JUST WHEN I was gearing up to bolster my presence on the social media front lines and promote my work as a freelance writer, a squadron of giggling lemmings knocked me down and rolled me off a cliff.
For a good couple of years now, I’ve tried to be buddies with Twitter and Facebook. And eventually, I also buddied up with Pinterest and Instagram and made eyes at Google+, LinkedIn and Tumblr. I even went so far as to purchase an iPhone last summer to beef up my ease of access to my various accounts. That was me doing my best impression of a lemming. I was very Pollyanna about my indoctrination into smartphone culture and, in less than an hour, became a social media trollop like everyone else.
But it didn’t last long. In fact, it only took just over a week for that scarlet letter to burn into my forehead and the guilt to set in. We’re rural, so the dropped calls were a hassle. But what really got me was how much I looked like everyone else with their faces glued to a glowing screen, even in the produce aisle at the grocery store. Just like that, I was one of them.
When I turned that stupid thing off for the last time and shipped it back to Apple, I posted a writeup on Facebook to commemorate my smartphone liberation, and concluded, “Now I can be me again and live free of the burden of something I never really wanted but felt I was supposed to have.”
Now I’m seeking an even deeper sense of freedom. One particularly gloomy, rainy morning in early December, instead of opening my laptop before getting out of bed and scanning my accounts for likes, favorites, shares, retweets, new followers, unfollowers, new subscribers and page visits, I had a conversation with myself, and it went something like this:
But who cares about numbers when no one is engaging with my content. And all that brain-sucking effort was tedious and very distracting. Instead of working on the book I’ve been wanting to write for a ridiculously long time, there I was tweeting about wanting to write that book. And I spent more time posting new content on Facebook than I did on my freshly launched website. Hence, the long delays in putting up new essays.
So I stopped everything and retreated (I almost wrote that as retweeted) into some quiet headspace while I contemplated why I felt I had to participate in something that left me feeling totally soul-depleted and empty.
I did have my share of memorable moments on social media. One I won’t forget is when I had the pleasure of crossing paths with Simon McLaren, an artist and illustrator in England. A few years ago I tweeted that I’m quite fond of woolly mammoths and was delighted when Simon drew a picture of me and my Pleistocene friend. It arrived in the mail during a particularly difficult time in my life and now hangs on the wall near my desk.
Simon has had his own struggles with sustaining an online presence and recently told me, “Social media is a strange burden.” Yes, it really is. I don’t post new content for the sake of my own enjoyment. As a writer, I create new work to be read and enjoyed by other people. There were days when I managed to convince myself that I found great personal value in cozying up to social media, that I didn’t require the validation of someone clicking the like button in response to something I had written. But I wasn’t being honest with myself.
The truth is, it’s very disheartening when I share something on Facebook or Twitter and in a few quick seconds find it buried under tons of other people’s content, virtually unseen. When Anne Lamott posts something on Facebook, thousands of people stop what they’re doing to read what she wrote. They go into a sharing and like-button frenzy and post tons of comments. It must be incredibly validating and encouraging to have that kind of engagement with your fans every time you share something new.
But we’re talking Anne Lamott, a New York Times bestselling author who earned her fan base by writing and publishing books long before Facebook launched in 2004 and the term social media entered our everyday vernacular. When her book Traveling Mercies came out in 1999, my bookstore colleagues were really jazzed, and so I bought a copy and devoured it in a weekend and joined the ranks of Anne’s word-of-mouth promotions team. I talked up that book to anyone who would listen and probably would have jumped at the opportunity of promoting her book on social media, had it existed back then.
These days, word of mouth and social media go hand in hand; it’s just how this is done anymore. If you see something you like, you post a quick writeup on Facebook or one of your other accounts and presumably everyone who follows you sees what you shared — except maybe they don’t. And this is where I could insert a sub-essay on the miserly underworld of Facebook pages, the drastic decline in organic reach, and a whole slew of other muck you’re required to step in and rub all over yourself if you intend to make your time on Facebook productive.
I’m sure Sandi Krakowski would tell me I should join her popular Inner Circle Coaching Program to learn how to successfully market myself on social media. She is, after all, largely touted as a Facebook marketing guru. But there was more to my growing social media malaise than numbers envy and a wobbly understanding of how to grow a fan base and encourage content engagement. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Social media is tedious and distracting. Maybe not for Sandi or for you, but for me, my participation in these online social venues began to feel otherworldly and very unsatisfying.
The daily drudgery of social media and everything it entails isn’t how I want to interact with people. Sometimes I post comments on blogs and news sites, but that’s it for me anymore.
With almost 7,000 tweets to my name since I first opened my account in 2012, and an average of 24 words per tweet, I’ve tweeted the equivalent of two 84,000-word novels. During this same time period, my mother Carole Price published two mystery novels with an average word count of 84,378 words per book.
Gulp. The tail between my legs is chaffing my sphincter zone.
Fresh on the heels of a rather salty exchange on Twitter with folks who were so stubbornly determined to misunderstand and undermine what I was attempting to communicate, my decision was made: I pulled the plug on 100% of my social media accounts, every last one. I just couldn’t justify all that wasted time anymore. YouTube or Vimeo is a possibility I may consider as a venue for sharing some piano content, but aside from that I’m one fried fritter when it comes to social media.
But I didn’t walk off into the merry sunset without posting some blabbery on the matter, and I’m sharing it with you here. In the coming months, I may get the itch to post different groupings of tweets from my Twitter archives, and I’m going to organize the entire collection into a book. It’s already been written, so I figured why not add some structure, delete the gunk, stick it between two covers, and give it to my mom someday?
Anyway, read, weep and retweet. I know, I know. There’s a word for that but I’m drawing a blank.