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Good business and the heart-sinking reality of social media messaging

Maybe it’s just me. Of course, it could be just me.

But I’ve been hearing this from a few people, so maybe it’s not just me.

As part of my digital minimalism drive for the month of January (thanks, Cal Newport), I removed Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram from my phone, took a break from posting anything on any social media, and committed to writing one blog on my website every weekday (like the one you’re reading now; the rest of my daily notes are over here).

Quickly, my avoidance of social media extended beyond just my phone. I went days without opening any of the platforms on my laptop too.

As February began, my thoughts turned to how I might re-engage with the world of social media.

Because I know that social media can be a force for good. I’ve met and conversed with some phenomenal people on social media. As a conduit to building real-lief rapport, its powers are unprecedented. Just this week I watched a stunning, emotional, heart-breaking documentary made by a video team in Seattle last year, and within 12 hours I was chatting with the two filmmakers by Twitter.

So there is phenomenal power in social media, when it’s used intentionally.

But truth be told, as January went by, I didn’t miss it at all.

I was more productive for the month of January than at any other time in the past two years: my new business, which offers a three-pronged framework of business coaching, strategic planning and digital marketing services, is going through all the paperwork to make things official; and I ticked off 12,000 words of writing between these short blogs, a number of longer essays I’m working on and my weekly Saturday morning email bulletin. I did almost zero networking (online or in the real world) and my workdays were all no more than 7-8 hours long (I had also committed to taking things slowly during the darker winter days after a couple of winters when I’d run out of gas come February…)

Last weekend I logged back into Facebook. I expected the avalanche of notifications after more than a month away from my personal profile, but most of them were either completely irrelevant, or not that important.

I saw there were six messages, so I clicked the icon to see what they were.

Of the six,

  • One was from a friend of mine, a link to an event I might be interested in attending later this year.
  • Three were automated messages from people/businesses who were trying to sell me something through their MessengerBot. At some point over the past year or so I had done something to get onto their “funnel”, and this was their latest automated reach-out to me to remind me of what they had to offer.
  • Two were from Facebook friends, people I’ve met and spoken to in real life but don’t know all that well away from my computer. They were both inviting me to join a group they were setting up. I asked both of them if the group was for the purposes of selling something. Both replied yes, of course. After a period of time, they would offer to those for whom it made sense a paid mastermind in one case, and private one-to-one work on the other.

On the face of it, that’s fine. Everyone has to make a living, and for many people direct private messages by social media is the preferred method of reaching people who might become customers.

And I firmly believe two things about business:

1. All good business is win-win

It’s not a matter of the seller winning, and the buyer losing out. (This was my old default mindset, and one I’ve worked hard to change, with the help of some great people along the way, including people I’ve met and worked with, like Moira Ni Ghallachóir, Robert McKernan, Peter Beckenham and Mike Szczeszniak, and those whose advice I’ve followed from afar, such as Robert Kiyosaki, Tony Robbins, Brendon Burchard, Lewis Howes and Chris Harder.) But good business is not a zero sum game. All good business is good for both sides, seller and buyer coming together in a

2. Business is the best way to deliver positive impact

Yes, charities do amazing work. Yes, there are countless NGOs out there doing incredible things. And yes, Government and public service is a key place where societal change can happen. But I still believe that all of them are trumped by a good business doing great things. To borrow a line from the podcaster and coach Chris Harder, “when good people make good money, they do great things”. Business categorised as social enterprise, or purpose-driven business, or conscious capitalism, is not pie-in-the-sky ideology. Good business can really work to deliver positive change at scale. (This is the thinking behind B1G1, a great organisation run by the phenomenal Masami Sati, who I interviewed last year for the podcast.)

Reacting to social media messages

So why do I react so aggressively when good people, working on good businesses, ping me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other places inviting me, and only if it makes sense for me, to join in?

I think it’s no real reflection on them. This is just the reality. And that’s what I’m reacting to. I’m reacting to the culture of what it is to live and breathe and work in 2020.

While a million things are better than they’ve ever been in the history of humanity, we still don’t know, and may not know for a long time, the impact of the assault on our brains of Internet connectivity that has become so pervasive to our culture since the advent of the iPhone changed everything after 2007.

And social media messaging, even from excellent well-meaning people, is just another piece of artillery in the assault that rains down on us virtually every waking moment.

What are the alternatives for aspiring business owners who want to create impact?

Something a friend of mine and fellow business owner said to me recently has really lodged itself in my brain.

I don’t want to be found. I want to be looked for.

There’s a big distinction there. Being found is the core goal of so much of what adds up to digital marketing: Facebook or Instagram Ads, Google Ads, search engine optimisation.

Even when we’re found, that moment when our business name or logo or offer pops up in front of someone for the first time, can be pot luck whether we’re really seen or really listened to.

This is the unavoidable outcome of so much intrusion in our brains. We’re perpetually scanning, and we rarely go deep on anything. A piece of longform journalism? tl;dr. A political party’s election manifesto? Forget about it…

So many businesses are trying to be found, but to be looked for, that’s next level, or several levels up.

To be looked for means you stand out with the quality of everything you stand for.

To do great work. Provide great customer service. Provide a great experience for everyone who encounters you, in real life or online.

All that is hard. Doing the work well — doing all the disparate strands that add up to the work well — has always been extraordinarily challenging, and nothing about business in 2020 makes it any easier.

In fact, when you take the multitude of ways that people can see us or hear us now, and multiply it by the creeping low hum of anxiety or overwhelm that so many of us feel, it’s perhaps never been more difficult for business owners to do great work for long enough to be looked for.

But that’s the aim, I think.

Not to be found. To be looked for.

And maybe one route to that point is private messaging over social media. Maybe that’s okay. Once the end goal is clear.

 

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Why Choosing to Disconnect Could Be Just What We Need for Deeper Connection

Shane Breslin

Words are important.

The old “sticks and stones might break my bones, but words can never hurt me” line never fully rang true for me. Because I know how powerful words can be.

Words, used with casual flippancy or malicious intent, can cause untold hurt. Words, used in the right way, can change the world for the better.

Words carefully placed and strung together with honesty of intent can evoke powerful emotion in the listener or reader. Emotion is a key factor in our unconscious mind, and some studies in the fields of neuroscience, behavioral science and biology suggest our unconscious mind is responsible for 95% of all our decisions, behaviours and patterns.

So words are important.

For the past two Januarys I’ve decided to select a focus word for the 12 months ahead.

Last year my focus word was AWARENESS.

I was going through a reawakening, a shift in who I am, of where I am in the world, of what I should be doing and who I should be doing it with.

And I felt that a focus on awareness would be valuable. It definitely proved valuable, in ways that are hard yet to quantify, and are not yet proving valuable in monetary or material ways, but I think are priceless at a deeper, more spiritual level.

For 2019 my focus word is CONNECTION.

CONNECTION to myself, to the person I am becoming, trusting that the path I am on is the right path and requiring me to disobey the urges I have to beat down the real me and continue to present a false veneer to the world.

At some level, this must be working. I met with a former work colleague recently, someone I always respected for his warm integrity and his sense of fairness and humanity. We had shared an office and many, many meetings for several months a few years back. When we met for coffee recently, he said to me, “It feels like this is the first time we’ve met.”

Such growth or expansion — I’m searching for the right word — is accompanied by a lot of pain and suffering. This trying to figure out where next without a map has been desperately painful for me, beset as it is by the incessant hum of self-loathing, the almost non-existent self-worth and almost ever-present self-doubt. It has also been desperately painful for those closest to me to witness all this and keep supporting me through it, while they and I struggle to understand or articulate exactly what is going on.

I am often stuck fast between the pain that finding my way inflicts on my loved ones in the moment, and the pain that recoiling from this path might inflict on them indefinitely. I greatly regret that this path requires that suffering, and I yearn for a Zen state of higher consciousness and calm, but I’m not there yet and I know it’s still some distance away. I choose the psychological pain of tackling the present moment head on instead of distracting myself from it, because I believe at some deep untouchable level that this is the only right choice.

To hear that from my friend and former colleague, that it felt like the first time we’ve met, that it felt like he was meeting someone new and different and maybe reborn, tells me that the pain of the journey is a worthwhile pain, and that further rebirths lie ahead if I can stick to the path.

So connection to myself, the true reality of myself, firstly. A case of putting my own oxygen mask on first.

CONNECTION also to others. A deeper connection to people who matter. Dr Zach Bush, one of the most phenomenal human beings on the planet, and someone for whom the future of the planet occupies a critical part of his thinking, told Rich Roll recently, “You and I are here together right now, and the odds of that are zero, so clearly we are here for a reason.”

“We are together right now, and the odds of that are zero.”

I think of that sentence a lot. When I allow it to — and my self-protecting lizard brain does its best to resist, and very often sabotages things entirely — that sentence enlightens and uplifts every moment I spend with another person.

So connection to others, too, and allowing the magic of those zero odds connections to change the world.

And CONNECTION to the planet. I spoke to Masami Sato of the B1G1 initiative for my podcast recently, and she told the story of how, in her 20s, she became so disillusioned by the world and the damage that all our countless small daily actions and transactions can inflict on it, that she retreated to rural Japan to try self-sustainability. After two years, however, she realised that it was an impossible dream, and that a better course of action is to participate in the world with the full intention of allowing those actions and transactions to impact in a positive way, rather than a mindless negative one.

Connection to the planet is hard when you’re scrabbling to put food on the table, and the green beans from Kenya and the avocados from Peru are on special offer in Lidl.

The interconnectivity of everything is mind-boggling. Being aware of that connection is a necessary first step, I think. At our home, we still don’t grow any of our own food or keep our own chickens, but I suspect it’s not far away. It feels necessary.

The Obstacles to Connection

All this superficial connection inundates real connection, drowning it out so that we find ourselves with 900 Facebook friends and almost no-one to call when we feel like throwing ourselves off a bridge.

There are obstacles to CONNECTION, and perversely I think, some of the biggest obstacles are the incessant connectivity we all experience virtually every moment of every day.

I recently downloaded the Words With Friends app to play with Lorraine and a few friends. The relentlessness of the advertising is obscene. (And yes, I realise I can pay a few euros and switch off the ads … and I realise also how logical and necessary just paying for something is as a first step to quieting the relentless advertising. Increasingly, the world in which we live is an ad-supported model, where we get everything for free but at the psychologically catastrophic price of literally endless messages aimed at selling us stuff we would rarely seek out and definitely do not need.)

Social media, where connection is literally the engine and the fuel and the destination, is increasingly a massive factor in killing our ability to truly connect at a meaningful level.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and others are incredibly powerful tools, allowing us the capability to join communities and build meaningful friendships with people on the opposite side of the world who we could never hope to meet in the ordinary world that existed just a couple of decades ago.

And yet we have lost something vital too, with all this superficial connection inundating real connection, drowning it out so that we find ourselves with 900 Facebook friends and almost no-one to call when we feel like throwing ourselves off a bridge.

We have limitless opportunity for connection, but this is a knife that cuts both ways, and the assault on us from outside is also limitless, and our brains have become conditioned to restlessness, which impacts on everything from our sleep to our energy to our productivity.

Disconnecting could be the route to reconnecting again.

Disconnecting will be different for everyone, depending on how desperate the need and how deep the yearning for the meaningful connection that can follow.

It can be as simple as killing all our phone notifications, or removing the social media apps. (Instagram, for those who use it, can be a real challenge, given that it’s effectively locked to your phone. WhatsApp is similarly phone-centric but it is at least a closed environment. And the ugly reality that Facebook owns all of these, and everything you do there, suggests that we are seeing just the tip of an iceberg that could sink all our boats…)

It could require something more, such as intentionally giving ourselves at least 10 hours a day phone-free (eight hours of restorative sleep and an hour either side).

It could require one day every week without our phone, which might sound like hell on earth to some, depending on the depth of the addiction.

Or it could mean a spa treatment or a retreat or a pilgrimage. Getting away from it all used to be almost exclusively a physical thing, but with our digital lives and responsibilities pursuing us everywhere we go, the need is more psychological than it has ever been.

Whatever the triage and the treatment, there’s little doubt, I think, that choosing to disconnect can bring about the most meaningful connection we’ve had in ages.

Connection to ourselves, to each other and to the planet. Connection where all of us are better off.

Happy disconnecting!

 

(Main photo credit: Israel Palacio on Unsplash)

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I Gave Up Social Media For a Month. Here’s What I Learned

On March 1st, I made a spur of the moment decision in a fit of … what was it? Anger? Frustration? Clarity? I announced to my family, friends and anyone else who happened to be shown the message by the various algorithms at play that I would give up social media for a month.


Shane Breslin

By Shane Breslin


I had a big month ahead of me, I said, a month where deep productivity and headspace was required. I deleted the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn apps from my phone.

(I don’t classify YouTube as social media so that stayed — The Nerdwriter and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver are just about my only recurring “television” appointments these days. Day-to-day I make my living by helping individuals, businesses and nonprofits navigate the confusion of the online world to achieve their goals, but I’ve always been confused by Snapchat, so that wasn’t there to delete.)

While the primary driver, as I told myself and my friends, was the need to find a new level of personal productivity and that the time-suck of social media was swallowing hours of my day when I didn’t have hours to waste, a motivating factor that was just as powerful was more subconscious: the feeling that social media in all its many guises, and for all its incredible, era-defining benefits, was causing some seriously negative tremors deep within my psyche.

Depression, social media and the happiness matrix

I’ve spoken and written at some length about dealing with regular bouts of fairly debilitating depression for more. That situation was ongoing for than 20 years, perhaps longer, before I took some firm steps to address it, but I had a feeling was that the combination of particular personality traits that made me susceptible to depression with the feverishness and 24/7 world of social media was not helping.

Over the past 18 months or so I’ve committed to a journey of self-exploration. One of the exercises I regularly take, and encourage others to take, is what I loosely call a “happiness matrix”: an A4 sheet of paper with four boxes each to represent everything that’s in my control, everything I’m choosing to do.

  • A: Is this pleasurable and good for my soul?
  • B: Is this not pleasurable but good for my soul?
  • C: Is this pleasurable but not good for my soul?
  • D: Is this not pleasurable and not good for my soul?

I’ve found that every choice I make about everything — what time I get up, how I spend the first two hours of my day, who I spend time with, where I live, what I put in my body, and everything else — fits snugly into one of those four categories.

My aim is simple: to do more things from A and B categories, and fewer from C and D.

When I asked myself the question about social media, the answer was a hard one, however. It didn’t fit snugly in any category. There were times when it was definitely in A. I’ve made some friendships that I hope and expect will last a lifetime, and those friendships would just not have been possible without Facebook (Facebook is, unsurprisingly, the primary influence among all the different platforms.)

Very occasionally it was B. Speaking on Twitter about my experiences with the service offered by the Samaritans was definitely not pleasurable, but I got something deeply valuable out of it, and hope that my messages gave some value and meaning to others.

But I couldn’t deny that on many occasions there was a hollowness about much of social media that saw much of my time there enter into categories C and D.

What sort of things?

On Instagram, I joined a pod. I thought I was joining some likeminded people who might support each other in helping to learn better the techniques of that particular platform. Instead it quickly became clear that several people in the group were obsessed. I hesitated to say demented, but that’s what it felt like. The “rules” were that everyone in the pod must commit to turning on notifications for everyone else’s Instagram posts, and then liking and commenting on them within minutes of each post being published. In this way, it might game the Instagram algorithm into thinking that these posts were gaining good traction early, and thus give it a better chance of appearing to more people and even making its way — O Holy Grail! — to the Discover tab. What happened there? Well, clearly, great treasures awaited. In the form, I guess, of higher reach, more followers, more hearts, more comments.

On Twitter, I found that my own stream, built haphazardly over eight years, was filled with the loud hum of incessant and irrelevant retweeting, incessant and self-serving tweets sent by various automated schedulers and incessant angry noise. (Twitter, for all its intrinsic and undeniable in-the-moment value, often feels like a million pissed off people shouting in a lift.) Added to that, every second or third notification was a new follow from a clearly fake bot. (The New York Times “The Follower Factory” exposé in January was clearly an influencing factor in my growing awareness of how shoddy so much of Twitter especially had become.)

Twitter is still the social network I love the most, but I fear, from a business perspective, that it will never work, and it may well be doomed to fail. One analyst suggested recently that it has dipped to sixth most popular social platform in the US (behind Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat) in terms of time spent. This is despite the PR perfection of having a President who uses the service as his personal global loudspeaker.

Facebook: A 21st Century Pandora’s Box

And then there was Facebook.

The big daddy of them all.

The Pandora’s Box of the 21st century, unleashing its combination of hope and the seven deadly sins on the world every minute of every day.

There were already whispers about the growing Facebook data storm at the time I started my social media break. For anyone paying attention, Facebook’s access to and use of data has been well known for the longest time. Max Schrems, a bright Austrian lawyer and activist, has been taking legal actions against Facebook for years. The General Data Protection Regulation, the new EU law which could change the world as we know it when it comes into force in May, is prompted in large part by EU legislators who have been closely scrutinising the way Facebook has been amassing terabyte upon terabyte of personally identifiable data on billions of people around the world.

Still, the revelations when they came, through a Channel 4 News secret camera exposé to the offices of Cambridge Analytica and an admission by Facebook that 87 million accounts were mined by third parties with distinctly ulterior motives, were damning, and didn’t do much to dissuade me from my decision to give this whole thing a break.

So what happened when I decided to give up social media?

Firstly, it became clear that using social media had become a deep-rooted habit.

I might be reading a book or newspaper article, come across a paragraph I liked and before I knew it my phone would be in my hand in readiness for the pic to share.

Same thing with an early morning sunrise, a blossoming daffodil or a smoothie. I found myself composing the first words of the post or tweet in my head before waking up to the fact that no, I wasn’t allowing myself to do this for a while.

Such moments were both liberating and very fucking frightening for me.

It was good to be able to resist, but it was scary to think how deep a grip these services, powered as they are by multi-billion-euro, profit driven companies, had taken on my senses.

It struck me that this could actually be classified as a form of madness. This hour-by-hour, even minute-by-minute compulsion has set in with vast swathes of people in the space of just ten years.

The external and internal dangers of social media

Where do we go from here?

There are benefits. Massive benefits. If you have a message that would benefit the world, and it’s compelling enough, the world can hear about it

For all the benefits, though, there are massive dangers.

Those dangers are external:

  • trusting massive companies, all of whom are compelled to report continued growth in their quarterly profit announcements;
  • the erosion of personal privacy, and all the dangers, known and unknown, that go with that
  • the ease of one-to-one communication that sees Facebook cited in one in every three divorce cases (and those figures are from as long ago as 2015)

Those dangers are also internal, and this is the part that is, I think, the thing we most need to do something about.

I’m drawn to psychology — how people behave the way they do, and why — and I fear that the combination of social media with the smartphone is a perfect storm that arrived in around 2008, and in the decade that followed has had a lasting negative impact on human psychology that will not be fully understood for another generation or so.

Back to social

I’ve been easing my way back in.

Slowly, steadily, with a new understanding of the pros and the multitude of cons.

I unfollowed everyone on Twitter and started anew in a bid to bring only people who add value into my headspace.

I have made a decision to stop posting video content to my habits of happiness Facebook page and I don’t have any real desire to, for the time being at least.

I acknowledge that buried within the noise and restlessness and threat of social media there is still a massive opportunity for deep and meaningful human connection, connection that can positively impact on the world without any negative undertones.

I understand now, more fully, the benefits and both the external and more importantly the internal dangers of all social networks.

Throughout my self-exploration journey, I’ve committed to controlling the controllables.

My habits and use of social media is controllable.

The fact of social media is not.

This is the world.

Like the real world off the Internet, it offers the best and the worst of everything, and each of us can only do what we can.

Like to get more from Shane?

I send one short email on the theme of happiness, and a longer monthly email every first Friday. (Hint: This piece first appeared in the monthly email, so those subscribers received it before anyone else!)

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(Photo credit: Tim Bennett on Unsplash)