The latest hot trend in social media: leaving it

The latest hot trend in social media: leaving it


How many social media channels do you actively participate in?

If you’re one of the millions who have caught the social media wave in the past few years, there is a decent chance that you or someone you know felt pressured to climb aboard for fear of being left behind or mocked by the cool kids as being out of touch.

It’s a reasonable concern, especially for business people who have enough on their plate without feeling compelled to microupdate and engage at all hours of the day and night with whomever is up for a chinwag on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Skype, blog comments, instant message, email and so on.

The truth is, depending on how efficiently you manage your time and how much of it others demand of you, the number of online platforms in which you can actively participate is quite limited. “Actively participate” does not mean merely broadcasting your blog’s RSS feed. It means taking the time to make connections, to discuss ideas, to help others – to share the love.

It is perhaps inevitable then that the rise of social media has been accompanied by a counter-trend towards users abandoning it. Last year, when Twitter was the hot breakout platform, research revealed that 60% of Twitter users quit within the first month. Of course, that group was dominated by tyre-kickers, but it serves to demonstrate that people will only commit time to activities they think will return them a net benefit over time.

In October last year, Miley Cyrus used one popular social media platform (YouTube) to announce her decision to quit another social media platform (Twitter) by posting a video of her rapping about the reasons, which included how Twitter had reduced her to talking about her pimples. A good enough reason, I think we all agree. In fact, with notable exceptions, entertainment celebrities have proved particularly fickle when it comes to Twitter (see this list of celebrity departures).

The new heresy

Then again, Seth Godin doesn’t tweet. The Twitter account for one of the world’s most influential marketing brains looks like this:

A maven marketer not on Twitter? Scandalous!

Here’s Godin explaining to LeWeb and Seesmic founder Loic Le Meur why he doesn’t use Twitter or Facebook.

Godin identifies the same time/focus equation as the reason why he doesn’t allow comments on his blog – a heretical decision in the eyes of many digital media commentators. But for Godin, it’s about being the best he can be at what he does best rather than trying to be everything to everyone, everywhere.

Sharing this sentiment, popular US cartoonist Hugh MacLeod recently tweeted his decision to deactivate comments on his blog,, and up stumps on Facebook. He believed these channels were distracting him from doing what he does best, which happens to put food on his table.

Blogging is holding me back…

It’s one thing to remove the ability for readers to leave comments on your blog. It’s quite another to do away with your blog entirely. New York-based software entrepreneur Joel Spolsky recently wrote his final article for Inc. in which he revealed his decision to close his popular blog, Joel on Software, which he built up as a way to market his company, Fog Creek Software.

“A decade ago, I started Joel on Software, a blog that put my company on the map. But as the business matures, I’ve come to realise that blogging is holding me back,” Spolsky wrote.

He went on to explain that the blog had already done everything it could for his business and, in order to take Fog Creek Software forward, he needed to dedicate the time and focus he had hitherto devoted to blogging to the evolution of his business and more personal connections.

Many of these prominent entrepreneurs who have chosen to opt out of elements of social media subscribe to Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans philosophy.

Kelly contends that in a Long Tail economy where everyone can create and attention is the real currency, a creator “needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living”. The idea is that you are better off focusing your energies on creating something remarkable that will appeal to a hard core of 1,000 true fans who will do almost anything for you and buy everything from you (think Apple fanboys).

Achieving this – achieving success – requires great discipline and focus. It also requires that you prioritise what is important at any given time and, crucially, know what is less important and therefore a distraction. Bill Cosby once said, “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

Delete, delete, delete

Chris Brogan, author of the bestselling book Trust Agents, makes adept use of social media, especially through Twitter and his blog. Yet, as he wrote in a post earlier this year, he’s thinking of deleting his LinkedIn account because he’s not getting any value from LinkedIn – because he doesn’t put enough time and effort into nurturing his network there.

He went on:

When I look at it, I’ve got too many points of contact:

  • Google Voice / Phone
  • Email (primary)
  • Email (for New Marketing Labs )
  • Email (a private account)
  • Contact Form
  • Blog comments
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Wave
  • My Blog
  • Tons of other social networks
  • In person at events

Here’s the rough order of which ones are making my life better:

  • Twitter – serendipity, friendship, some business
  • Contact form – lots of business
  • Google Wave – where I’m planning my future
  • Blog comments – lots more interaction than email
  • Email – once I sort it, some business, and relationship-building
  • Facebook – a little bit. I like feeling personal there.

So what do I do? Connecting is part of my job. It’s how business happens. It’s how I stay connected and accessible. And yet, I think I’m too connected. That’s a lot of points of contact. Think about manning all those phones, so to speak. Think about managing all those interactions in all those various formats across all those various tools.

What are you sacrificing?

Social media is great, but your first responsibility is to be great at what you do. In the race to connect online – to attract more followers and friends than the next person, to share with the world everything you’re thinking and doing – you’re adding to the noise. And this might very well be adding value for your respective networks.

But in doing so, what are you sacrificing?

Social networks (virtual and physical) are powerful platforms for tapping the wisdom and greatness of others and sharing your own, but greatness requires focus, and focus means dedicating sufficient time to working on what you’re good at in order to be great.

You might have one million online “friends”, but do you have 1,000 true fans? If not, it’s worth considering what you might need to give up in order to get them.

Paul Ryan is Editor of Anthill Magazine. Follow him on Twitter (if that’s your thing): @pauldryan

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  • leelacosgrove

    Agreed Paul. Even I have been culling my friends list on FB recently (I've gotten rid of 600 people to date) – because I see it as an incredible tool, but with the spammers and stuff it just gets too noisy.

    So I'm getting rid of people who:

    * Spam
    * Are involved in some form of network marketing
    * Are inactive

    So that I can focus on REALLY adding value to people …

    Out of my now 900 friends and 450 fans … I'd say REAL relationships currently exist with around 150-200 of these people … so it's a valuable exercise. I'm just getting a bit more picky about who I accept as friends …

    • Lesley-Ann Trow

      Indeed, great post by Paul.

      Leela, perhaps it could be seen testament to theory of Dunbar's Number as you say you actually have REAL relationships with 150-200 of the people who are either fan or 'friend'.

      My favourite illustration of Dunbar's Number in action was publshed on a few years ago – The Monkeysphere

      Especially enjoy the bit that says…y'know that really annoying dude in your group of 150…well…for someone…YOU'RE that dude. Love it!

      • leelacosgrove

        Hmmm … I wonder if the whole Dunbar thing needs to be reimagined in light of social networking? Because it's a lot easier now to keep up with people and to perform acts of social grooming in a single forum with relatively little effort …

        Of course … when I say real relationships … I also don't mean, we're best friends and go hanging out drinking together. These are business relationships … although because of the amount of time I spend on Facebook, I'm kind of ashamed to admit that there are acquaintances whose lives I am more intimately acquainted with at the moment than members of my immediate family … ooops…

        • Lesley-Ann Trow

          I'll preface this by saying, yep, I know it's very early on in the history of online social networks, but…

          I'm thinking what's required is clarity in the definition of what can be expected from REAL friends (maybe 150, maybe more now with our easier, faster means of communications)…what can be expected from 'fans' or facebook type business 'friends' (1000 sounds like a good number based on what I've read – but I wouldn't call my reading exhaustive). Defining the levels a bit more to help us all decide how much time and effort to put in to move from level to level. I know it sounds it bit mercenary and cold but I think it would give small business owners and even larger corporations a better idea of what's going to be involved if they choose the twitter/linkedin/facebook etc route.

          I think it's an interesting question for anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists to ask (and I'm sure they are) as well as listening to what the online gurus are saying. Can't believe I'm saying this, because I'm not known for being rational, but I'd like to see some more science being shared around to support the philosophies and theories.

          Have you seen much on this stuff come through from Universities?

          • leelacosgrove

            Not much – but you've inspired me … I'm going to research this and I'll write an article for my Anthill Blog about it in the next week or two! 🙂

          • Lesley-Ann Trow

            Awesome! Thanks! Look forward to reading it 🙂

          • Paul Ryan

            Dunbar – nice. I heard Jane Goodall talk on this a couple of years back I look forward to reading your post on it, Leela.

  • chieftech

    Nice post. I'm not convinced by Seth's arguments and as far as I can tell, Hugh MacLeod is still accepting comments on his blog. That aside, I agree that on a personal level it is probably better to aim for quality over quantity – but if you are looking at this from a professional or a maybe a small business marketing perspective, hasn't this always been the first rule of effective networking?

  • Simon T Small

    Great post, totally agree, hence, trying to cull and organise my twitter following a little.

  • tdcl

    I can put my hand on my heart and say I am 36 (nearly 37, my god!) very technological savvy and not so conservative as to make Mrs Thatcher seem like a left wing lunatic, nor am I a tyre kicker – most of the time. However, I have never used Twitter (logged in, looked at it, even gone to the page). The same can be said for FaceBook, Myspace, and whatever other Mickey Mouse bits 'n' pieces now pass for apparent 'social networking'. I have used YouTube a few times as I wanted to find some very old video clips from the 80's – sad, yes!

    I even had a LinkedIn account many dawns ago, yet after finding the whole process pointless and being bombard with requests to link in with people I don’t know, didn’t want to know, never wanted to know again, it just reinforced my view of what I thought about it all – way to many people have way to much time on their hands.

    I think, and while this article is primarily about business use, the other reason, and I think possibly one that deserves a lot more attention than is paid to it is that people want a life, or want their life back. I see ad's on TV for the latest mobile gadget that “brings everything to you”, and “keeps you up-to-date with what your friends” are doing. Well I would use the “friends” part advisedly, considering the amount of people I know who use these waste of time sites and call those they have never meet, or had an actual verbal conversation with as 'friends' – I think that is stretching it a little.

    Why would I want to use MY PHONE as a device to see what my “friends” are twatting about, when I would have thought getting off my bum, going out into the sunshine and fresh air, visiting them and then having a coffee, rather than sitting on my bum – more than likely on my lounge/behind my desk, using my phone – not to make a call mind you, yet to twat on, and message about thinking about wanting to have a coffee???

    More and more people have been there and done that. They have tried them and see no real worth, nor have they found it made life easier, or quicker, or simpler. The more and more 'they' (the businesses) push these internet/mobile sites at us – sorry, just cant bring myself to seriously call them a 'social networking site' – the more and more people wake up and say, hang on, I need to get out, I need to meet people (in real life), I need to gather back some of my own and real independence.

    This is not to say that some form of business message service/site/blog mechanism is not needed, yet the key word so often forgotten – and in this article, is moderation.

  • Paul Ryan

    Interesting video post by Jeff Jarvis arguing that the blog/news comment systems is insulting to readers because it excludes them from the creation process and herds them into the ghetto of reaction rather than embracing true collaboration.

    I liked the last sentence:

    “When we look at the internet as a medium, we expect it to look like media: packaged and clean. But when we realize that the internet is a place, like New York, then it’s less shocking to hear some bozo on a corner muttering 'shit'.”

  • Matthew White

    Still relatively new to the whole social networking for business side of things but the number one question still remains – how do people find the time to facebook, twitter, blog, etc. Do they never do any work or ever go out. I'm wondering.

    • tdcl

      I have always wanted to ask this question as well. If you are running your business – successfully, then how do people find the time to update/chat/communicate on one site, let alone the multitude of 'social' sites out there? Unless of course that is your business.

    • James Tuckerman

      10 minutes a day. That's my goal. Although it works out to be about 20 in reality (10 in the morning and 10 in the evening). Perhaps my circumstances are unique because I spend so much time researching and connecting that I have come to rely on many of these tools. But the truth is I find that email is still the greatest time suck of all! (That's, of course, a post for another day.) 😉

      • Matthew White

        Thanks James. 10 mins in the morning, 10 in the evening, I'm going to give it a go.
        You are so right about emails!

  • tdcl

    I have always wanted to ask this question as well. If you are running your business – successfully, then how do people find the time to update/chat/communicate on one site, let alone the multitude of 'social' sites out there? Unless of course that is your business.

  • Louise L

    Good article Paul. Updating all your sites can be a full time job, but there are tools that enable you to synchronize posts all at once.

    Also despite the video, Seth Godin does use Twitter but only to update his followers when he has posted something new on his blog RSS does the same thing but the Twitter updates work for me and his other 31,629 followers!

  • genestark

    Great article Paul! It puts Social Media into perspective and illustrates the importance of being unique and then using the tools (technology) that support your strategy as is the case with Godin and Brogan each opting for a different strategy that achieves their goals!

    Horses for Courses – we have to recognize that there is no magic bullet, no “one size fits all” ultimate solution, which seems to be so desired by the “D.I.Y. Marketer” and served up by the self proclaimed gurus or “channel sellers” who feed them.

    LinkedIn is an amazing business (B2B) tool, yet most users, even those with 500+ connections do not use 95% of its functionality and hence miss out on the benefits ranging from sales to productivity. The number of successes in this business focused networking media is astounding.

    Twitter, for many, is just another way to “push their message” yet there are (a few) people who successfully generate sales using it! In our business, right now, it is a great gage of opinions, a tool better suited for listening then for communicating! For most of our clients (B2B) Facebook is for personal fun and I am not going to become a “fan” of anyone, yet I will connect (discerningly) to most on LinkedIn.

    As is the case with traditional / old media or in business endeavors generally, a good principle to abide by, is to do a few things well then many badly!

  • Get Me In Google!

    The social media websites I use vary from time-to-time and depend on what I'm doing. I find for some thing Twitter is the best tool, and for other LinkedIn.

  • David

    Enjoying the irony of the oversize social media icon/links at the footer of the article 😉

    • Paul Ryan

      Ha! Nice pick-up. For what it's worth, I've never liked those – more on aesthetic grounds than intent. (I believe they are being redesigned.)

      Kudos, From a fellow irony hunter.

  • Anthill Magazine

    Yes, they are being re-designed… re-designed to be replaced with MORE social media icons! Whahahahahaahaaaaaa! Actually, that's not quite true. They'll be replaced with a few less, designed to make social media engagement more meaningful. If you'd like to know what I mean when I say 'meaningful', check out:…. The real irony is that almost 100 people have retweeted this post so far! 😉 James

  • lisahjorten

    Great post. I was thinking about this last night as I sat at home composing blog posts for my Informia blog,, finding people to follow on twitter, figuring out the new Facebook “like” button and security functions, adding LinkedIn groups, and wondering why I didn't go to the movies with my friends. I'm thinking it should be called anti-social media.

  • joshmoore

    I've just decided to cut out a number of ways on contacting me. I still have many of the accounts active but will no longer be checking many of them.

    For me most important thing on the Internet is my blog. It is where I reflect and put my thoughts (an online journal). The next most important is Facebook (my personal network with real friends and connections).

    I would happily delete any of the others if I had to make a choice. Most people seem to be on facebook (even if not active) so I could still contact them via that channel if essential.

    One thing Tim Ferriss said about this recently is to simply look at social networking sites as communication/marketing channels. Just push your primary message through to them (see @thisissethsblog). Saves time managing them and allows communities to build themselves.

    However, that being said when you are trying to build 1,000 true fans you are best meeting with them individually. Face-to-face, phone calls should cover this. Facebook is a last resort. Most of the other sites are more about self promotion than adding value in my humble opinion.