There’s nothing like going on a camping trip and being forced to be without internet for four straight days to make you take a good, hard look at yourself and your addiction to your smartphone.
Heck, before I dove into writing this article, can you guess what I was doing? Yup, scrolling mindlessly through my Twitter feed.
At first, while I was camping, I definitely felt anxious about not being able to check my emails or text messages. What’s going on in the outside world? What if my client emails me with an urgent question or request? What if one of the editors needs me? I literally have no reception.
But I also thought to myself … What about my Twitter followers? Or my LinkedIn audience? Will they think I suck at social media?
The other revealing thing about being in nature, surrounded by the trees and mountains and grizzly bears, was how freeing it felt to not even be able to go on my phone even if I wanted to. I had to accept the present moment for what it was: no technology, no social media, no news. Just whatever was happening in real time.
This space gave me time to think about what it means to have a social media presence as a professional writer and entrepreneur, and to be completely honest, it struck me that I truly don’t like social media. It’s just a thing I do, not necessarily by choice.
Social media sucks me in and doesn’t let me out. It leaves a sharp pain in my chest—or maybe that’s just the anxiety I feel from being overwhelmed by all the news and notifications all the time.
Perhaps you’re reading this and thinking, “Well, Julia, there’s a simple solution to that: Delete your social media accounts.”
Honestly, though, any professional writer or entrepreneur will tell you that they need to have a social media presence of some kind, and the same goes for me. Especially if the bulk of your career exists on the internet, you’ll need a place to create an engaged audience, and often you can find those audiences on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.
But when you’re feeling disgruntled about social media, like I’ve been feeling, it’s hard to feel inspired to post about anything at all, which then reduces your presence.
Once I returned from camping, I decided that I need to find a way to make social media less painful for my existence while still posting on a regular basis. You see, I not only have to maintain my own personal social media presence, but also the presence of other clients and companies.
After a few weeks of practicing this new relationship with social media, I believe there is a way to maintain your presence while not becoming overwhelmed by it all. If you’re struggling with managing your social media accounts while also holding onto some sanity, maybe these ideas will help you, too.
One reason why I probably won’t delete my social media accounts anytime soon is because of all the networking opportunities out there, along with the ease with which I can promote the awesome things I’m doing with my audience.
There are definitely plenty of ways that professional writers and entrepreneurs can use social media to promote their work; simply creating an Instagram account and sharing quotes of your own writing can be career-changing, since you’ll have a better chance at connecting with audiences.
For me, I can keep up with other writers and entrepreneurs in my industry; that’s a pretty important thing to do whether you’re running your own business or helping someone else run theirs.
There are plenty of professional groups you can join to get to know others in your industry, too, so that when you’re spending your set time on social media for the day, you’re focused on meaningful interactions with people you actually want to talk to.
However, as with any addiction, you can find yourself relapsing even by using social media for professional reasons. That’s why you’ll also need to look at the way you manage your social media presence and the boundaries you set for yourself.
When I first started trying to have a social media presence on Twitter, I thought that meant I needed to be on Twitter all the time. Retweeting things, liking things, replying to people … that’s all quite time consuming, since people tweet things constantly.
Most of my time “having a presence” was spent scrolling through tweet after tweet, looking for something I cared about retweeting. I wanted to make sure I was tweeting about twice a day (whether it was a retweet or an original tweet), and that often meant spending about 30 minutes a day searching for what I wanted to share.
I’m sure other people have a better strategy for this, but it was truly a wake-up call to figure out how much time I was not spending on work because work mattered less than finding a simple tweet. I’m sure others who use Twitter on a regular basis end up doing the same thing.
You’re probably still wondering, “How are these strict boundaries going to help me have a social media presence?”
The answer is, once you become more mindful of how much you’re using social media, you can use that time you are spending in a thoughtful and strategic way. So you’ll essentially have a presence, but it’ll just be a little more pre-planned.
Maybe you used to post whenever you felt like it (or post something after 30 minutes of scrolling and “liking” things). Instead, you can use tools such as MeetEdgar or Hootsuite to post items for you. It does take some planning ahead, but one hour of planning tweets for the week will save you many hours throughout the week.
The difference between scrolling for 30 minutes and planning for an hour is that instead of spontaneously searching for articles to retweet, you can spend an hour of focused time finding articles that actually interest you and creating tweets around those articles. Using tools like Pocket can help you collect those articles all in one spot, so even when you do find times where you’re “mindlessly” scrolling, you can “pocket” the articles you come across on Twitter and retweet them during your tweet planning time.
Once you’ve planned out the tweets you’d like to send for the week, for example, you can load them into your automation tool of choice and create a strategy. Do you want to tweet twice per day? Once per day? Schedule them so they’re a bit spread out if it’s more than once per day. (And for you data nuts out there, there’s been several studies done that can help you create more of a strategy with what times you tweet.)
It doesn’t just stop with automating, though. While automating can save you a lot of time by preventing some of that endless scrolling we’re all prone to do, you’ll also need to set aside some time to engage with the people who respond to your tweets.
Remember how you scheduled times for those tweets to go out? Schedule that time in your calendar, maybe 10 minutes after the tweet goes out, so you know when to hop on Twitter and check in with how your tweet is doing.
Use that time to also check in on your notifications. Did anyone tag you or your company in a tweet recently? Make sure to engage with those so they don’t drift to the wayside.
While social media might be the bane of your existence, creating a strategy and a schedule for yourself can ensure that it feels more like a work task related to your business, rather than an afterthought.
It’s amazing what happens when you set your phone down and don’t touch it for a few hours. It’s almost like you start finding new hobbies, or the old hobbies you lost when your time was spent scrolling through Instagram.
For a lot of people, the idea of setting their phone down can cause massive anxiety. Notifications have developed a Pavlovian effect on us—a ping goes off, and we must respond to it immediately. Because we can’t control when the notification shows up on our phone, the only thing we can control is how we respond.
But do we actually have control? I don’t think so. This isn’t really the healthiest way to behave—feeling like you need to be at the whim of whoever is pinging you makes it hard to relax or focus on your work.
Which is why I removed all notifications from my phone, except for phone calls and text messages.
Giving myself the control again for when I choose to interact with my social media accounts has helped immensely with reducing anxiety and the pressure to be posting and present all the time. I feel that I’ve become more focused on my work, and when I’m finished with work for the day, I’m finished. (Unless I choose to check on things, that is …)
I’ve even gotten to the point where I don’t feel the need to click on my social media accounts 20 times a day just to check and see if I have any notifications, and then get sucked into the mindless scroll. Now, it’s maybe twice or three times a day, and it’s only for a few minutes at a time.
Creating boundaries like this can be hard, and trust me, it has been really hard. The game changer was when I deleted my Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone—that really limited the notifications I was receiving.
I’ve also created categories on my phone for the different apps I use so I’m more aware of when I’m clicking on something from my “Work Stuff” section.
If you struggle to put these boundaries on yourself, there’s plenty of apps you can use to help you limit your phone usage.
Compartmentalizing my phone usage, and as a result my social media usage, has made me see exactly how much time I was spending on my phone. And it made me feel sick to finally understand how much time I was wasting (when I thought I wasn’t).
Creating set boundaries has also contributed to my becoming smarter with how exactly I am using social media in ways that benefit me.
I recognize that much of this article is pointing out some of the negatives or not-as-fun sides of social media. But there is still some good fun left; even I can see that, now that I’ve had some space from it all.
Remember when you first created a Twitter account for your brand? And once you started following people, posted a few funny original tweets, or retweeted great reads, you gained a little following of your own?
It was fun to see those numbers grow and meet new people, wasn’t it?
I’m a big believer in the idea that our mindset can shape a lot of the ways that we see our reality. If I’m going around thinking about how much I hate social media now, I’m purposefully blinding myself to remembering the fun that I used to have posting on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, or engaging with other writers who I admire.
To help others get a sense of who I am in real life, I like sharing smart-funny things on Twitter, pieces that make people laugh but also pause and think (McSweeney’s articles are a great example). Once I reminded myself that these are the things I love to share, I made time in my day to find something along those lines to share.
Maybe you used to love creating Instagram posts on your personal Instagram account that featured your workspace; for example, if you often work in cafes, it can be fun to craft a nice, artsy shot of your laptop and coffee mug. These types of posts help your audience get to know the “real you” behind your brand image and give people a sneak peek into your day-to-day life. Plus, it’s a great excuse to buy an aesthetically pleasing (and delicious) coffee drink.
If you’re now just posting Instagram posts that mean nothing to you, return to posting the things that made you excited to see comments and likes.
And if it’s the frustration that there just isn’t enough time in the day for social media, maybe you’ll find the fun in it again by bringing on someone to your team to help you manage your social media presence. There’s plenty of talented individuals out there who love social media and might bring a new spark to your marketing campaign.
There are some downsides to my negativity toward social media, one of them being that I miss out on a lot of fun things my friends are sharing.
But so long as I am using Facebook for professional purposes, along with other forms of social media, I need to learn to have a bit more of a healthy relationship with it. That way, I’m not missing out on important things in the news, but I’m also not dependent on refreshing my feeds every 10 minutes just to feed my addiction.
While I’m an extrovert in real life, I’m becoming OK with accepting that I’m more of an introvert on social media. I’m a bit shy and it’s exhausting to have to be “on” with a presence at all times of the day. It’s something I need to do for my career, though, so I’m going to make the best of it.
Using tools to automate my posts, creating boundaries on my time, and finding the fun again in social media has helped me immensely with coming to terms with the reality of social media: It’s not going anywhere, so I need to learn how to use it in a way that fits my personality.
Julia Hess graduated from California State University, Fullerton with a Master of Arts degree in English. She has worked as a college writing tutor and instructor, a contractor at a major tech company, and a freelance editor and writer. An avid podcast listener, Julia provides editorial feedback, consultation, and detailed show notes for CYC’s podcast, Writers Rough Drafts.