I have a confession to make. I once spent three straight hours watching Instagram videos of useless “life hacks." If I ever need to make a popcorn machine using only an X-ACTO knife and Coke cans, now I know how. I've also committed hours to following Twitter fights between Pakistani-American socialites who live in Houston, Texas. (I’m from Michigan. I don’t know anyone who lives in Texas.)
Recently, I noticed I was doing a lot of following—and wondered what it would be like to get that time back. I wanted to do more of what I actually enjoyed: read or listen to podcasts relating to my job, or turn my knitting hobby into an actual side gig. So that’s what I did.
I quit all social media recently for a short—but highly productive—week and a half. I finished knitting a scarf, got through Michelle Obama’s Becoming, and read every article on The Ringer. Though I sometimes felt the urge to check what my friends were up to on Instagram, my hobbies kept me entertained enough to resist logging on.
Eventually, however, I felt out of touch with important news and conversations on Twitter. Despite my social media fatigue, I felt I couldn’t do my job properly without it.
I started to wonder: Is it possible to delete social media for good, without risking potential career growth? I turned to an expert. The truth is if you use social media well, you can get your foot in the door of any company using your personal brand, says Dorie Clark, a marketing strategy consultant and bestselling author of Entrepreneurial You. Yet overuse of social media can lead to wasting time, or spending the day scrolling and liking without actually accomplishing anything.
“Social media is the ultimate format where a little bit is a great thing and a lot can be rather damaging,” Clark says. There’s even an ethical argument for quitting social media: Facebook’s rampant personal data harvesting led to a #DeleteFacebook campaign last year. Twitter continues to have no concrete plan to stop harassment on the platform. Critics accused Instagram influencers for carelessly promoting the exploitative Fyre Festival. Social media as a whole can lead to addiction, depression, and political polarization, according to a recent study.
On the flip side, some professionals have built entire businesses via Instagram, some making $100,000 a year through sponsored posts and endorsements. Many recruiters use LinkedIn to find potential candidates, and Facebook groups post job listings for short-term and long-term gigs.
But Clark also warns social platforms aren’t necessarily permanent, meaning your social media audience can quickly disappear. Vine, she says, is a good example: Many creators became famous for being Vine stars, but lost their notoriety when the platform dissolved. Technology leaders can change the algorithms of their product at any time, which could spell disaster for your personal brand.
“With Instagram or any other form of social media, while it's lovely to have a large following, it’s a bit of a precarious situation to find yourself in because those followers are not really yours," she says. "You are building your house on Mark Zuckerberg’s land.”
Luckily, there are ways to build a marketable brand without relying on the whims of Zuckerberg or Jack Dorsey. Here are Clark’s best tips on how to build a personal brand and boost your business outside social media.
Instead of posting pictures or tweets, focus on creating original, long-form content like blog posts, videos or podcasts.
If you're looking for a job, try to think like an employer. Hiring an unknown employee is a risk, so employers need to learn about your skills to negate that risk, Clark says. That means if an employer does a cursory Google search of your name, you want them to find out as much as possible about who you are.
While a large social media following could set you apart, other forms of content can do a better job showcasing your skill set. Clark recommends starting a blog, creating a video series, or hosting your own podcast. Do whatever works best for your career, she says: If you’re a designer, post your work on your website. The main trick is to devote more energy to creating thoughtful, long-form content instead of social posts.
“It is easy for people to send a tweet, it is easy for people to take a picture and put it on Instagram, but if you want to separate yourself from the crowd, you need to do the things that are hard but valuable,” Clark says.
Build a newsletter audience, which tends to be more intimate and loyal than a social audience.
From Clark’s own experience as a writer and professional speaker, she uses Twitter and Facebook to share her work, but she truly connects with her audience through her newsletter. Clark’s email followers can communicate with her on a more personal level, leading to greater loyalty and stability: “Social media is useful, but the returns that I get from it compared to email are miniscule.”
Another plus to email: While Facebook or social followers can disappear after an algorithm change or the collapse of the platform, email likely won’t disappear any time soon.
Limit yourself to one hour a day on social platforms.
If you want to cut back on your social media use without going cold turkey, Clark recommends devoting one hour a day to using Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.
The first half hour should be spent responding to messages and tending to questions from your followers, while the second half hour can be spent crafting your posts. If you need to post more than once a day and don't want to keep logging in, try using Hootsuite or Buffer to schedule more posts throughout the day. “That is something that’s very manageable within an hour a week,” she says.
Immerse yourself in a niche audience by going on podcasts or writing contributing blogs.
Finally, once you have a blog or video series ready, Clark says you don’t need to rely on social media to get people to read your work. Instead, find your niche audience and promote yourself within that community, whether through going on someone else’s podcast or contributing guest articles on another website.
Clark stresses she isn’t advocating leaving social media altogether, but rather the importance of understanding its limitations.
“The key part is you’re creating thoughtful, independent content rather than just mindlessly consuming the stream of what other people have created.”
So while I appreciate Instagrammers creating useless how-to videos that kept me entertained for hours, I think for now I'll stick to writing.