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, gapingvoid.com, 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
- 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.