Dear Naomi,

“A while back, I started using social media – Twitter, Facebook, a little bit of LinkedIn. Everybody told me it was really good for building a fan base, building loyalty, and getting traffic. The problem is, I’m spending a lot of time on it, and not getting a lot of results.

I’m surrounded by people who don’t seem to do anything but promote themselves and make inside jokes. It’s not that fun anymore but I’m scared that if I back out I’m going to get a lot of backlash from people thinking I’m too good for them.

The truth is, I’m starting to think I AM too good for them. The support network used to be really nice, but it’s changed. It feels like chatter, and I’m really not getting anything out of it anymore.

Everybody’s talking about how important it is to stay social, and I’ve seen what can happen to other people when they cut back their social media presence. (Naomi’s note: Here, the writer referred back to a series of tweets by a person in my social circle who harshly – and obviously, publicly – criticized one of my colleagues and me for not spending so much time on Twitter anymore.)

My social media activity IS getting me a few leads, but all the people talking to me or about me are people in my industry. I guess them linking to me or saying nice things about me theoretically gets the word out about me to THEIR fan bases, but I’m beginning to wonder if that’s really true.

It’s not like I think I’m a better person, but maybe I might have more important things to be doing with my time. It’s not that I don’t like these people, but I’m starting to think we’re spending far too much time doing something that isn’t helping our ittybiz, and it’s starting to feel irresponsible. I don’t want to stay in that trap.

How do I back out without the backlash?

* Edited to remove identifying details

If I had a nickel for every time somebody privately asked me a question like this, consulting would be free.

Standard capitalist theory suggests that in business, the people you are supposed to focus on are your customers and clients. (Also, your shareholders. In your case, in case you forgot, your shareholder is you.) Social media theory says that since the whole world is your potential customer or client, you should just be social instead. Go “be your awesome self” in public and the rest will fall into place, so the thinking seems to go.

You did it. It was okay for a while.

But now you’re noticing that your social media return on investment is getting low enough that you can’t ignore it anymore. All your gurus are telling you that social media is even more Super Awesome than it ever was, but it’s not working. I mean, it’s working, kind of. But it’s not working.

Not like they say it does. Not like it used to.

But if you bail, you’re going to look like you’re not a team player. You’re going to look like you’re abandoning the people who got you here. You’re going to look too big for your britches.

You have a business to run, but you don’t want to desert your “friends”.

That’s understandable. Your peers were your support network getting to this point. They helped you through some tough times. They gave you someone to talk to on those nights when you’re so excited about business that you’re bursting, but your spouse gives you blank (or disgusted) looks whenever you bring it up.

First, please know that you’re probably doing the right thing by quitting.

I say this not because I think social media is a total waste of time – I don’t think that, at least not every day – but because historically, not following your gut because you don’t want to make someone mad at you is generally a very bad idea.

Think you’re too young to be having sex? What’s your problem? You think you’re too good for it?

Rather study than sit around getting stoned all the time? Don’t be a prude! It’ll all work out!

Serious doubts about marrying that guy? Do it anyway! Your brother flew in all the way from Wisconsin for the ceremony!

Second, if you decide to quit, it’s going to feel really icky.

There’s really no way around that. Social media may have been a part of your life for a long time now, and a big part, too. You’re getting rid of a multiple-times-a-day habit, AND a hangout, AND a social group, all at the same time.

It is going to suck. You’re going to wonder what the hell to do with your days. You’re going to think in tweets and Facebook updates for at least a month, probably longer, although it will start to dwindle. For the first while, you’ll spend huge chunks of every day thinking of something that would be FANTASTIC to tweet.

It will end. Take the time between now and then to catch up on some lost sleep. Detox goes faster when you’re unconscious.

As for what to actually do to get out of your oh-so-social bankruptcy-in-progress, you’ve got two options.

Option One: Go cold turkey.

If you want to quit, you can quit. There’s no law in any land that forces you to be on Twitter any longer than you want to be. Some people may bitch about it, yes, but they are not your friends, and they never were. Friends say they miss you – they don’t publicly criticize you for not being around to hang out.

True, a decreased presence in social media can impact how much your “friends” tweet or like or whatever your content, your services, or your products. That can seem a little scary. But check your stats. Even with a lot of social media promotion, you’re probably not getting THAT much more traffic.

(I have 10,000 Twitter followers. When I post something to Twitter, I average around 50 retweets and 30 clicks. More people are retweeting it than are actually reading it. Hmm.)

So if you want to get out now, by all means, get out now. You won’t die.

Option Two: Slowly creep towards the door and hope nobody notices.

The alternative is to slowly ease your way out. If you don’t outright hate what social media has become and your husband hasn’t already joined a Twitter Widower support group (they have t-shirts!) this isn’t a bad option. You probably won’t get yelled at, which is nice.

In this scenario, you pick two or three times a day – pick them ahead of time and don’t leave it to chance! – to log onto your social media website(s) of choice with a decided amount of time to be there. Instead of simply hanging out and seeing what happens, you consciously and deliberately engage with a few people who are important to you, ideally only commenting on conversations that took place at least an hour before.

It doesn’t matter what you say. It can be lame. You’re not trying to impress anybody. You’re just showing your face.

Your friends see that you’ve been around, but they see your responses coming well after the initial conversations took place. You get credit for being there, without actually having to be there.

Soon enough, nobody expects you to reply in real time anymore.

One caveat? While you’re in there?

DO NOT CLICK ON ANYTHING. You’re trying to prove you were there. Clicking on a link does not prove you were there. The objective here is get the hell out of social media without hurting anybody’s feelings, not to be entertained. If you’re going to waste time, at least make it count.

Get in, get out, don’t get distracted.

You can completely ease out over the course of several weeks, or you could stay at this level for the rest of your life. The attachment is broken, and your peak productive time is never interrupted by “just checking real quick” again.

The one thing to never, ever do. Ever.

One thing NOT to do. Do not, ever, under any circumstances, come out and say what you’re doing. Do not go onto Facebook and say you’re spending less time on Facebook. Do not do this. I cannot emphasize this enough.

If you do this, two things are going to happen, and they’re both really bad.

One, no matter how politely you tell people that you’re reprioritizing your time, a certain number of them will take it personally. They’ll either think you don’t want to hang out with them anymore, or they’ll think you’re casting judgment on how they spend THEIR time. You’re trying NOT to hurt people’s feelings, remember?

Two, you’re drawing attention to yourself for no good reason. It’s a bit like people who don’t blog for a while and then write a post about how they haven’t blogged for a while. A small percentage of their readers notice and care. The rest are only reminded of how little they noticed or cared.

Stay tuned!

Next week in the IttyBiz Confessional: “I’m scared I’ll never be awesome.

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