Quitting social media: reflections one month on

I’ve now passed the 30 day grace period for deleting my various social media accounts, so there’s no going back – at least not without rebuilding profiles from scratch. Luckily, I don’t feel the need.

Here are some of my initial reflections on my first social media-free month.

It’s already led to more meaningful conversations

After deleting my social media, I reached out to personal and professional contacts to let them know. On the professional side, I received a few lovely, warm emails which in some cases led to interesting discussions.

No-one questioned my decision and they all appreciated me getting in touch. So far, therefore, this supports my hypothesis that social media has an opportunity cost, and without it I feel motivated to make a bit more effort to deepen my relationships.

On the other hand… it can be harder to get in touch

After reading an article by a fellow fundraiser, I wanted to make contact. Unfortunately I could only find Twitter and LinkedIn details. After a bit of hunting I found an email for a professional side-project connected to this person.

I’m also unable to participate in the Fundraising Chat and Critical Fundraising Forum Facebook groups. I do miss reading the discussions on these groups, and they have been useful in the past in sourcing interviewees for blog posts.

I’m undeterred, however; it’s difficult to leave these sites because there is a real social cost to doing so. I’m committed to paying that cost and still believe I can find a different way to thrive professionally.

Having a blog has made it easier to quit other platforms

Having an established online presence meant that I didn’t feel I was disappearing into the professional ether. I can provide evidence of my fundraising and writing credentials without using LinkedIn. Coupled with my distinctive surname, this means that anyone who is looking for me can find me quite easily.

On the other hand… visitors to this blog have dropped significantly

Twitter was incredibly useful for driving traffic to this blog; I had a modest following of fundraisers who would often click on and retweet the links I provided.

Twitter is still my main referrer, but numbers have dropped to a trickle. I’m grateful to those who are still Tweeting my blog posts, but it would be hypocritical of me to actively encourage this.

Nevertheless, I believe that I can still build up a following and gain traction via other strategies: the main one being providing interesting and useful content. The Internet, and social media in particular, is so full of rubbish that I believe good-quality content does get attention eventually. It may just take a little longer.

I’m more intentionally reading the news

I realised I was getting a lot of my news through links provided by social media algorithms. Due to growing concerns about fake news, I now intentionally read several different news sites including paying a subscription for one. On the fundraising side I’m taking more time to read articles by the trade press.

I’m also finding I’m able to more easily focus on reading more and longer articles; my attention isn’t constantly flicking back to the feed. I feel better informed and more knowledgeable about issues that concern me, such as climate change.

I feel like my mind, and my identity, is my own again

However much we try to avoid it, we are all performing to some extent on social media. I consciously tried not to, but this avoidance of performance is also a type of performance. Social media presents your content as your full humanity while at the same time being incredibly reductive. There’s no space for nuance.

A blog gives me space to explore ideas in more depth while also retaining ownership of my writing. And I’m not exactly sure why, but a blog doesn’t feel like it needs to represent the full extent of my identity in the same way that social media does. This feels freeing.

For the first few days after quitting, I found myself reflexively reaching for my phone, before realising I had nothing to look at, and putting it back down. This impulse disappeared within a week. I also feel readier to embrace a wandering mind and make time in my life for pockets of deeper thinking. I hope and believe that this will help me fulfil my aspirations as a fundraiser and a writer.

I agree with Cal Newport’s theory in his excellent book Deep Work: as professionals our most valuable resources include attention and focus. These are the precise qualities that are under siege from social media. Those who can resist these distractions and cultivate depth are at a professional advantage.

Quitting won’t work for everyone, but it’s always possible to reconsider your own approach

I’m currently on maternity leave, which in some ways has made leaving social media easier, although on the other hand it has risked making me feel more cut off from my profession (and my friends). I’ve countered this through my deliberate efforts to connect on a one-to-one basis.

I don’t foresee this will affect my work significantly when I return next month. As a trusts and major donor fundraiser, I’m able to perform my job without heavy social media use, which I appreciate is not possible in other disciplines. However, there are ways to delineate personal and professional use if you feel it would be helpful.

I hope that my renewed energy and focus on developing meaningful relationships will only be a good thing; although I tended not to connect with donors on social media, the parallels in the skills I’m developing are self-evident.

Finally, it’s always worth questioning the underlying assumptions of our working life. As Newport writes about social media: “These services aren’t necessarily, as advertised, the lifeblood of our modern connected world. They’re just products, developed by private companies, funded lavishly, marketed carefully, and designed ultimately to capture then sell your personal information and attention to advertisers.”

If you’re concerned about your social media use, consider reviewing your relationship with it.

How will quitting social media affect my professional and personal networks?

I’ve left three major social media platforms, which were my main methods of interacting with others online, other than via email and this blog.

Why? Lots of reasons, most of which you can probably guess.

The real catalyst for making this decision, though, was reading Jaron Lanier’s book: Ten Arguments for Deleting your Social Media Accounts Right Now.

I realised I was staying on social media mainly because it was hard to quit, which in itself isn’t a good reason to stay. So I’ve taken the plunge.

This is very much a personal decision, and just because it feels right for me doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to be right for others. Nor do I intend to implicitly criticise the important work charities do on social media to reach donors and beneficiaries. Social media is a reality of the world we live and work in, and it makes sense to harness this reality to do as much good as possible.

I am by no means withdrawing from the world, and I absolutely want to continue to be part of the professional fundraising community. I think the Internet is a fantastic tool and will continue to maintain an active presence on this blog. I’m interested and excited to see how this decisions affects my relationships and creativity and may write more about this experience in future.