How much time do you spend on social media? How often a day (or an hour) do you stop and sneak a peek at Twitter or Facebook to see what new stuff might be there? How often do you let your social media interrupt you for a quick look?
No, I don’t need to hear the answer to that question. I’m uncomfortable enough trying to be honest with myself about the question. I don’t care what your answer is, anyway. But you should.
One of the changes I decided I wanted to make was to rethink what I did on social media and how much time I spent interacting with it. That decision was based on a few factors, but the biggest ones were that work continues to be really busy and I need to focus on it, and I’ve been frankly struggling with finding the right balance between work focus and social media. The way I had my social media usage structured involved a shallow dipping in and out along the day, and I’m finding that doesn’t work well now. It’s too interruptive, so I have to change some things up.
I’ve also been going through a research and explore phase, looking for new voices, studying new photographers, digging into some new topics, especially some of the drought and environmental issues I find myself wanting to understand better because of the way it impacts the refuges I’ve gotten so involved in photographing. When I’m in that mode, I tend to be adding a lot of people to my social media roles to find the voices I can learn from and enjoy interacting with, or new photographers to study and watch, that sort of thing.
Now I’m shifting back to efficiency mode. My goal was to cut 30-45 minutes a day out of my social media interactions, but more importantly, set it up so that those times can be fewer and longer rather than this stone-skipping-the-firehose style I’d been using. The reality is, it was impossible to track everyone I’d followed in the new model. I was spending all of my time jumping around looking to see what I’d missed.
That’s a bad thing.
So, time for the social media celebrity diet. But first, a question needs to be answered: Why am I on (name social media service)?
For twitter, the answer is that I use it to track some things that happen in real time (news, replacing my newspaper or TV news — especially local); it allows me to interact with interesting people I’ve gotten to know; it lets me follow people I view as thought leaders on specific topics of key interest to me right now; and finally, it lets me more casually follow some people/sites that are very good at first level filtering of the rest of the firehose and surfacing stuff I don’t have time to go searching for myself but I generally find interesting.
I’ve become very disheartened by the “like/follow/plus” faux-interaction models prevalent on these social sites. Somehow we’ve been convinced that lots of followers assigns validity and importance to what we say, or something. But people chase followers like there’s some prize for the biggest, heaviest charm bracelet. Did you know you can buy fake followers for $5 for 10,000? Seriously, it’s easy to find sites that’ll sell them to you. That gives you a basic value for a follower — effectively zero. So why this fascination with big follower numbers?
I’ve also really gotten tired of the like/plus1 thing. it’s like organizing a big party and watching everyone who shows up spending the entire evening running from person to person to say hello, and never actually stop and talk to anyone. It lets you think you’re accomplishing something, maybe, but what exactly is it you’re accomplishing? Some trivialized feeding to data to the Twitter or Facebook or Google algorithm about some superficial definition of “good”. Even at that, whatever signal you’re contributing to that data feed is probably overrun by the noise of the various bots out there who are attempting to game the algorithms for their masters.
What none of this really is is that it’s not really social. It’s not interacting. It’s not conversation. It’s people wandering around and saluting anyone they see that’s passing by going in the other direction. “Evening, Guv’ner!” “Be Seeing you…”
That sort of casual, shallow kind of interaction may suit the algorithms of the owners of these sites, but I believe it’s destructive to the goal of actually talking to the people around me, in part because without really realizing it, it can end up wasting a lot of time. I also think it encourages that shallow, constant, interruptive style of using social media that makes it hard to focus on other things well.
If I needed to take time out of my social media “time budget”, it was a logical place to do so. I decided to strip my following feed down to the essentials — key information resources, key thought leader types in topics I’m tracking closely (like the drought here in California) and a few news feeds. And the people I’ve built some relationship with and talk to on twitter.
I ended up stripping out about 60% of the accounts I was following. About 10% of that was accounts that hadn’t posted a tweet in > 90 days and were abandoned. About 10% were bots of various sorts (sorry, Karl). The rest were real people — and the hardest to let go were the ones I know, but which I long ago stopped actually conversing with; my life is littered with “we should do lunch” a lot more than it’s littered with lunches and coffee, and while I’ve tried to change that, the reality is there’s still only 24 hours in a day, no matter how hard I squeeze the calendar. Sometimes refusing to admit that makes it worse, too.
So yeah, I’ve dropped a lot of people I know in some way or another and like, but sometimes life requires sad choices. On the flip side, I now have a twitter feed that I can pull up a couple of times a day instead of a couple of times an hour, and actually see what’s going on instead of madly skimming past it hoping not to miss something important. And that’s what I need at this point. One problem I think we have on twitter is this feeling we’re missing things, so we try to grab too much of the firehose and process it through — and the end result is that we miss stuff because we’re trying too hard. I’m trying here to narrow my focus and use that slimmer feed well, instead of trying to skim a huge feed and hope I actually saw what was being said and understand the context. I got tired of constantly feeling like I was struggling to keep up — and the only solution to that is to follow less.
I’ve done something similar over on Google+, only over there, I did some major bariatric surgery and cut about 80% of the accounts I was following. A sample of those accounts showed a fairly large percentage of them (20% ish, I’d say) and been abandoned. A lot of that was me following others to watch and study their photography because I was trying to understand some things to improve my own work; now, it’s time to stop and and put the time and energy into my own work directly.
I had one person email me to ask me about being unfollowed. What I told them was simple and pretty much what’s above: it’s nothing they did , but with this much time, I can only manage so much traffic on twitter, and I cut until I hit that point. I’m sure they weren’t thrilled with that answer, but it’s that trade off we all have to make at times (how often do you still interact with those people you swore you’d keep having lunch with from the company two jobs ago?)
I will make one unsolicited suggestion: if you’re using a service that tracks who follows or unfollows you on twitter, and if having someone unfollow you on twitter bothers you, you’re doing it wrong and you’re watching the wrong things. You should be putting energy into interacting with people and putting yourself and your content out there, not how lists of random names are changing over time. It’s another form of charm bracelet collecting and I think it’s a destructive one. So stop it and talk to folks instead.
I’m not saying don’t follow your numbers — a growing follower list is an indication you’re doing things that interest people and a shrinking one indicates you’re pissing them off — but I think it’s a bad idea to follow the metrics too closely or try to dig too deeply into the details. People follow you for a lot of reasons, and people unfollow you for just as many. I’d say half the people following me any given week are spammers or marketers in some form who aren’t really following me, just trying to convince me to pay attention to them — so once you dig into those kind of details, it’s pretty easy to just back off and not think about it too hard.
Another thing I recommend you stop doing is using a list to read twitter. Lists are fine to track specific subsets you want to watch at times, but if you’re following too many people to follow them on the main feed, you’re doing it wrong. Worse, you’re not fooling anyone. Believe it or not, we can tell how many people you’re following, and if that number is more than a few hundred, either you’re Robert Scoble or you’re acting spammy. Cut your following list down to those you’re really following and stop pretending. To be blunt, the larger the number of people you’re pretending to follow, the more likely I’ll drop you from my lists as someone who either is clueless about what social media is supposed to be about, or someone who’s following people because they’re trying to get people to pay attention to them. The larger the following number, the less likely you’re going to be interesting to me, because the more fake the account looks.
And if you do think about it, realize this: if someone you know does unfollow you and you notice or have a report that tells you, chances are if you did something to cause it, you’ll probably know why. and if you don’t know why — the reason probably had nothing to do with you. So why stress out about it? My suggestion: don’t.
Ultimately, I’m finding that the changes I made to my social media activity have cut about 40 minutes a day from the social sites. More importantly, I’m comfortable only viewing a few times a day, so if I’m trying to focus on something, don’t get that nagging thought that I’m missing something. The speed of the feed is something I can manage, so I don’t have that background stress of feeling a need to keep an eye on it.
Which, among other things, means I’m getting more writing done in the evenings, because I’m not trying to catch up on stuff I didn’t have time for during the day…
Want to figure out how to avoid Social Media bankruptcy? Want to find more time for other things? Try my Celebrity Social Media Diet. it’s really simple:
- Figure out how much time you can budget to social media per day.
- Start stripping out the less interesting pieces of your social media until the time you spend is within that budget.
- Realize how much time you were really spending on social media that you didn’t really realize you were: and how much of that time had little or no real value to you.
- Then go do something more interesting with the time you pulled back into your life.
The social sites are things where your commitment and time involvement grows slowly as you go along. Every so often you need to take a step back, take a close look at where you’re putting your time and how much value you’re getting out of it, and do a re-evaluation and strip out that stuff that’s taking up time but not returning anything really useful. Even if you only pull back 15 minutes a day, that’s still 15 minutes you were wasting without really noticing. In many ways, the social sites are like the fast food of the online universe: you can eat fairly healthy at a fast food joint, but you have to think about it and do some planning.
if you don’t, you may end up like so many others doing the bulimic binge and purge cycle of loading up your feeds and fixing it by declaring bankruptcy. going from one extreme to another isn’t the right strategy and will pretty much guarantee you never really enjoy what you can get out of these sites. Stopping and taking some time to realign your usage of them to your needs and priorities and free time, however, can let you course correct without ever hitting that point where you feel no choice but amputation…