11 July 2012

Disadvantages of social media

 Image courtesy - Marc Smith of Flickr

Despite all the positive aspects of social media, it can also prove to be a great disadvantage for your business. In this article I discuss the dark side of social media that very few people are talking about.

About 15 months ago I started my first website. I made sure to make accounts on Facebook and Twitter and have big social media icons on my blog linking to the respective profiles. Whenever I used to write an article I immediately used to share it on social media. The result? Crickets chirping.

I had heard so many people say that social media can bring in a very big amount of traffic to your blog. In fact once Darren Rowse revealed his statistics and the graphs said that Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest were the three topmost traffic sources for his blog for that time. But in my case nothing was happening.

The obvious reason was that the big guys had hundreds of thousands of followers on social media which I didn’t. Then I began to post the links of my articles on those Facebook pages which had thousands of followers. This brought in about three or four visitors per day to my website. Again, no big success.

When I now look back I realize how much time I have wasted on social media. In this article I will discuss the lessons that I have learnt about social media after more than an year of blogging.

I am writing this article because I have seen so many freelancers, usually newbies, spending a lot of time on social media without getting any profitable returns but they persist their social media activities merely because people have told them to do so. One example is promoting without having anything solid to promote. I have argued in an article headed How to blog? that in the definition of business, promotion (read social media activity) comes second. The first and foremost step of your freelancing business should be value creation. But many freelancers obsess themselves over social media while ignoring step 1.

I don’t want others to commit the same mistakes that I committed 15 months ago, hence this article.

Darren Rowse’s opinion


Let me begin with a quote from Darren Rowse.

In an interview, Darren Rowse was asked:

“What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the online space over the past few years?”

Part of his reply was that social media can prove to be great distractions for bloggers in the following two ways.

1. Feeling the pressure to have to be active on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Digg, YouTube, Posterous, Tumblr… etc. and not having any time left to actually do your core business.
2. Being overwhelmed by the options and pressure to have to participate in every form of social media and use every great new tool...

Did you notice something? The question was not directly about social media. Neither it was about the greatest distraction online. It was about the biggest change in online space and Mr. Rowse mentioned social media as being the greatest distraction. (It is implicit in the answer that social media is the biggest change too.) This means that the topic that we are discussing is something very important, so important that Rowse had to mention it even when the question was not directly related to it. So pay attention.

Below I discuss the three points in details.

1) The distractions of social media– Come on let’s be honest. How many times has it happened that you visit a social networking site to promote your freelance business and then end up spending (wasting) your time on the profile of your favorite celebrity or checking the albums of your friends or relatives? Yes many times. You think that even when you are doing mundane things on social media, you are actually learning how to use the website and hence not wasting your time. Be warned! This “work” is actually no work. It is a distraction disguised as work.

Although it’s true that the best way to learn the workings of a social media website is to spend time on it but this learning shouldn’t take up all days of all weeks. A few hours should be enough.

2) The overwhelming ubiquity of social media – Some people make profiles on too many social networking websites merely because they are addicted to social media. They think that they will be promoting their freelance business but they don’t realize that again it is a disguised distraction. Realize that you cannot be on all the social networking sites simultaneously. Why? Because there are so many of them. I don’t know the exact number (in fact the exact number will depend upon your definition of a social media website) but the AddThis sharing plug-in says that it enables your readers to share your content on more than 300 social networking websites so at least there are 300 popular ones. Having 300 social media profiles is just insane. Of all the popular bloggers that I have seen, Jeff Goins is the only one who uses the most number of social media profiles – eight.

The best option is not to choose the social media platform that has the most members but to choose the one where your prospective customers are. For e.g. if you are a freelance photographer then your main concentration should be Flickr and not Facebook.

3) The change in social media – This the biggest thing about social media that I hate – all social media websites keep on changing themselves. Then you have to learn the new format of the site all over again. This can be very time consuming and the time you spend understanding the new formats of social media is the time you don’t spend on your freelancing business. The best solution to this problem, in my opinion, is to look out for quality videos done by authority bloggers. For e.g. when Facebook rolled out its Timeline feature, Patt Flynn did two wonderful videos explaining almost everything that you need to know about Timeline. Such videos can save you a lot of time.

Cal Newport’s opinion


Cal Newport – a PhD from MIT – says in this article that when a low scoring student of Pennsylvania University surveyed the high scoring students of his class, he found they all were not on Facebook. He too quit Facebook and as a result was able to devote extra time and concentration to his work and his scores increased!

You may argue that that student didn’t own a business and therefore it may be wise for students to quit social media but not for freelance business owners who need social media to promote their businesses. Well, if you are thinking like that then you didn’t understand my point. The catch is in the phrase – “He too quit Facebook and as a result was able to devote extra time and concentration to his work and his scores increased!”

It isn’t important what you do. Newport’s argument is that by quitting Facebook your productivity might increase.

According to Mashable:
While these distractions [social media] are money-wasters for companies, they also negatively effect individuals’ ability to creatively solve problems, think deeply about work-related issues, efficiently process information and meet deadlines.

Newport himself uses no social networking website. Perhaps it is one of the reasons how he worked on a PhD thesis, wrote three traditionally published books, built a blog that attracted 250,000 visitors per month and published six peer-reviewed papers – all this was done while he was a student.

Jon Morrow’s opinion


Jon Morrow – considered by some as the blogging god - says that focusing too much attention on social media is one of The 7 Dumbest Mistakes You Can Make When Launching a New Blog.

The best strategy for most people is to choose one platform and focus exclusively on that platform until you have at least a few thousand people following you. Any platform will work, but if you want to be a blogger, then just focus on your blog and let everything else build organically over time. [Blocks added.]

This is one of the best advice anyone can give you about social media. I am implementing it on my freelance writing business and I am feeling very much stress-free and relaxed since the time I have cut-off time on social media. Though I still have social media accounts but I don’t use them as regularly as I used them before. I have activated email notification and when some activity occurs on my accounts I am informed in my inbox. If that interests me, I go on and respond. If not, I just ignore. I will continue to do this until I get a decent number of followers.

Seth Godin’s opinion


Seth Godin does not use Twitter. (Though his blog has a Twitter handle but he doesn’t use it. Someone else does.) He said in this interview:

I started my blog about five years ago... And along the way people said - Why don’t you have Twitter? Why don’t you have video? Why don’t you have a podcast? ... And there are lots of things I could have done. And if I had done those things, I wouldn’t have had the blog I have today. But I said ‘this is all that I am going to do. It is going to be just this, once a day, me and my voice and I am not going to pay attention to the way other people are telling me how my blog is supposed to be.’

He goes on to say that his blog was chosen as Technoarati’s top 12 business blogs.

So what am I trying to tell you? Delete all your social media accounts? No. Not necessarily. In this article I have shown you some disadvantages of social media and I have also presented you with the solutions where they existed. If you think that these solutions are too strict for you to implement then perhaps you should delete your accounts. If you think you can use social media successfully to promote your business and it will not prove to be a time waster for you, then go ahead, I won’t stop you.

Undoubtedly social media has advantages too. What I am asking you is to compare the two aspects for yourself and see which outweighs which. Think. Why are you using social media? If the answer is “because everyone else is using it” then it is not a good answer.

So think about it and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
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