Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A lookback at my month-long social media hiatus

I was waiting with another woman outside our club in Georgetown, each having summoned an Uber ride. But her phone had run out of juice before she could tell whether her request went through. "What should I do?" she asked. I looked up the street, saw the lights of available cabs, and said, "Just put your hand up." And indeed, a taxi pulled over faster than the Uber might have done.

That's a bit how taking a social media hiatus for a month feels: Simpler, without your usual tools, and sometimes more efficient.

I'd been skeptical of such absences from social media, having watched others do them. But the primary gains for me--time, and time to think, work, and write without distraction--were wonderful. The month felt like several months, voluminous, slow. And no, it wasn't a vacation. I worked right through it, but enjoyed the pause on social channels.

I should add here that, before the hiatus, I had prided myself on how little time I spent on social channels, getting the work part of my social publishing done quickly. That's not what eats your time, of course...it's scrolling through all the feeds and pages you've chosen to follow, and honestly, I wasn't even trying to do so. One thing I notice coming back from the break is Just. How. Much. Is. Out. There. I can believe there are tens of millions of Facebook pages, and I am not following all of them.

On my hiatus, I didn't post on any of my blogs; didn't tweet or post to Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, or anything else; didn't check notifications; didn't share articles in my feeds. I limited my reading online to Feedly, the Washington Post, and the New York Times, and listened to all my usual podcasts.

When I've taken shorter breaks before--as much as a week at a time--I have taken care to schedule posts, sometimes reruns of previous posts, during the hiatus. Not so this time. I took a complete break and so did my readers. This spared me doing an extra month's work in advance of the hiatus.

The hiatus meant that I had to change some things I had automated to make social media easier for me, like having certain sites come up immediately on separate tabs when I opened Chrome. During the hiatus, that would just be dangling bait in front of me. On my mobile, I moved apps to the back burner, rather than keeping them easy to find; if I were more addicted to my phone, I might have tried turning it grayscale to make the menu less appealing.

And I had to adjust how I got my news, going directly to news sites I wanted to check on, rather than letting Twitter or Facebook serve them up via my feeds and friends. (You're welcome, newspaper sites.) So it's not necessarily less work in that respect. But losing all the notification checks, posting moments, and more? That was priceless. If I change one big thing going forward, it will be to dramatically reduce the time I spend on notifications, and the total number of notifications I get.

I did miss the ability to tweet or Facebook my immediate reaction to something outrageous, or to share a valuable article, but holding back let me contemplate whether the world really lost anything there. (Answer: Not even.) And yes, not being on Facebook meant I was slow to learn some family news. But since, in my family, we talk, text, and visit regularly, that wasn't a huge problem. People frequently assumed I'd seen things they'd posted, until I reminded them of the hiatus. Some discussions of my work took place entirely without me around to participate them, which is not a bad thing at all, and much like real life. I missed significant birthdays and wins of my friends, who will forgive me.

An invaluable part of this experiment: I spent some of the hiatus prepping posts for the coming months. Having a well-stocked queue is, to me, the only real way to handle these publishing tasks. I know I was more productive in preparing posts in advance, without having to worry about day to day posting. Those advance posts, in effect, help me have a mini-hiatus in the weeks ahead, when nearly everything will be already taken care of. This, too, is priceless. The rest of the year, blog-wise, is going to be relatively easy.

Two big results of the hiatus: I decided to let go of two of my own publishing efforts, the Moderating Panels blog and the @NoWomenSpeakers Twitter feed, where I retweet mentions about few or no women on conference panels. That latter space, once lonely, is now crowded with many tweeters calling out the lack of women speakers. Topics covered in both that feed and the panels blog will still get coverage on The Eloquent Woman, my blog on women and public speaking. It just makes my posting somewhat more efficient. And if you follow me on @NoWomenSpeakers, switch over to @dontgetcaught, willya?

Did I lose readership? Not that I can see. People continued to sign up for my newsletter or follow me on various sites. Some, after reading announcements of the hiatus, sent "we'll miss you--enjoy the break" messages. A few friends wondered whether something was deeply wrong with me, seriously concerned. Why do absences prompt such thoughts, I wonder? But no nefarious stuff was involved in this decision. The plus: After 12 years of blogging, I've built some strong and loyal audiences, the kind that are mostly with me for the long term. I don't take them for granted, but I do expect to be interacting with them again shortly.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by Mathew Wangrycht)


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