In the last nine years that I’ve been teaching social media marketing courses, I’ve seen people get highly emotional. Social media course participants become emotional in a way which doesn’t happen when I teach other digital marketing and business topics.

For a while, I thought it was me. I thought I hadn’t ‘nailed’ the lessons yet. I thought perhaps people were looking for a secret formula to success and happiness with social media marketing. But I’ve come to realise that’s not it.

Most people who use social media have a love-hate relationship with it. We use it to relax, laugh and be entertained, while enjoying each others’ company, while also finding it highly addictive, overwhelming, anxiety-provoking and rage- and jealousy-inducing. As it’s an increasingly common method of marketing our businesses, this is an additional layer of resentment for business owners.

Social media is frequently painted as trivial by people who don’t understand it, and its fans are derided by people who rarely use it. Recent reports of fake news sites, amplified through Facebook, skewing the US election results is yet the latest example of how powerful social media can be.

‘Digital detox’ isn’t the answer

Amid this palaver, we have the modern age ‘digital detox’, which involves high-profile, heavy social media users getting on social media to declare their intended absence for a period, to return a little while later declaring themselves ‘freed’ and ‘replenished’ by the joy of an old-fashioned unplugging. Charming. But also predictable, short-term and (cynical) good social media fodder.

I’ve noticed a strange response in myself when I meet someone who has opted out of Facebook or Instagram. I feel a weird mix of resentment, jealousy and derision. Derision because the person without social media normally relies on a partner to keep them connected. Jealousy and resentment, because I’d like to be them, blithely skipping through the world like it was 1991.

I keenly remember the days before social media, going for a walk, taking a drive or catching a train, and the romantically mysterious feeling of having nobody know where you were (including, sometimes, you).

I wonder whether my children are going to know the joys of having a great night out, undocumented. Social media makes us self-conscious. It makes us think like PR consultants – “how would this appear to others?” – rather than living and responding to the moment. It’s become a truism that when you’re truly enjoying yourself, you’ve got no evidence to show it as you’ve forgotten about your phone.

Spending precious time

We spend a great chunk of our waking hours on social media – Australian women aged 14-24 spend an average of almost two hours per day.

Translating this for sole traders or small business owners makes for sometimes depressing news. I see a lot of sole traders and small business owners spending significant (limited) time creating social media content to market their businesses. Worse, oftentimes their social numbers are small, which means a lot of effort is going into pleasing the Facebook algorithm to reach just a few people.

We’re working hard for social media, not just to create content that engages users, but giving away our personal details to enrich the data that companies on-sell, while also buying social advertising that still needs to satisfy the algorithm to get a good return on investment (the less engaging your ad, the more expensive it will be).

“I thought it was just me”

And yet. (Perhaps I’m in denial?) I continue to use and enjoy social media, even with its bigotry and ugliness, and its sexist, racism, narrow-minded, privilege-perpetuating marketing and advertising. Despite the way social media amplifies our worst tendencies, it also amplifies our best.

I value the opportunity to say, and hear, “thank you for saying this. I thought it was just me.” I well remember the thoughtless meme posted by an Internet famous person about how “everything happens for a reason”. I responded to this as being insensitive to those who’ve undergone great trials and tragedies, and had a woman respond about how she had stage four cancer, and found these sentiments grating.
I keenly remember feeling floored, and the weight of responsibility to attempt to have such a delicate conversation with a stranger in a public forum, on somebody else’s Instagram.

Self-employment can be an incredibly lonely, stressful experience attempting to figure out everything for yourself, with no mentor, guide, boss or colleagues. Living in the suburbs, in the chaos of small children with work-at-home parents, social media friends kept me sane, supported, and laughing. When I had a newborn baby who wouldn’t sleep, Twitter was my saviour at 2am (and 3am and 4am). I’ve taken relationships and connections into face-to-face over lunches, dinners and drinks, in Sydney and beyond. When I travel interstate to run courses, I can always count on meeting up with other business owners, if I choose.

Social media has brought me clients from near and far, publicity and exposure, speaking appearances, brand collaborations and other opportunities. It has made it possible to reach and maintain business relationships with many more people than would otherwise be possible.

So if you’re using social media for marketing and have a vexed relationship with it, how can you wrestle this into something resembling peace?

Recognise it’s addictive

I have an addictive personality – what I enjoy, I really enjoy. (To an extent, we are all pleasure-seeking beasts.) So I’ve developed a bunch of self-regulation techniques to keep myself in check.

This technology has been designed to be addictive and yes, it changes our brains. (But then again, so does everything.) Some addictions, such as co-dependency or food addiction, cannot be removed or avoided. Instead, we need to learn to negotiate these. When you’re using social media for marketing, you’re also consuming it, so it’s important to curate what you see, edit, unfollow, unfriend and follow relevant accounts.

For the highly addictive, your mantra is “produce, don’t consume”.

[Tweet “If you’re highly addicted to social media, your mantra is “produce, don’t consume.””]

In my social media marketing courses, I teach participants to schedule times to use social media, schedule marketing updates to go out automatically, automate as much as possible, and timebox periods to respond to comments and questions.

Stop taking it so seriously

We all know that we’re seeing what people want us to see of their lives and businesses. And yet, we still get upset about it. This is like comparing your worst day with everybody else’s best. It makes no sense.

I’ll say it again: unless you are privy to your competitors’ (indiscrete) accountant and (unethical) psychologist, you have no idea how well, or not, they’re doing in business. Stop believing the hype and keep your eyes on your own paper.

When you take social media marketing too seriously, it tends to show – your updates are dull and predictable and there’s little-to-no humanity in what you put out there. If you don’t have a sense of humour, go and acquire one. It’s essential for effective social media marketing.

Be fascinated

One of the reasons I love social media is its intimacy. I find humans fascinating, and enjoy reading comments and opinions. People can be amazingly empathetic, funny, smart and vulnerable online, and it’s a privilege to be privy to this.

Researchers have found that if you use social media to acknowledge other people’s feelings, you’ll personally benefit from social media. Similar to IRL (in real life), both parties in a conversation benefit more from you expressing empathy rather than coming up with a solution to their problem.

If you’re naturally social, you’ll have an advantage on social media. And, if you’re naturally shy, you can use social media marketing to build a business online and do inbound marketing, rather than relying on networking and pitching.

How to find peace with social media

This list is a work-in-progress, and not everything will work for everybody. But if you have a vexed relationship with social media, try these tips:

  • Plug your phone in in another room.
    Addictive behaviour is triggered by exposure. Remove the trigger to limit the exposure and limit the addiction.
  • Schedule in focused work with no wifi.
    I wrote the majority of my Hustle & Heart group program in the bush with my laptop, without my phone or wifi.
  • Schedule your social media marketing.
    This is a game-changer! Schedule your updates one, two or three weeks in advance and get your time back.
  • Curate your social media experience.
    If you’re using social media for marketing purposes, make sure you’re following relevant businesses and people, and unfollow or unfriend anyone who’s taking up space or excessively annoying you.
  • Take social media relationships offline.
    If you’re feeling close to someone online, line up a Skype date or a face-to-face date, if possible.
  • Find alternative ways to relax.
    Make sure these methods are easy and accessible, and take this seriously! Relaxing is important.
  • Use tools to restrict access.
    There are plenty of great tools that I use and recommend, which restrict access to social media sites for a specified period, such as Forest for iPhone, and ‘Self-Control’ for desktop.

We don’t need to be addicts and devotees of social media to use and enjoy it, and we can also choose not to opt out. We can understand the risks, navigate the paradoxes and redefine our relationship with social media.

Sole and small business owners have been at the forefront of social media marketing, with big businesses, for the most part, late to the game. With a small number of engaged and interested fans, we can use social media to make sales far easier, grow our businesses and magnetise perfect-fit people to us.

Social media has brought huge benefits to those who’ve been able to establish and grow their small business online, oftentimes while juggling young families, health issues and other challenges. It enables us to understand and be understood, to empathise with others, and create and influence our culture. We don’t have to ‘do’ social media like anyone else. We need to showcase our differences and amplify our diversity to make it a richer and more inclusive culture for everyone.

Learn how to use social media marketing effectively, quickly and mindfully. Courses open now.