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Your Social Media Reset: Why Smaller Is Better
How to move away from feelings of isolation and envy, and focus on meaningful connections with your ideal readers
(Before I begin: I’m running the next session of my workshop: Launch & Grow Your Email Newsletter on Substack on November 10th! If you or a friend are looking for guidance, please consider this workshop. A full recording is provided to all who register. Full info here.)
Today I want to share a practical strategy for how you can feel good about how you share your writing and creative work online, optimizing for meaningful connections with your ideal readers.
This is why: So many writers and creators I speak with talk about their frustrations with social media, and that hollow feeling they have when they share something online, only to hear silence in return. They feel alone in this process. Their greatest hope is that their writing will connect with a reader, and help that person feel inspired, entertained, or informed. That they moved the reader in some small but meaningful way.
This is how we may measure our own sense of fulfillment and satisfaction with our craft. And it may become the underpinning to our identities as a writer: getting read.
Likewise, I speak with writers who are excited to have a moment of success that they have waited for — such as an essay appear in a notable publication, or they appear as a guest on a big podcast — only to hear crickets.
So many of us may experience this on a smaller scale: a social media post that gets few likes, a newsletter that gets no replies, or an event that no one shows up to. This can create a sense of isolation. But then that may be mixed with envy when they are constantly shown posts from others that are “going viral.” We can become jealous of the person whose post was rewarded with gushing feedback that is obvious in the number of likes, comments, and re-shares it has received.
Today I want to share a strategy to move you away from the isolation and envy loop that can so often define how we experience social media. I will cover three areas:
Create a smaller but more engaged community
Focus your social media feeds
Start with authenticity
Let’s dig in…
Create a Smaller but More Engaged Community
I have written a lot about the shift that writers are making to Substack, and feel this embodies so many of the ways that social media has been changing in the last year. There is less of a focus on viral growth, and more focus on a limited but engaged audience.
Why do this? Because for many writers, it is leading to:
More actual engagement with people who love their writing. Not just likes and hearts and claps, but conversations and connections.
More revenue earned from their writing. (yay!)
Less trying to keep up with trends, or the algorithms that govern many social media sites.
Less time spent scrolling endlessly on social media, feeling badly about themselves in the process. (This is known as “doomscrolling,” by the way.)
Less dealing with trolls.
I’ve mentioned in the past that I have worked with author, and she recently launched her own Substack. Did she just start a monthly newsletter? Nope. She did it the Amanda way, which is to say that every detail was considered, with a large focus on connection with her audience.
On Instagram she has 60,000 followers. But the other day, she shared this:
What does this mean? She is choosing to focus her energy and her readers’ attention on Substack, and is giving less attention to her Instagram. I would imagine that this may feel counterintuitive to some of you, because it makes sense to focus on the established larger audience. Yet here she is directing her attention on three things:
A smaller but more engaged audience of her true fans
An ecosystem which encourages depth and focus
Earning more revenue from her writing (she has a paid tier on Substack)
I’ve written aboutin the past, including this profile on her Substack growth. She has talked about focusing all of her energy on her Substack. She recently ended her incredibly successful podcast. Just, ended it. But not only that, she has made almost all of her work on Substack within her paid tier, meaning that she is only focusing on the audience of readers who like her work enough to pay her for it.
These steps can seem revolutionary in a world of social media where we have become expected to do so much for free, all for the glory of attention.
I am seeing this trend on other networks as well. Such as this YouTuber who began ignoring his main channel for more than a year that has nearly 3 million subscribers, in order to focus intensely on a newer second channel that has “only” 200,000 subscribers. He had also previously abandoned his successful podcast of 8 years. Why? Similar reasons as Amanda and Emma:
A smaller but more engaged audience of true fans
An ecosystem which encourages depth and focus
Earning more revenue
I’ve interviewed author and artist Rebecca Green three times in the past (here, here, and here!), and the first was about creative burnout. She has 281,000 followers on Instagram and as a visual artist, that platform has helped her reach so many people and grow her career. She, of course, still maintains that account.
Near the end of 2021, though, she created a Patreon. What is that? A private community where people who like your work can pay you to support it. At the moment, Rebecca has 1,227 paying members there, including me. Including my wife. We are a “Rebecca Green is awesome” household.
Membership to her Patreon costs $5 per month. I forget if she started it as less expensive, but let’s do some basic math: 1,227 x $5 = $6,135 per month. What does she offer for that? This:
Patron-only posts and messages. She shares a long video at the start of each month, and this is the main thing I really engage with.
Full library access of past posts.
Additional behind-the-scenes content.
Access to her private Discord (this is essentially a private forum.) I had actually never looked at her Discord until I began writing this post. 816 people from her Patreon are there.
When you focus on a smaller, more engaged community, it flips how we often think about social media. We move beyond looking at “follower growth” alone, to a more nuanced set of metrics and moments. It can allow you to consider practical actions to take to develop more engagement, and even more revenue around your writing. Over the years, I’ve had so many writers say to me things like, “Oh my newsletter is a total failure, I only have 100 subscribers.” But what if that person celebrated those 100 subscribers, instead of dismissing them?
Back when I used to manage a bookstore and cafe in the 1990s, we would run multiple events each week. What would make a great event? 20 people attending. Even an event with 8 or 10 would be a success.
I encourage you to consider this: what if you envision the cozy literary cafe of your dreams, and there are 20 people showing up just to because of you. What happens next? What experience do you create for them? What would make that night feel special for all of you?
Make that your strategy for how you engage as a writer online, whether that is on social media or elsewhere.
Focus your Social Media Feeds
I have read plenty of posts from people who have shared that they are leaving social media. I love that everyone has that option — to choose where to put your attention. And while I am an advocate for smaller networks such as Substack and Patreon, I feel that social media still has a utility for writers.
Recently, I spoke with a friend who just went through a book launch, and we talked about this. There were so many ways that social media not only allowed her to feel connected to others who she would otherwise not have a connection to, but it provided her a variety of unique ways to have people share about her book.
So, I want to move past the binary choice that so many writers feel they are stuck within:
Must I succumb to all of social media, and share in a manner I’m not comfortable?
Or do I leave it entirely and forever?
In the past year, I have observed social media going through a massive change for writers and creators. Part of me feels that when Twitter shifted, it didn’t just break Twitter, it broke all of social media. When so many writers left Twitter, it took away the primary hangout where everyone knew to go for news and connection. Some people went to Threads, others to Mastodon, others to Bluesky, and to so many other places. And when we got to each of these places, we saw some people and not others. Social media no longer felt — social — in the way we expected.
Of course, social media changed in other ways recently too, with a greater focus on the algorithm showing you updates from people you don’t follow, and more video on nearly every platform, including those where you prefer to only see text or still images.
So how can you focus your social media feeds so that it is filled with the people who inspire you? As an example, I will focus on Instagram, and three tactics I have been doing for myself:
Action #1: Actively unfollow people. Consider the people and the voices and the topics you want to fill your days. I have done several big rounds of “unfollowing” over the years, and am in the middle of another round of it. I worry that sounds callous, so let me explain how I am navigating this.
I imagine I follow people in a similar way as you do: slowly, one at a time. But when I look at my feed, there are people who I don’t even remember why I followed them. There are bigger organizations who seem to post way more often. There are people who post about topics I no longer have a strong interest in. There are people I genuinely like, but they post about topics that don’t interest me.
So, I have been clicking “unfollow.” Each time I do this is difficult. Maybe I’m just too sentimental and appreciate human connection too much, but I worry I am saying goodbye to them, and that they will notice and they will feel bad. Then I feel bad.
But… I’m doing it anyway.
Why? Because I want to open Instagram each day and see the people and posts that light me up inside — that inspire me, educate me, and make me feel a connection to people and ideas that make my days better.
I used to follow something like 1,500 people. I brought that down to around 600 awhile ago. Recently I was following around 750 people and I’m trying to bring that down once again. I have asked myself challenging questions such as: what if I only followed 10 people? Or 20? How would that change my experience of opening Instagram?
There is no one right answer here. I simply want to encourage you to to be proactive about creating a feed filled with individuals and ideas that make you feel inspired.
Action #2: Train the algorithm. Use the tools that the social network provides to let them know how to best train the algorithm to your preferences. Do you have total control over the Instagram algorithm? Nope! But I look at it this way: Instagram wants you to engage more. If it sees you actively engaging with a certain kind of content, then it is in their best interest to adjust their algorithm to deliver more of that. (Yes, I am oversimplifying here.)
Instagram has an option to “Mute suggested posts in feed for 30 days,” which I checked off.
When I go to the “Explore” tab or see a sponsored post in my feed that I don’t like, I’m taking the time to click, “Not interested.” I have been noticing a difference in what is being shown to me.
I love connecting with writers and artists on Instagram and social media. For me, at this moment, it brings more value to my life than it takes. And for my part, I will be more active in telling the social networks what matters most to me, and what doesn’t.
Action #3: Create cozy. Consider how you want your social media to feel. In this example, I’m using the word “cozy” as a stand-in for that feeling: a sense of comfort and connection to things that make you feel comfortable, inspired, and connected with others.
I want to feel a meaningful connection to real people on social media. So, I’m making more of an effort to not just scroll and scroll, and to not just click “like.” Instead, I’m trying to comment (or direct message) more and really show up to support those people I do follow. Why? Because that social action connects with one other human being in a meaningful way. It puts people at the center of this action, instead of just “consuming media.”
I have been thinking a lot this year about the process of actively developing friendships. Not followers, but friendships. That is becoming central to how I consider using social media.
Start with Authenticity
My friendhas a new book out this week called Go Your Own Way. I love her mission here: “The pages of this book help readers outline their personal values, feel more comfortable in their skin, and gain confidence in who they are. Readers will cultivate the strength necessary to recognize and speak their truths, while creating healthy boundaries that protect their sense of self.”
With how you use social media, whether that is where you show up, what you share, who you engage with, and how you do so, I want to encourage you to start with authenticity. As Meera encourages, to go your own way — the path that feels right to you, even if you notice it is different from what others are doing.
Consider how social media can be used to express what you create and why in a deeply meaningful way. And how social media can fit into your life in a manner that honors that work, those you connect with, and the boundaries you need for good mental health.
The topic of a social media reset is one I have addressed in the past in these posts:
And a reminder to check out or share my workshop and share with anyone who you feel would benefit from it: Launch & Grow Your Email Newsletter on Substack.
Inspiration of the Week: loaded brand new film into my medium format camera this week — here it is with my light meter. The camera weighs more than 5 lbs, it’s a very different experience than using an iPhone for photos. Each photo costs me more than $3 in film and development:
Kids of the Week: a fun photo with the little fella, imitating a scene from the movie Home Alone. The big guy plays the new eagerly awaited Spider-Man game: