Stop Buying Garbage

When I was a kid in Brooklyn, my babysitter was part of a group of little old ladies who had an “investment club”. They got together every week and decided which stocks to buy or sell to increase their retirement funds.  One day they had an investment banker do a presentation for them as a guest speaker.  He showed them how to read all kinds of charts and prospectuses in order to better predict which companies would become more valuable down the line.  He was in the middle of explaining why the supermarket chain McCrory’s was a really hot prospect when one of the ladies in the back interrupted him, shouting, “I’m not going to buy that garbage!”  When the banker protested, she interrupted him again, yelling, “There’s a McCrory’s down the street, and there’s never anybody in there!”  After that, the remainder of the presentation was cut short, and the ladies’ investment club agreed not to invite any more “experts” to their meetings. Anyone who ignored personal observation and common sense was clearly no expert at all, since those two tactics allowed the club to collectively rake in over $200,000 in two years.

These days, all the “experts” are talking about social media, and I’ve been consistently frustrated with how wrong it usually turns out to be. So I’m taking a page from Betty — I’m not going to buy that garbage anymore.

Maybe it’s this article I read last week; maybe it’s the continuing downward slide of Facebook’s stock valuation or maybe I’m just fed up, but I’m finally starting to feel like all the gut instincts and common sense I had about social media are turning out to have been right all along.  A couple of things I’ve noticed:

  1. The people with a ton of followers/likes/etc. tend to fall into just two categories: social media/marketing professionals, and people who were already famous.  In other words, people will follow you because they love your work, not the other way around.  You can’t put a mediocre product out into the world and socially market it to success, unless social marketing becomes your full-time job instead.
  2. It’s other people’s links that have gotten me new fans/customers/clients, not the ones I post myself. In other words, it’s been more useful for me to spend time making beautiful things or creating interesting content than figuring out which hashtags will court the most re-tweets.
  3. Contrary to popular opinion, I think social media is best used casually and sparingly.  When I use my accounts just for entertainment or to meet/keep in touch with friends, I don’t have the stress of constantly checking my stats, and I tend to spend my time on more productive ventures.  I can scroll through the day’s events for 10 minutes before bed, bookmark or re-post anything interesting, and then sleep soundly.  Conversely, when I have put significantly more effort into social marketing, it has yielded only nominally better results.  One week I actually lost followers, because I think they could smell the stink of desperation.
  4. It’s still good to have accounts with a couple of the major platforms.  When I find a new artist, company or organization I like, I look for the little Twitter link on their web site because it’s the easiest way for me to keep up with them.  For other people, Facebook, Pinterest, or an RSS reader is their go-to.  If people can’t easily find you on the platform they’re already using, it’s likely they’ll just forget.  Platforms also come and go (remember Friendster?), so it’s good not to put all your eggs in one basket.  Thankfully there are lots of good aggregators out there now that will let you post to all your networks at once.
  5. Be early to the party.  I’ve found that my social media reach has far more to do with how long I’ve been on a particular platform than how much effort I’ve put into the marketing itself.

For me, social media is enticing for the same reason it’s destructive: it allows me to instantly measure my “success” against others.  But as soon as I stopped letting it be the primary metric for measuring my worth and starting using it just for the convenient tool it is, the sun came out and everything got so much better.

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