I recently started following a blog called Study Hacks, from computer scientist and academic, Cal Newport. Study Hacks is about decoding patterns of success and looking at why it is that some people have successful careers and are able to lead meaningful lives, whilst others are continually seeking after their life’s passion. Newport argues against the passion hypothesis and instead believes that finding fulfilling work is about honing your craft.
I first encountered Newport’s blog via a post he wrote about why he has never joined Facebook. In fact, Cal Newport doesn’t use any social media at all (unless you count blogging as social media, which I would argue it is). In reference to Facebook, Newport asks – what problem do I have that this solves? The answer, for Newport, is that it only offers something new, it doesn’t solve a pre-existing problem.
I spent the last year working in social media and I now spend two days a week volunteering with an environmental organisation, developing their social media presence. I loved my previous job and I love the work that I am currently doing. I’ve found working in social media to be more fun than I ever expected any job to be and I enjoy using social media in my free time. Through blogging and Twitter, I’ve made connections with a lot of great people who share my obsession with nature and thanks to Facebook I get to catch up with my family back in the UK on a daily basis. However, I have to admit that I also have some underlying doubts and concerns.
Unlike Cal Newport, I’ve signed up for just about every social network under the sun: Facebook (I have a personal account and a Page), Twitter (x2), Blogspot, WordPress (x2), Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Flickr, Goodreads and Instagram. Part of the reason I’ve done this is out of curiosity – I’m genuinely curious about how social networks function and how to engage with them. But there is also another reason – my career. I felt that in order to develop my career in social media, I needed to be able to demonstrate that I know how to use every social media channel out there. Of course, I’m not, in actual fact, using every social network out there. I’m not using Snapchat, for instance, despite the fact that it piques my curiosity.
I recently read a blog post by Adam Singer called How To Start A Career In Social Media. Singer offers this advice:
[C]reate something that shows you’re passionate about your industry on social channels. Create your own brand of media (like a blog), build a web application… or start a simple skunkworks project… The point here is to go beyond merely maintaining a presence on Facebook and Twitter. Using Facebook and Twitter by themselves is fine, but at this point not remarkable.
In fact, it was Singer’s blog post that prompted me to do something I have long wanted to do – start a social media blog. Eventually, I’d love to go beyond simply blogging about social media and develop a project that would be useful to the social media community. I’m not sure what that project is yet, but I’m mulling over ideas in the back of my mind. The thing is, developing a project like an app or website would require time and skills I don’t have.
Why don’t I have the time? Partly because I waste a lot of it on social media. Updating all of my social media accounts takes time and what’s more, it’s a case of quantity over quality. I very rarely post anything to my Pinterest account and I never check to see what the people I follow have posted. I post my latest blog posts to my Facebook Page and Google+, but that’s about it. I also occasionally post on Tumblr, but I very rarely spend much time on it.
I spend a lot of my working time advising people on how to use social media and one of the things I constantly repeat is the importance of having a social media strategy and of considering how and why you want to use social media. I generally advise people – depending on their resources – to start small, perhaps starting with just one or two social media channels and building up from there. I would never advise anyone to sign up for every social media channel available and then consider their strategy. Yet, that has been my own approach to social media.
To return to Cal Newport’s own question – what problem did I think this approach was going to solve? Well, I thought it would help to grow my career in social media. Now, I’m not so sure. As Singer points out, just being on social media isn’t enough any more. Having a presence on 11 social media channels isn’t remarkable – or at least, it’s remarkable for the wrong reasons. What’s more, as I pointed out, I’m not really happy with the quality of my output at the moment. Yes, I could take the time to invest more in social media. I could create a personal strategy for all 11 channels and really dedicate myself to growing my presence on them all. I could, but even for someone like me, who loves social media, there are limits. Even I start to glaze over when I spend too much time on Twitter.
Newport argues that hard work and honing your craft are the keys to a fulfilling career. I would like to have a fulfilling social media career. I would also like to have a fulfilling writing career, start a book group, start my own literary magazine, learn Dutch, learn to build websites, read more, spend more time in nature, take up jogging again, dedicate time to helping conserve nature and spend more time with my partner and friends. There is only so much time.
So, I’m going back to basics (sort of). I’ve deleted my Tumblr account, I’ve deactivated Pinterest, I’ve left Google+ and I’ve decided to get rid of the Twitter account I set up specifically for this blog. That brings the total social media count down to two blogs, two Facebook accounts, one Twitter account, one Flickr account, LinkedIn, Goodreads and Instagram. I still have some way to go in terms of streamlining by digital life. For instance, I still have over 2,000 unread emails in my inbox. But for now, this feels like a good start and with the click of each ‘delete/deactivate’ button I felt a slight weight lifting off my shoulders.