a healthy relationship with social media

A healthy relationship with social media? [PMP #230]

My opinion of social media apps has changed in the last few years. Like a lot of people, I got on Facebook and Twitter around 2007 and I joined Instagram pretty early in 2010. And it’s interesting to have watched public opinion towards apps like Facebook change over the last decade. Facebook used to be liked and enjoyed by almost everyone. Now, more and more people are leaving the app as the company fails in its handling of certain issues e.g. moderating misinformation, user privacy, its impact on democracy and as per last weeks whistleblower, its prioritisation of profit over user wellbeing.

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There are pros and cons to using every social media channel. I’ve been thinking more and more about my relationship with social media and I’ve questioned whether I should delete my accounts multiple times.

I’ve concluded that I can continue to use social media if I have a healthy relationship with it. This means getting what I need from each service with as little effort and loss in productivity as possible. So, how do you cultivate a healthy relationship with social media?

1. Decide why you need a particular social platform

There are loads of social apps out there now. But before getting on a new one, it’s important to ask why you’re joining it. What purpose does the app serve and how is it making life better?

For me, each social app serves a specific purpose:

Facebook » I’ve thought about deleting Facebook multiple times and even though I strongly dislike the company, the thing that keeps me on the app is my personal network; having easy access to connect with friends and family is a real convenience. Now I don’t actually use Facebook. I haven't posted in years and it’s not an app I go to for news or to entertain myself. I use Facebook for three things: 1) I’m part of a few useful community groups e.g. our gym uses a group to share updates 2) I use Facebook events a couple of times a year to arrange gatherings with friends 3) I use Facebook messenger. And that’s it. I check Facebook maybe once a week and the way I see it, because I’m not using the app on a daily basis, I’m not generating much money for Facebook. I’m a very low-value user (which is the way I like it).

Twitter » Twitter on the other hand, I quite like. I share new content and personal updates on Twitter a few times a week. I find Twitter is the only social network where you can actually have a good conversation with people on the internet. Recently I Tweeted a few guys who I’d listened to on a podcast and was able to ask some follow up questions. For me, this is what social networks are all about; making connections you wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

LinkedIn » I don’t really use LinkedIn but because I have an account, I get clients reach out to me inquiring about my consulting services. I check it once a week to respond to new inquiries but other than that, I never post on LinkedIn or scroll the feed.

Instagram » For me, Instagram replaced Facebook a few years ago as the main channel for keeping up to date with friends and family and seeing what they’re up to. I find the trick with Instagram is to not follow too many accounts otherwise it becomes too noisy. I definitely don’t need Instagram. But I like being seeing when a friend from the UK has had a baby, or seeing how my cousin in Australia is doing decorating her house, or even when Red Bull reveal their new car livery for the grand prix. For me, this is what a good social media experience should be; meaningful content that you care about with no distractions or misinformation.

YouTube » On the content creation side, I use YouTube a lot to publish videos and market my business. But on the consumption side, I only use YouTube when I need to learn something or if someone has shared something relevant. I’m not really one to spend hours going down rabbit holes of videos.

As you can see, with this list of social media channels, while there is some overlap, generally each one serves a different purpose. This is why I don’t use apps like Snapchat or TikTok. They don't offer any additional value on top of what I’m already getting.

In total, I spend about 5 minutes a week on Facebook and LinkedIn. And according to Screen Time on my iPhone, last week I spent just under 3 hours on Instagram and about 50 minutes on Twitter the entire week. So not bad!

2. Turn off notifications

None of my social media apps are allowed to send instant notifications. I don’t get notified about likes, comments not even direct messages.

There is nothing so important happening on social media that I need to know about it immediately.

Instead I’ve allow badge notifications for direct messages on Instagram, Facebook Messenger and Twitter. This means if someone sends me a private message, I won’t get notified but if I check my phone, I may see the badge notification telling me I have a new message.

With notifications set up like this, it means I check and deal with notifications when it suits me instead of the app interrupting me during the day.

3. Limit time on each app

An important part of developing a health relationship with social media is to limit how much time you spend on each app.

As mentioned, in the case of Facebook and LinkedIn, I check them once a week (if that) simply as maintenance. I check for any updates in important groups or RSVP to an event and that’s it.

With Twitter and Instagram which I use for consumption on a daily basis, I use the iOS Screen Time feature to limit my usage across all apps to 1 hour a day. I used to not be very good at sticking to this, but lately I’ve been getting more disciplined at putting my phone down if I hit my limit. But I haven’t even been hitting this limit lately.

4. Filter the content in the apps

Occasionally I’ll see a promoted Tweet or a post on Instagram that isn’t relevant. Most social media apps give you the option to provide feedback and tell it that you don't like the content. And I’m a big fan of this feature.

Yes, technically I’m telling the app more about what I like and this kind of tracking feels a bit icky. But to be fair, it does help to keep the feed topical and relevant to my interests which I can live with.

5. Sharing quality over quantity

I don't post a lot on social media channels. Maybe a couple of tweets a week when I have some content to share or something to say. In fact, I find I use Twitter mostly for replying to other people’s tweets and starting a conversation there.

With Instagram, I’ve posted a grand total of 9 times this year. That’s about 1 post per month. It’s not that I don’t have anything interesting to say, I just don’t want to add to the noise by sharing what I’m eating that day. For me, social media is more about creating a diary of life events to share with other people (you really don't need to see every takeaway coffee I consume).

If you look at my Instagram profile, the most recent posts are all significant memories; family holidays, camping with friends or competing at CrossFit events. I believe your social media profile (especially Instagram) is a reflection of what’s important to you. If you look at my profile, hopefully you’ll see I’m someone that values spending time with friends and family.

And as mentioned, I never post on Facebook or LinkedIn.

I’ve stopped sharing any kind of political views and I generally stay clear of commenting on anything controversial. It’s just not worth it. No matter what your opinion, you’re going to find someone who disagrees with you and the conflict isn’t worth it. I find people on social media can be particularly rude and things get personal very quickly. I’m happy to have a debate but let’s do it in person.

The takeaway here is just because you can share something doesn't mean you should. Think before you post and if in doubt about whether to share something, perhaps just keep it to yourself.

I’ll end by saying that this is all my opinion as of now and this could all change. Even though I feel like I have a pretty good relationship with social media; I don't put a lot of time into these apps and I’m not going down any dangerous rabbit holes. I may in the future decide to cut all ties and delete my accounts. But again, right now the positive side of social media, connecting with friends and family, outweighs the negative side.