Yes, you read that right.
I quit Twitter in 2012, and deactivated my Facebook account in 2013. I was a registered user on Instagram for about five minutes.
When I tell people that I own a PR firm and no longer have personal or professional profiles on any social media channel other than LinkedIn, I often receive looks as if I have just spoken an alien language. Or that I am breaking some kind of law.
To be clear: social media is part of the strategic services my team and I provide to clients. In fact, just this week, we kicked off a new client engagement that is almost entirely focused on social media. It’d be foolhardy to pretend that social media is not an important aspect of public relations today. Its sheer numbers alone require consideration anytime you’re trying to get a message out.
But social media is not unequivocally better than other outreach strategies, as some people mistakenly think. Nor is it necessary for every organization – or even every PR practitioner, as I continue to demonstrate year after year.
I wasn’t always such an oddity. Or maybe I was? I first hopped on Facebook in 2005 when I was in graduate school – back when it was only available to students. I joined Twitter when its U.S. adoption rates were still in the low single digits. But like virtually everyone else from 2008 onward, I dove headlong into this new frontier with equal parts gusto and naiveté.
And then one day, I woke up to discover that my Twitter account had been hacked and inundated with hard-core porn. Rather than try to clean up my account, I simply chose to abandon it.
It was around this same time that I began to notice how frequently I was checking Facebook. I could no longer simply stand in line at the grocery store without scrolling through my newsfeed. Or even sit patiently in my car while idling at a red light.
I didn’t like this compulsive feeling. I also didn’t like the internal chatter in my brain that could turn practically any activity I was doing into a draft Facebook post. Worse yet, if I did post about, say, some new restaurant I was presently enjoying or share a real-time photo of me out with friends, my attention was suddenly divided between this so-called amazing experience I was having and my need to incessantly check for likes and comments.
I never felt comfortable with Facebook’s privacy settings, which always seemed to slip back to default – i.e., “everyone” – without me recognizing it. And I cringed when I learned that my sister received emails from Facebook containing my friends’ private posts in an effort to have her befriend them too. (Of course these concerns seem quaint today in light of what we now know about Facebook’s mistreatment of our personal data.)
But a life without Facebook didn’t even seem possible to me back then. With the exception of my 76-year-old father, everyone I knew was on it. I was using Facebook Messenger more frequently than email to communicate with friends. Facebook stored more of my photographs than my computer. And wasn’t I the one who had stood in front of countless clients and said that social media was as important as the telephone?!
Fortunately, I began experimenting with “Facebook fasts” in a concerted effort to feel more grounded. Even the smallest breaks felt like a huge relief. By the time I’d logged several 30-day fasts, I knew a breakup was imminent.
Still, it wasn’t easy. It took me a long time to retrieve all of the content I had entrusted with Facebook. Despite my best intentions, I lost touch with a good number of friends. (But did I really need several hundred “friends”?) I’ve missed a fair number of invitations to parties or events as Facebook became people’s new Rolodex. Far fewer people remember my birthday any more.
But what I’ve gained from my departure has more than made up for these losses. One cannot overestimate the power of being fully present to one’s life.
The most common refrain I’ve heard in response to my quitting Facebook has been, “I wish I could quit too. But I can’t. Because of my job.” Literally, those exact words. At least 50 times over the last five years.
As a PR specialist, I get it: many businesses rely on Facebook to interact directly with their customers. But I would argue there are equally as many organizations not creating value with their Facebook page. (Especially today, when paid posts are imperative.) And that the people who believe it is so critical to their employment actually spend the majority of their time posting pictures of their vacations/food/children. (“I’m on it for the grandparents” is another popular response. Seems to me that if Grandma is on Facebook, she also has an email account.)
I swear I am not trying to be offensive; chances are high that you also post pictures of your vacations/food/children. You might also represent an organization that doesn’t understand how these channels’ evolving algorithms affect visibility yet uses them anyway. Because you think you “should.”
I share my experiences here because I believe social media on the whole needs to be regarded more critically. (Luckily, I have more company today than I did in 2012!) In addition to our time, what else are these platforms robbing us of? I have yet to read a scientific study of social media that shows anything but deleterious effects on our mental health. When a young woman practically body slammed me the other week because she was too preoccupied by her Instagram feed to notice the person walking in front of her – or even apologize after the fact – it was just one more reminder for me that social media doesn’t always bring out the best in us.
So despite social media’s reach and plethora of good, timely information, and despite the expectations of my industry and pressure to demonstrate social media savviness, you will not find my firm represented on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. The world does not need one more small business shouting from the Facebook rooftop, “Look at us! Look what we did!” (That’s what this site and blog are for!) And our clients are better served when we identify and engage key influencers and other partners to help spread their messages socially.
Have questions? Feedback? Let’s talk. Not stalk.