The thought of going on Instagram fills me up with dread these days. I procrastinate and then aimlessly scroll through my feed, filled with despair, comparing my quirky feed with those wonderfully curated ones of other small business owners whom I follow. Every time I go on a Facebook or the internet there is yet another tip or social media guru with yet another class that claims to transform me into a social networking ninja, and make all my dreams of sales and conversions come true. Posting on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn is not enough anymore. There are several marketing agencies, blog posts and consultants advising me to make the most of social media by sharing content that is helpful, informative and entertaining such as how to articles, videos, webinars and podcasts, market reports and reviews, by being on IG stories and finding optimum times for posting on different channels.
I have even begun to detest the label 'followers'. I didn't sign up to be someone who seeks followers. What words of wisdom could I offer to these followers, I ask myself every morning! The sweet spot of 6-8 am passes, and I make excuses, and then again 5-7 pm of posting on social media, as suggested by so many guides and mentors, and I have missed my chance to using the optimum posting hour to be seen by as many people as possible. And, then I feel guilty, certain that I was jeopardising my business, and no one will ever see my lovely products, and I should be doing more, comparing myself to other fellow business owners who post beautiful pictures every day or work in progress or studio scenes, immaculate even in their messiness. Flat lays with gorgeous leaves and flowers tastefully and, oh so effortlessly, styled, abound on my Instagram feed and I devour them hungrily, hoping to learn and be inspired, but end up feeling even more overwhelmed and depressed about my lack of effort. Why couldn't I have the time to collect some beautiful flowers just on my walk with the dog, or gaze at the light falling beautifully across my kitchen table whilst I have a relaxing cup of coffee? My kitchen table is messy, cluttered with baby toys and paraphernalia, and every corner of my studio is filled at the moment, as I try and juggle babies, full-time work and a business. I am tripping over my dog or cat as I try and capture the morning light in the corner of the room, trying very hard to frame it so that the mess is just outside. No, it doesn't come easily. And, then I wonder, why am I even doing this? I am trying to be someone else. I don't belong in this world of beautifully curated, suitably filtered Instagram feeds. I withdraw from it even more.
Yes, I have social media fatigue.
Social media fatigue is characterised by the tendency to withdraw from social media, a feeling of anxiety and being overwhelmed at the thought of interacting online.
And, it seems that I am not alone.
From 100 SMEs that I asked via Facebook forums, 70% spent an hour on social media across all channels. The survey also showed that more than 55% of business owners surveyed were taking training courses in managing social media and trying to find information on how to improve their social media strategy, get more followers and engagement and drive more hits to their website and increase conversion rates. Only about 28% of these had a marketing manager and social media interns. The rest were doing all this by themselves, while also creating and designing new products and everything else that comes with running a small business. No wonder then that more than 80% reported feeling stressed and overwhelmed and panicking every day about their social media. The reasons given were 'pressure to be perfect', 'everyone else is doing so much more', 'I spend too much time faffing'. These owners mentioned the pressure to be perfect on social media, especially the more visual ones such as Instagram, and the pressure to learn and keep up with the constantly evolving technology, connecting with influencers and bloggers, and the constant struggle to gain more followers. Business owners use apps such as Unfollow to keep track of follows and unfollows on IG, and so it becomes a game of cat and mouse.
Social media is rife with comparison, and psychological research has shown that such comparisons can lead to anxiety and acute stress. Clearly the pressures of building a small business using social media is leading to social media fatigue amongst business owners. The idea of posting fills them up with dread. There is a lack of focus, irritability and anxiety. The tendency to spend too much time scrolling and pretending to look busy is another manifestation of this fatigue. This directly translates in a number of cases in a disenchantment with their own business, something that they have built with passion. The loss of followers on social media, and the lack of engagement due to changing Facebook and Instagram algorithms is often seen by the small business owners as a lack of engagement with their brand. More than 52% small business owners confirmed that they were 'feeling low about their business' and 45% felt that 'perhaps no one wants what I am offering'. They also agreed that rather than putting their time and energy into creating new products, they were caught up in social media marketing, and investing time, energy and resources into it.
If you are feeling like this, what is the best way forward? I am not going to pretend to be an expert at this, as I am still figuring things out. But, the five things that have helped me so far, and that I constantly remind myself are:
1. Step away
It is ok to take a break. The world doesn't end, nor does the business go kaput. Step away, re-evaluate, and come back to it, maybe, if and only when you are happy with being back. Don't think that you can't disappear from social media. There are other ways of connecting with people who matter, your customers, and perhaps use this time to focus on the creative side of the business. I don't panic about losing followers. People who like my work and want to connect would stay with me. People who leave weren't that interested anyway. I have often even deactivated my account to help with digital overload, and have come back sometimes within a week, sometimes longer when I have felt ready.
2. Be selective
It is impossible to manage all the various channels and get informative and useful content out, at the right time, all the time. I can spend all day just managing my social media if I choose to, and I do not have resources to employ someone to do it for me. If you have a particular preference for a particular channel, why not focus on it for a while and try and make meaningful connections! There are bound to be people who have similar interests and want to connect. For instance, personally,
I don't mind twitter as much because of its more conversational style, and the fact that I am not obliged to post a picture. Focussing our energies on one or maybe two can ease off the pressure and reduce the feeling of dread and overwhelm.
3. Less is more
It isn't important to post 3-4 times a day to beat the algorithm. Post when you have something to say. Posting many times a day could lead to undue pressure, but also loss in the quality of content. I don't know about you, but I struggle to find that much to say everyday. Just reflecting on why I am posting, why I am choosing to share something with everyone out there, and why I am putting something out in the public domain is often quite useful to me. Again, for me, it is more useful to have a good solid network of 200 people rather than thousands and also having a small curated group of 'friends' would ensure that the feed is free of things that might cause envy, competitiveness, and depression, and you will only see things in your feed that gives pleasure everyday.
4. Be creative
It is good to do things with your hands and step away from the phone, the computer or any other media device. Use a sketchbook, a diary, or join a pottery class! I rest and recuperate and give myself some digital detox, or I try and focus on creating, the basis of my business and where my true passion lies. If I am not online on social media, I am able to trust my instinct much more as I am not constantly doubting myself or comparing myself to others. It is so important to have that alone time to be creative. Read my previous post on creativity HERE.
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5. Be authentic
This is what I struggle most with social media. It is a persona that people can adopt, and it is so easy to do so. I have to remind myself that things we read and see online aren't always true, it is merely a tiny glimpse into someone's reality and not the sum total of it. This is also one of the reasons why I do not have a social media manager. If it is my social network, it is really crucial that I be myself, my true self. I think that losing sight of who we really are, is often the cause of anxiety. Try and believe in yourself, and that your brand is you, and a reflection of your values. When you post, interact and engage on social media, be yourself. Being genuine and true to ourselves can be so refreshing, and can ease off any pressures that we might be putting on ourselves.
I read this somewhere (online, of course!) that summed it up "Social Media is like teen sex. Everybody wants to do it. Nobody knows how.”
It is clear that this pressure on small businesses to nail social media if they have to succeed at their business is not a one- size- fits -all strategy. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate the business model that is putting social media right at the centre of it all. Perhaps we need to not blindly follow the crowd, but find a way forward that works just right for us.