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I have a confession to make: I am a very sporadic user of social media.
I was late to the game in the first place, reluctantly jumping on board Facebook after resisting years of friends’ exhortations, because I just couldn’t get my mind around the concept of broadly announcing the minutiae of my life on a mass forum. If I have things I’d like to share with people, I told my friends, I will do that directly, and I don’t need to broadcast the details of my life to other folks.
Yes, I’m aware that this makes me sound like a dinosaur and possibly a bit of a curmudgeon. I have confessed in these posts before to being a very reluctant user of most technology, generally forced to adapt to a rapidly evolving world by my tech-savvy early-adopter husband, who has in no small part kept my business relevant through his efforts.
I know there are upsides to being able to share in the lives of people you might not otherwise find the time to reach out to directly, and I see that there can be value to these platforms, and often I genuinely enjoy them.
But I also see the downsides, not least of which is the amount of time and energy they can chew up not just in mindless scrolling, but in how much effort it requires to “do” social media according to its experts and “best practices” as a seemingly essential tool toward building your author career.
It’s a mixed bag professionally as much as it is personally—I relish connecting directly with fellow authors, editors, agents, and other people who are passionate about the field I’m also passionate about, but social media can sometimes feel like one more obligation on my to-do list that is almost always brimming.
My solution is not so much chosen as defaulted to: I am not on every social media outlet and don’t try to be. Sometimes I post regularly, genuinely happy to engage on social media. Other times I will go days and sometimes even weeks without posting at all, without even opening up social media and looking at others’ feeds.
I’ve paid attention to expert advice enough to know that my erratic social media behavior works some sort of dark magic on these sites to ensure that I am constantly having an uphill battle with my posts to reach people, thanks to the mysterious and terrible algorithms I do not pretend to understand.
Read more: “Are You Creating Your Writing Career or Someone Else’s?”
But it’s not so much a deliberate choice I’m making, or a statement, or any kind of digital detox I’m consciously trying to instill in myself. My social media erraticism is just a natural outgrowth of trying to focus on my priorities, needs, and desires in the overarching context of my career and my life.
How Are You Using Social Media?
As an author—as any kind of professional in an industry that relies so heavily on awareness, outreach, and engagement—social media can be a valuable tool to help you find and engage the readers who will help you build your career.
But doing it halfheartedly, by rote, or with a hard-sell approach won’t net you those results any more than not using it at all. Numbers of followers don’t matter if they aren’t genuinely engaged with you and/or your work, as marketing expert Dan Blank shared in a recent post.
Dan is one of my favorite marketing experts because of his “human-centered” approach—one that eschews “best practices” in favor of finding an organic approach that feels right for each author, and for practical tips on how to do that I highly recommend his blog, podcast, book Be the Gateway, and We Grow Media company. (I have no affiliate relationship with Dan or anyone.)
I’m not a marketing or social media expert, but like most of you, I do have to navigate it as part of my business, and in this post I want to talk about how to determine how much social media might work for you and my career, without tipping over into where it’s negatively affecting your creative time, attention, or well-being.
That balance may fluctuate based on what you’re working on, your state of mind, and what else is going on in your life at any given time.
I use three questions to help me find the answer and guide my social media behavior:
What Is the Cost-Benefit of Using Social Media Right Now?
My approach to marketing has always been an organic, grassroots one: I rarely take out ads; I refuse to subscribe to the hard-sell “sales funnel” approach to marketing my business; and I don’t follow trends as far as what seems to be working to draw eyeballs, like those trendy daily short videos with captions that seem to be all the rage right now.
Don’t get me wrong: I actually love content like that. I find myself coming back to some of the same people over and over whose daily short tips and presentations I really enjoy. I see that it would very likely benefit me and my business to do something similar.
But I also weigh creating my own against what it will cost me—in energy, creativity, and time.
These slick, appealing videos, for instance, may take only 15 minutes or so a day once you get the hang of them, as Dan Blank said in a recent post regarding his, but I am already scrambling to find time for all the creative and professional pursuits that are important to me at the moment.
Right now I already feel like I am digging deep into my creative well nearly every day on existing goals and commitments, and it’s hard to imagine finding more reserves for a whole other prong that taps into my creative energy.
My laissez-faire approach to marketing isn’t necessarily the right way, or for everyone. There’s every chance I am kneecapping myself, marketing-wise, and limiting my reach to a more modest pool.
But generally I decide to be okay with that. I weigh the cost benefit of adding slick social-media posts, or another social media outlet, or more frequent posts, to my to-do list, and when I find that it simply doesn’t feel worth it to me, I just don’t do it.
That’s not to say that I might not decide differently at a different time. Our creative bandwidth, desires, and urges can change, and smart creatives frequently revisit their goals and practices and evolve.
Two additional questions help me determine those goals:
What Is Enough?
This is a concept I’ve been working with for quite a while in my mind, in many walks of life, both personally and professionally. What is enough: enough success, enough work, enough money, enough renown?
Right now I am fortunate enough to be enjoying a very busy time in my work. I’m fully booked with editing projects, and I have a fairly packed schedule of speaking and presenting engagements, in addition to writing assignments and of course my own self-generated work, like these weekly blog posts, including my How Writers Revise feature, which takes a fair amount of time and energy, and the follow-up books to Intuitive Editing that I am working on. My schedule is full and I am making a comfortable living.
What more do I want?
A broader platform and more reach comes with more potential demands on my time and energy, and I try to weigh what that might offer me at the moment versus what it might cost me.
I already work a lot. I don’t really have the bandwidth to add much to my slate, and while I’m a big fan of money, as are many of us, how much do I actually need? Its value lies in what it buys me, and right now my most precious commodity is time, the exact thing it generally costs to make more money or have more “success.”
Read more: “When Will You Be a Success?”
But that calculus is different for every creative, at every stage of their career. There are times of expansion and change in my career when I periodically reevaluate this balance.
Asking yourself one last question can help you figure out what matters most to you right now.
What Is the Big Picture?
Maybe it’s a function of getting a little older, but I find I frame much more through the lens of, What will matter to me, looking back at the end of my life, about how I lived it?
Over and over the answer for me comes back to the people I have shared my life with, and the meaning I have found. For me, it doesn’t feel like I can adequately develop the kind of deep, rewarding relationships that are important to me via the mass scale of social media. And the deepest meaning I find in work is doing the actual work itself, rather than publishing it, and engaging one-on-one and in direct contact with authors.
At the core, I think that’s why I let social media languish when I don’t feel like dedicating time and energy to posting or scrolling and commenting. And why I mostly don’t worry too much about it.
Read more: “Life Lessons from William Shatner”
Posting and commenting can feel like a nonnegotiable obligation when you have so many experts and industry pros inundating you with advice about the necessity of regular social media habits, and dire consequences for failing to adhere to them.
But consider that maybe the only opinion about how you spend your time that matters is your own, and that your goals may be broader and deeper than simply gaining followers or audience or even building a successful career.
Those things matter—don’t get me wrong. But what matters most to you? When you are lying on that clichéd deathbed thinking about how you lived your life, will you count its value to you in followers and “reach,” or will it be in the people standing there with you, and those who shared the journey—and the journey itself?
The truth is that there’s no “right” way to use social media—just as there’s no one “right” way to write. To me, the best way to use it—as with all tech tools—is any way that feels healthy and rewarding to you.
Read more: “Prioritizing Your Life”
I’m thinking aloud here, authors, and I welcome your thoughts and input as I mull over all these ideas. How do you use social media, and why? Does it feel like an obligation, or is it something you genuinely enjoy, and if so in what ways? What works for you as far as balancing career and personal life? How do you prioritize where you put your time and energy professionally and personally?
If you’d like to receive my blog in your in-box each week, click here.