for them 24/7.

2. Schedule posts

So many people will disagree with this second point (I've lost track of the amount of social media experts claiming this is THE worst thing to do #ohwell), but I stand by it. Scheduling social media posts allows you to control the time you dedicate to this channel. It forces you to batch content which increases productivity as well as consistency in message. (Note, scheduling doesn't mean you can't go in and edit/tweak before posting, nor does it mean you fail to show up and engage with your peeps at the time of posting.)

3. Understand your triggers

I'm as a guilty as the next person of scrolling through social media instead of spending time with loved ones or getting stuck into that business book I've been meaning to read for the last month. My triggers are definitely boredom and bedtime. To help with these, I've started leaving my phone outside the bedroom and try not to touch it between 8pm and 7am. This isn't always possible, but the nights I achieve it, I feel SO much better as my head isn't being blasted with 10,000 messages right before hitting the pillow. I'm also trying to leave my phone outside my study, so on the days I'm putting off doing work (hello #ProcrastinationParty), I'm not tempted to pick it up and scroll mindlessly. I utilise my fitbit to see any calls that may come through.

4. Turn off notifications

Anyone who's ever dabbled in buyer behaviour understands the colour red is used for urgency (just think of any sales period in retail - it's red, red, red). Red is also used today for app alerts to signal anything from a new email through to a new update. I've turned off virtually all notifications on my phone, apart from text messages. Instead of allowing them to interrupt my day, I schedule time to check in on apps like LinkedIn or Facebook Messenger. Sure, I've missed some updates from friends, but none have been urgent.

5. Value your time

The last point is to just ask yourself, what is my time worth? Most of us feel like we don't have enough of it, yet we will happily give it away to mindless scrolling on social without question. One of the best ways to value your time is to set a weekly plan on a Sunday evening or Monday morning and stick to it. That means, if you have set out a 3-hour chunk on Tuesday to get XYZ done, then switch your phone to airplane mode or turn it off altogether. Need help? Download my free weekly planner to get started. If you do wish to jump on social, use a tool like Tomato Timer to contain the time spent scrolling.

Social media isn't evil. As I said above, it's done wonders for small business and has connected so many like-minded folk in ways no other medium could. It's still in its infancy and no doubt will continue to grow in line with humanity, rather than against it. It is a daily part of business and I've met some wonderful people by connecting via DMs and comments on IG.

That said, the best conversations and connections have been when I meet with these people face-to-face or jump on a phone / Skype call. I'm not saying remove social media altogether, but rather, be aware of the addictive nature of it and ensure it's not negatively impacting on you #IRL. We are human after all and no amount of technology will ever replace the connection felt in real-life conversations, laughter and love.

Ps. If you're working in the app / dev / tech space, you may be interested in reading more about the Centre for Humane Technology - a team of innovators ensuring we create devices and apps that work with, not against, human interests (thanks JR!).

Fiona Killackey