Is it Time for You to Leave Social Media?
In this post, we weigh the pros and cons of whether or not you should leave social media. We also explore several community- and values-driven alternatives.
Like many agencies, Mightybytes has used social media as a marketing tool for a very long time. We were early adopters of Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks, with accounts dating back to the early/mid-2000s (when Friendster was still a thing).
Social media—along with our blog, books, presentations, and other materials—formed the foundation of Mightybytes’ content marketing for many years. In fact, social media figured prominently in two editions of our digital marketing book, Return on Engagement.
During this time, we used social media to:
- Answer questions and share relevant content with target audiences.
- Create meaningful connections with purpose-driven organizations and individuals.
- Occasionally (following the 80/20 rule), promote our business and services.
Initially, social networking platforms facilitated favorable interactions and outcomes for us, serving as reliable channels within our content and digital marketing strategies.
But times change.
The State of Big Tech
Companies on their own can’t do enough to glue the world back together. Because people in Silicon Valley are expressing regrets, you might think that now you just need to wait for us to fix the problem. That’s not how things work. If you aren’t part of the solution, there will be no solution.— Jaron Lanier, Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now
Large online platforms are inundated with low quality content, mis/disinformation, and toxic interactions, degrading user experience and undermining overall value for users, publishers, businesses, and other players in their stakeholder ecosystems.
As public companies, Big Tech platforms are beholden to maximize shareholder value, usually at the expense of other stakeholders. Because of this, social networks won’t change anytime soon without being forced to do so through legislative measures. This leaves users with only a handful of choices:
- Ignore it and let the platforms continue to drive the internet’s “enshittification”.
- Put your accounts on hold and hope someone somewhere passes a law…or several.
- Leave social media altogether and work to establish regulatory frameworks that hold platforms accountable, ensure corporate digital responsibility, and protect stakeholder interests.
Most companies will choose some variation of option one or two above. We decided on option three to foster a more sustainable and equitable digital ecosystem.
Here are some of the signs that led us to this decision.
Five Signs that Leaving Social Media Might be a Smart Move
Enshittification is the process by which a platform lures in and then captures end users (stage one), who serve as bait for business customers, who are also captured (stage two), whereupon the platform rug-pulls both groups and allocates all the value they generate and exchange to itself (stage three).— Cory Doctorow, Leaving Twitter had no Effect on NPR’s Traffic
1. Eroding Privacy and Trust
Social media destroys personal privacy and undermines trust. Despite legislative efforts to support data privacy through GDPR and other regulations, these platforms amplify hate speech and disinformation while they sell your personal information to the highest bidder.
2. Digital Well-Being and Impact on Mental Health
Plus, as a society, we’re increasingly addicted to our screens. Through habit-forming products, social platforms take a significant toll on their users, content moderators, and other stakeholders. This undermines mental health and digital well-being, and puts the very fabric of society at risk.
3. Social Media’s Environmental Impact
Since these platforms are designed to keep users scrolling, social media consumes massive amounts of resources. In 2021, an estimated 4.33 billion social media users accounted for .61% of global emissions, roughly equal to the carbon footprint of Malaysia.
4. High Ad Spends
A user will only spend so much time on Facebook, and every post that Facebook feeds that user from someone they want to hear from is a missed opportunity to show them a post from someone who’ll pay to reach them.— Cory Doctorow, Pluralistic
Social media—both paid and organic—generates just 2% of website traffic, according to Marketing Insider Group. With algorithms constantly changing in favor of “pay-to-play” models, it is increasingly difficult for small businesses to compete for reach without opening their wallets.
We’ve seen this with many of our clients: their ad spend slowly rises—usually in response to decreased traffic and conversion rates—while the value they get from these investments decreases. Over time, the costs become untenable. This alone could make a good case to leave social media, or at least stop paying for ads on these platforms.
5. Low Returns
Similarly, whether you spend money on ads and sponsored posts or commit to a rigorous publishing schedule to drive organic reach, you’ve no doubt experienced diminishing returns on your efforts.
We haven’t received any meaningful business value from most Big Tech social media platforms for years now. We stopped advertising years ago as well. As a small agency, our efforts increasingly connected us with false or low-quality leads, not the purpose-driven organizations we wanted to work with.
Essentially, social media became a time and resource suck with little to show in terms of measurably improving our business. This was challenging in several ways. Many of our clients and fellow agencies have expressed similar frustration.
We can do better.
Our Rationale for Leaving Social Media
It’s not easy to decide to back away; there’s still a fear about leaving—a fear of missing out on a great conversation or a new joke. But as a platform becomes less reliable—either editorially or technically — staying becomes more fraught.— Gabe Bullard, Nieman Reports
As we examined the points above, it became clear to us that Meta and X are not worth our company’s resources. And we’re not alone. We applaud fellow B Corp Keap Candles’ decision to leave social media. However, we also wondered if a digital agency could do this and still thrive.
If you’re faced with making a similar decision, here are some pros and cons we considered:
Pros to Deleting Social Media Accounts
- Increased capacity: Free up resources that can be used elsewhere. In the past, our decision to minimize RFP responses served us well in this regard.
- More meaningful relationships: By declaring this publicly, we have time to connect with like-minded organizations that might be considering similar moves.
- Better content: No longer participating in platform environments that contradict our values allows us to move our content strategy forward with a clear conscience while also helping others do the same.
Potential Risks to Leaving Social Media
- Industry perception: Potential clients could view us as not being a good fit because they think we don’t recommend using social media as a marketing tool.
- Unwanted attention: Might this decision somehow undermine our reputation in other ways or attract undesirable attention?
- Identity theft: Could others claim our company profiles or otherwise impersonate us?
This isn’t to say that social media doesn’t have a place in digital strategy. Online communities are thriving both inside and outside of Big Tech’s walled gardens. Smaller group size, increased privacy, or more intimate spaces make joining platforms like those below an attractive option.
- Mastodon: A decentralized social network grounded in the principles of open source.
- Discord: A voice, video, and text communication service with a mission to create space for people to find belonging in their lives.
- Slack: Originally designed for professional team communications, Slack has also been adopted as a community platform.
- Open Social: A pro-privacy, anti-monopoly, and open web community platform meant to inspire trusted connections and collaboration.
- LinkedIn groups: Places for professionals in the same industry or with similar interests to share their insights and experiences, ask for guidance, and build valuable connections.
- Targeted search queries will reveal many, many other online community platforms across the internet. Make sure you vet every option thoroughly before committing to participate.
Leaving Social Media: Where We Landed
In an effort to clean up our digital supply chain and refocus our content strategy, we’ve ultimately made the team decision to leave most of our social media accounts: no Twitter, no Facebook, and a limited LinkedIn presence. Twitter and Facebook no longer serve us well on many levels.
LinkedIn, while still pay-to-play like the others, is somewhat an exception. As a platform where professionals turn to search and apply for jobs, share accomplishments and ideas, and engage in thought leadership, it seems to more closely adhere to the original purpose of social media: networking.
For the time being, LinkedIn is still a useful tool for sharing content and connecting with purpose-driven organizations, clients, and colleagues. In fact, 84% of B2B marketers say that LinkedIn provides the best value and have decreased their use of Facebook, Instagram, X, and YouTube, according to a survey conducted by Content Marketing Institute.
Seven Community-Driven Actions to Improve Online Relationships
Of course, the absence of social networks will mean thinking differently about digital marketing. Traditional digital marketers think in terms of conversion rates, churn, customer lifetime value, and so on. Impact-focused marketers think more about communities and ecosystems. While we’re all about making smart business decisions based on data, people often make purchasing decisions based on trust.
Here are seven ways that focusing on customer experience and community building can make a significant difference over the “spray and pray” marketing approach that often happens on social media.
1. Focus on Common Interests and Values
People find fault in personas because they depersonalize real people’s wants and needs. By appealing to the lowest common denominator of target customer traits, we inadvertently remove what’s most valuable to most people: trust and mutual respect. It’s hard to engender this trust when you’re communicating through “social media blasts” or other one-to-many marketing methods.
Conversely, values-driven communities are grounded in a shared set of ideas and principles. This makes it easier to build trust with others in the community, providing you’re honest, transparent, and actually engaging in conversations. In other words, to earn trust, be trustworthy.
2. Find (and Sometimes Build) Online Communities
Similarly, if traditional social media marketing efforts aren’t working, consider exploring other avenues to build community grounded in shared value, common interests, and mutual trust. Step back from Big Tech platforms, seek out alternative online communities, and focus your content strategy where you know your efforts will provide value.
Create a community only if there is a clear gap to fill. Otherwise, join one of the millions of existing online communities across the internet. Find one that fits your needs. And keep the business pitches to a bare minimum.
3. Understand the Ecosystem
It is impossible to know the behavior of a system just by knowing the parts that make up that system. We have to dig deeper to understand the relationships between those parts and the impact they have on the system as a whole. That is a central tenet of systems thinking, and one we should never ignore.— Steven Schuster, The Art of Thinking in Systems
As online communications become more complicated, systems thinking becomes more important. Unintended consequences lie around every corner—taking the form of something as simple as accidentally sharing a piece of false information to as potentially life-threatening as depriving millions of people access to important data.
Systems thinking practices can help us be more intentional in our community-building efforts. This goes well beyond the science of virality and network effects to clearly understanding the components of a community, how members interact, and how multiple interconnected perspectives continuously shape that community’s needs. This is especially important for large online communities.
4. Clarity and Quality Over Quantity Always
The human brain can process 11 million bits of information every second. But our conscious minds can handle only 40 to 50 bits of information a second. So our brains sometimes take cognitive shortcuts that can lead to unconscious or implicit bias, with serious consequences for how we perceive and act toward other people.— NPR, Understanding Unconscious Bias
Social media platforms do little to dissuade us of the illusion that we can reach billions of people just by putting our messages on their services. However, while there are indeed billions of people using social media, your chances of reaching most of them in any meaningful way are pretty low.
Algorithmic bias aside, our brains can only process so much information. Plus, when processing large amounts of data—like content across social networks, for instance—our brains take shortcuts which can sometimes lead to bias, whether we realize it or not.
There are many reasons to focus on clarity and quality in your online interactions. This is one of the most compelling.
5. Offline and In-Person
Sometimes, it’s just better to interact in person rather than online. Our species is generally more skilled at reading interpersonal cues and creating more meaningful relationships during face-to-face interactions.
This is not to say you should completely replace your online presence with in-person events. However, know when one channel works better than another. For example, in-person, experiential learning is often more effective than asynchronous online interactions or one-way presentations. Plan accordingly.
6. Facilitate, Don’t Moderate
If you’re a community moderator, you have certain unalienable responsibilities. Occasionally, you have to bring the hammer down. However, it’s usually much more effective to gently guide conversations rather than engage in heated rhetoric. There’s already too much anger on the internet. Don’t add to the problem.
To do this, create clear community guidelines or, better yet, a Code of Ethics. Share these as reminders when necessary. Curating meaningful content while also facilitating generative conversations is a fine art that requires time and intention. Communities break down when members (or moderators) forget this.
Marketers can also do this by fighting online disinformation and encouraging other community members to do the same. Which brings us to our last point in this section…
7. Support Responsible Tech Legislation
Finally—and perhaps most importantly—elect lawmakers who will hold platforms accountable for the damage they cause. This extends beyond social media to generative AI, blockchain, automation, and any other current or emerging technologies. The California Consumer Privacy Act and President Biden’s executive order on AI are prime examples of how governments can take action to protect people online.
We can also force interoperability through legislative change. Data interoperability puts power back in the hands of users and can help automate transitioning online communities from one platform to another. This also encourages healthy competition. It is also especially important for small to midsize businesses.
Working Toward a Better Social Future
Social platforms have indeed transformed the world as we know it, allowing us to interact in ways we couldn’t have imagined in the past. In this era of unprecedented connectivity and collaboration, we don’t have to be held prisoner by Big Tech’s terrible business models. Change won’t happen overnight, and regulation is not without challenges and controversies. In the meantime, we can hold out hope for an open and ethical internet that works for everyone by being proactive on the items above.
To leave social media accounts on large platforms—where it often feels like yelling into a void at the expense of your personal privacy—we’re exploring alternate platforms to add to our sustainable marketing stack. Our goal is to foster more meaningful connections with clients and other people interested in making the digital world a better place.
In summary, we want to emphasize that we’re not advising our clients and colleagues to leave social media if it’s effective for them. However, we encourage strategy workshops, content audits, and user research to fine-tune your social messaging and align it with your target audience’s needs and preferences.
In cases where social media fails to yield the desired results, as it does for us, don’t hesitate to take a pause and explore fresh approaches. There are numerous compelling reasons to step back and explore alternatives.