I had a hunch this was going to happen. And I suppose I could be mistaken, but at the risk of being wrong, I’ll just come out and say it:
We’ve reached, or are reaching, peak social media. Understand, I’m not suggesting people aren’t using it anymore–quite the contrary–but my guess is we’ve reached the point at which the number of people who are going to stop or greatly reduce their use of platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc., will be equal or greater to the number of people joining or increasing their use.
Why? Because social media is mostly garbage and a waste of time. For the vast majority of us, the simple truth is that it confers very little value to our lives. In point of fact, several studies have come out recently that show spending time on social media is correlated with a negative effect on overall wellbeing, especially mental health.
The irony is that social media isn’t even a very good way to connect with people.
Sorry, but it’s not. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Like, when I post something on Facebook, my guess is only a tiny fraction of my “friends” even see it. This seems especially true if I’m trying to organize or share some sort of event–like you know: actually connect with other people.
For example, I’ll post: “hey, I’ll be pouring at the Heater Allen tap room this Friday and Saturday. Drop by and say what’s up!” And almost no one sees that, or if they do it’s too late.
And we all know why: advertising. These platforms make their money through ads–not by allowing us to communicate effectively with each other. So as soon as the algorithm figures out you’re doing anything in terms of self promotion, it boxes you in, hoping to spur an investment in the form of advertising.
But even in the realm of advertising social media is often ineffective. Like, I’m an author–let me ask you a question: when was the last time you bought a book because you saw it advertised on social media? I’ve never done it, and I expect most of you haven’t either.
Most products are like that: take my family’s brewery. We can put out stuff on Facebook and Instagram advertising our hours or events–and in point of fact we have–but 99% of our customers come because they like our beer or heard about us through word of mouth, not because they saw our ad on social media.
So, if advertising on social media doesn’t generally work very well (keep in mind: I’m not saying it can’t or never works–just that for many of us, it doesn’t) and it’s not a good way to communicate with friends or family–and it’s certainly not a good way to meet a romantic partner–then what’s the point?
Well, as I said, there really isn’t one. And what’s worse is that as people begin to realize this, the reason to socialize and/or advertise on social media is further diminished. I mean, it’s awfully hard to justify spending the money to run an ad on social media for ChuckingRocks or one of my books when I see my friend, family members, and people who consume podcasts and blogs–precisely the kind of people I want to reach–dialing down the amount of time they spend on these platforms.
I’m not saying the whole thing’s going to fall apart like a house of cards, but the notion that posting on and scrolling through social media is time well spent, seems to be dissipating rapidly as time goes on. The reality is catching up with the illusion.
In my own experience I deleted the Facebook app from my phone and I won’t be going back. I’d do the same with Twitter if I ever felt compelled to get on there. But I don’t. And the only reason I’ve kept Instagram and Snapchat on my phone is to DM people (same reason I’ve kept FB Message), usually girls I’m dating. I rarely post pics or publish a story.
And my life is much better as a consequence. I don’t waste time staring at my phone all day, get into pointless arguments on Facebook, or worry about how many likes I get on Insta or if I’ve got a streak going on Snap.
I don’t care–and that gives me time to care about other things.
The question is what comes next.
In terms of socializing, how do we replace these large networks of people we know, but don’t really know all that well?
My guess is they go away and that’s probably fine. One of the best outcomes of using less social media in my experience is that I have more intense, intimate interactions with my close friends and family members. Quality over quantity.
The other question is how advertisers–especially small businesses or independent entrepreneurs and artists like me–reach their target audience.
The answer, as you might expect, is to get back to promoting ourselves IRL.
Consider the example I gave earlier of whether or not you’d buy my book if you saw it advertised on Facebook or Insta–probably not. But the people who know me–who meet me in person? Many will. And that makes sense: on social media we have connections with at a minimum hundreds of people, many who are asking us to do things for them or buy stuff.
IRL, on the other hand? My guess is the average person has less than 20-30 different interpersonal interactions lasting more than three minutes during a typical day, and if we discount stuff at work and count only those people who are part of our social circle, it’s probably less than 10 a day on average.
So in terms of numbers, the impact of a face-to-face interaction is going to stand out, but more importantly: it’s a face-to-face interaction, which has far more power and gravity than someone DMing me on Instagram or posting a product on Facebook (which is also why MIRL is far superior to SOD).
Unfortunately this is a double edged sword, because our reach IRL is limited. But with every challenge comes an opportunity, and this is where people have to think about creative solutions.
One solution might be to create an “artists’ market” similar to a farmers’ market. Or a yearly, bi-yearly, or quarterly festival, convention, or event of some kind where people with similar interests, products, and services get together to buy, sell, and collaborate.
However, what we should ultimately remember is that creating quality products, services, or content is what matters more than anything. And this goes full circle back to social media–a lot of people think that if they have an awesome Instagram account they’ll have a successful business, but the reverse is actually true: if you have a successful business that delivers quality to your consumers, you’ll have a lot of followers on social media.
Or, as Seth Godin says more succinctly, social media is a symptom, not a tactic.
In any case, the answer isn’t hashtags and catchy images–anyone who’s seen one of the Fyre Festival documentaries can tell you that.
No. As crazy as it sounds, the future is IRL.