It was 1998, and I was in my senior year at Colorado State University. I was dreading graduation and saying goodbye to my college days, and more importantly, my college friends. It started with Classmates – the first social media site I ever used. Soon after, I found chat rooms on Excite.com. Then came Six Degrees. And, well, the rest is now just a blur of .coms, profiles, connections and passwords.
My relationship with social media has spanned nearly 20 years – longer than a majority of my romantic relationships combined! My sites of choice have changed, as many have come and gone. But my reliance on social to stay in touch with acquaintances, friends and family has only gained strength. In fact, you could say I’ve made a career of my love for social media. It has been a critical part of PR and advertising campaigns I’ve launched, and tactics I’ve used to help my clients share their stories and connect with their customers. Yet, here I am. Nearly 20 years later, on the verge of saying goodbye.
Last year, I nearly pulled the plug when the election seemed to take over my feeds with an abundance of negativity and anger. Social media was what I did at night, after work and when I wanted to unwind and check in with others. But the vibe had totally changed, and it was spilling over into the way I looked at people I have known and loved for years. I took a breather, signed in less frequently, turned off notifications for some of the most exuberant political posters in my circle, and waited it out.
There were warning signs throughout this time that should have caused me to delete several of my accounts over the past several months. My accounts breached by an ex. Unwelcome updates from the new love interests of said ex. The continuing onslaught of skewed news. The constant stream of sales pitches from friends trying to make a buck. The equally steady stream of GoFundMe requests from people I barely knew. The sudden increase of friend/follow requests from strangers. But I convinced myself the positive I got from social media far outweighed all of these negatives.
And just when it seemed things had eased into a new, acceptable normal, the world went crazy again. People who had stayed out of political discussions suddenly had very strong opinions, and those whom I used to love trash talking football with were threatening to set their $300 jerseys on fire. I started the process of muting conversations, shutting off notifications and unfollowing, but then I realized…this would only be a temporary solution to a permanent problem.
Like with any medium, when people recognize its full potential – its power – they use it. At its worst, social media gives people a platform to say whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want. It empowers people to say things they normally wouldn’t say, from the safety of their keyboard. And to me, as both an individual and a businessperson, that’s simply terrifying.
Maybe I’m no longer a great PR person for saying this, but social media has lost its ability to connect brands and consumers. It has become a weapon of mass destruction. It is where businesses and reputations can be destroyed by an anonymous figure with the few strokes of some keys. The risk, no longer outweighs the rewards.
For some types of businesses, perhaps they are still able to directly correlate their social media campaigns to dollars. But for any of the companies I have represented in the past 20 years, all I see are the streams of negativity that come with each and every peppy post they push out. The time, energy and resources spent to counter negative comments, when in many cases, they simply will not make a keyboard-wielding customer happy enough to make them stop typing.
I understand the need to have a presence on social for businesses. I do. You no longer have the option to not be on social. You have to at least show up at the dance, even if you never get named homecoming queen. But the question is – how much do you really need to invest in social?
My guess is not nearly as much as you did just two to three years ago. I’d venture to say you will be rewarded more heavily with a minimum social presence, and investing more in what got your business its start in the first place – relationships. Real, personal relationships.
We’re fortunate to have access to an abundance of technology that makes it possible for us to connect with people face-to-face from anywhere in the world. So that we continue to post stagnant, and nearly immediately irrelevant messages on Facebook, Twitter, and even Instagram, is a detriment to our brands – or at minimum, a detriment to our resources.
Likewise, I have come to recognize the detriment social media has played in my own personal life. After nearly 20 years, I recently decided to make my break with social media a break up. After a trial separation, I have found that I simply do not miss knowing so much about so many who really aren’t fixtures in my personal life.
I much prefer getting pictures of my precious new nephew texted to me so I can save them to my phone for future bragging. A text from a dear friend is so much more valuable than a post on her Facebook page. I don’t miss knowing what celebrity passed away or the latest Hollywood gossip. I have more time on my hands, and I get to spend it talking with my son, walking our dog, getting out of the house and enjoying being truly present in moments that I do not feel the need to post immediately on social media.
It’s nice not knowing what the people in my life are liking, sharing, retweeting or commenting on. Odds are, they won’t tell me their opinions on these issues when we’re face to face, so I don’t really need to know. There’s an absence of negativity since I parted ways with social, and it’s liberating. I loved my time with social media. I learned a lot, shared a lot, and it was an outlet that helped me through some challenging times. But like any relationship that has run its course, you have to know when to call it quits.
For me, that time is now.