Moving toward a Minimalist’s Approach to Social Media

Minimalism suggests that owning fewer things frees your mind and improves your life. Minimalism gurus have similar stories about previously owning a huge house, an 80-inch television, 250 bags, and 75 pairs of shoes before discovering minimalism and offloading it all. Some gurus now own 220, 156, 73, 42, or some other randomly small number of things. Their lives fit in their backpacks, and they are happier than they have ever been.

Despite all the shows, blogs, books, podcasts, and other media about decluttering and minimizing your life, the point of minimalism is quite simple. It is not about the quantity of items or the race to remove them. It is about a mindfulness, or an awareness, surrounding the items you own and why you own them.

Social media represent the opposite of minimalism and the mindfulness that accompanies it. They encourage mindlessness with their checking, sharing, liking, reacting, posting, retweeting, and reblogging activities. They encourage you to add, friend, or follow people — both the famous-for-being-famous and the less-than-famous like your high school sophomore crush. Studies claim people check their phones more than 150 times per day, which averages to about six times per hour. Apps encourage this checking behavior through notifications.

Why? These sites depend on engagement to grow and thrive as marketplaces. In 2016 Facebook faced (ha!) a conundrum when people stopped sharing much less original content — a significant enough drop that caused revenue declines. The site responded by encouraging people to share more anniversaries and “on this day” posts, though this manufactured nostalgia reminded people of some pretty painful memories and drew some backlash.

Admittedly, at one time or another I have or have had accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Academia.edu, Flickr, Instagram, 500px, Pinterest, ello, Medium, Tumblr, Vimeo, Vine, WhatsApp, and (*gasp*) MySpace. I left most of these sites, but each for different reasons. Facebook’s changing newsfeed, interface, and policies, for example, reminded me of going to a pharmacy for headache medicine and the pharmacist insists on athlete’s foot powder. ello offered almost no features when it started. LinkedIn displayed no content of use to me. Academia.edu pestered me to upload copyrighted content I didn’t own. Ultimately, I left most of these sites because their investment overshadowed their minimal return value.

Blogging requires some degree of a social media presence, but I seek a minimalist approach, not a maximalist one. One extreme says eliminate social media altogether, like Cal Newport describes in his book Deep Work, yet Newport still maintains a blog with comments. One minimalism guru lists six social media accounts across five sites as part of his promotion strategy. Reading that post felt overwhelming to me, but then again I am not a multi-million-selling book author who makes a living on my expertise.

These extremes, though, show why mindfulness about social media when blogging is more important than minimalism about social media when blogging. The quantity matters little. The intention matters most.

While I am still developing the social media strategies to accompany this blog, the following steps have helped me start to hone them in a more mindful way.

1. Set goals and stick to them.

The best blogs have a mission or a goal to them. That goal becomes the foundation for decisions about everything from post content to FAQs. It also informs which social networking sites that might best boost your blog.

2. Clear your phone.

Remove all social networking apps from your smart phone. I used an app called Realizd to track my checking habits, and I found that having the apps so readily available encouraged their too-frequent checking. Removing the apps frustrates the compulsion to check for a while, and then it eventually becomes more normal not to check.

Try turning off all notifications as an interim step to deleting the apps altogether.

3. Develop a social media schedule.

Schedule a time — each day, each week — to sit down and check social media. Be intentional in the sites you want to check and why you want to check them. If short on time, for example, check Twitter. If you have a longer time period, check a site that offers more reading than scrolling.

Avoid checking social media or email first thing in the morning, though. Take offline time for you, get in a workout, or schedule a writing or reading task instead.

4. Plan and schedule social media posts.

While social media largely encourage spontaneous activity, planning social media posts helps tame them and your time. This planning includes what messages, of course, but it also includes what networks, times, and frequency. Developing a calendar can simplify this process even further.

That said, do allow for some spontaneity, such as sharing a popular post as it makes the rounds.

5. Choose social networks carefully.

Choose social networks because they contribute something to your blog and its development, not because it feels like everyone has an account on them. For a long time, Facebook and Twitter used to be the assumed starting points that everyone needed. Now with more than 200 sites to choose from, careful curation is key.

6. Use social listening tools to hone your online presences.

Social listening means paying attention to what others say about your blog topic online. It offers several advantages in blog development, and multiple tools make social listening quite convenient.