If you don’t (yet) want to completely give it up, stick around and see if this can help you take control of your Social Media consumption.
I am not going to start this with a usual introduction asking you if your social media overwhelms you, causes you stress and anxiety, is taking too much of your productive time.
The truth here is, unless you’ve consciously examined your usage, the chances are it does all the above.
We are addicted to short, clickbait information, be it in friendship or in news.
- How many times do you see an article with hundreds of comments, only to realize that the comments have nothing to do with the article, but everything to do with its title?
- How many times have you written a post on Facebook and added a picture only to see your friends commenting on the picture, but not on the text?
- How many times were you forwarded fake, alarming news where accuracy was so simple to check, but whoever was forwarding it didn’t bother to check it at all?
- How many times did you feel down because of something you’ve seen on social media, be it someone’s sad story, a disaster or even someone you don’t like getting to take the vacation of your dreams? Or living the life of your dreams?
But hating on social media and still mindlessly consuming it won’t help us take control of it.
Deleting it probably won’t work long term either. Been there done that. You probably have too.
Examining the way we use social media and focusing on the value it brings us will.
I hope you read along because I have struggled with this for years, I have asked questions of myself and others, I have researched, read, and I finally believe I’ve got it. In fact, I am going to make a bold claim here – by examining the value social media adds to my life, I have taken control of it.
The Social Dilemma
I wrote this post before I saw the new Netflix documentary. Then everyone started talking about it, so I watched it before publishing this just in case they had something new to say. But the fact that so many people are talking about the documentary as though it were a revelation, just confirmed to me that I already knew.
Most of us mindlessly consume social media without really taking the time to analyze what it does for us, to us and why we are using it at all.
The alarming nature of the documentary caused many worried announcements on social media among some of my friends along the lines of “they will no longer have my data.” Were you really not aware of the constant exposure to algorithms that subconsciously influence the way we think, do, feel…spend?
Were you not aware of the anxiety, pressure, time suck, social media can cause?
How about the constant exposure to fake news (because there is a flip side of that comment, literally EVERYONE has a platform to say whatever they want) that you have to now be aware of how to information check. And check everything. Although, admittedly, since I dove into the blogging world I am even more aware of it.
Let’s put it this way – the documentary did not reveal a well-kept secret, it highlighted obvious challenges.
Having said that, if this is something you have never thought about consciously, watching this documentary will certainly help open your eyes.
Answer These Questions First
In taking control of your social media, it is important that we honestly answer a few questions.
- How much time do you really spend on social media?
- Did you answer that in numbers? Or was it one of those common answers I hear from my friends: “I don’t really use it all that much.”
- What is the average time during the day you spend on Facebook? How about Instagram? (you can get accurate answers in numbers on Facebook now)
- Do you have clear set of rules on how you are consuming the content?
- Did you write down those rules by any chance?
- Have you thought about the ‘why’ of your social media?
What is really in it for you?
The urgency to take control of our social media consumption was already there a decade ago and it is now, more than ever, important to take an examined look at how we use it.
Because as Annie Dillard said:
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our life!
Take Control of Your Social Media Feed
There is so much content to consume that it can become all we do. And for many of us, it is all we do on the Internet. Many times, we don’t even search for a specific piece of information, we consume what is served to us.
More often than not we don’t consciously create our social media feed, but instead we take in what is offered.
“The majority of “the social” are merely consuming content — 68% of all socialites according to Forrester, simply listen, never saying or producing anything.”
That is a huge percentage considering that most of us sometimes post at least a picture, click a like button or share an article we like.
What I often hear when I talk about this is the tone of helplessness, almost like we can’t do anything about it, we are forced to consume it. But you are not a content victim!
You can actually choose what you see.
Of course, there is that dreaded fear of missing out. So we continue following celebrities, influencers, people we don’t even like and whose posts do nothing for us.
But just stop and think. What value is being added to your life?
It can be a famous footballer, or his wife, a celebrity, a real life friend you follow on Instagram, any other content you think you might need, like the news, or a literary magazine or a local charity organization.
It is important to analyze every bit of information you consume.
Every. Single. Bit.
Analyze your Consumption
I am saying this from a ‘been there done that’ stance. My sister thinks I take social media too seriously because I constantly analyze my consumption.
But it is where I spend my time and I like to know exactly where that time goes. I am a working mother with endless interests, my time is precious to me. Just like your time is precious to you.
You should make sure that you are aware of what is actually happening, where you are looking, what you are looking at. Now think about this question again:
What do your metrics show? If you can measure it, you can achieve it, they say.
The iPhone’s Screen Time forced me to think about this even more.
I had the desktop metrics set up years ago, but my phone was my black hole. I knew it, but didn’t measure it. Instead I used to implement more drastic measures for my phone – I deleted social media apps and allowed myself to browse them in the not-so-great user experience mode, directly in my Safari. And I would delete the username/password right after every browser session to make sure that I didn’t make it too easy for myself to log in when I wanted to browse.
Or I I had those dramatic announcements to everyone, such as the real life example below:
Of course, years ago, I removed all notifications from all social media so that any notifications only show when I open it. I am shocked when I see that some people still use sound notifications, too! Honestly, how does the constant beeping make you feel?
But on the flip side, I do love my social media, Facebook being my favorite because all my friends live there.
(yes, yes, I am in that age bracket, I was there from the beginning of Facebook)
My Why of Facebook
I spent the past two decades working internationally and living in several different countries. I changed jobs several times, attended universities, schools and courses. I had hobbies and joined various groups, virtual and in person. And all this is where I met amazing people. Facebook lets me stay in touch with these people and follow them as they live their lives somewhere far far away.
I can engage by likes or comments with people to whom I would rarely write an email, but still like to keep in touch with. After all, I am a networker.
I can see what they post, where they travel, how their kids grow, what their current interests are. Yes, many times I also see what they had for lunch.
Sometimes, though, it all gets too much and I just slip out and disappear for a while. And that is fine, too. I like knowing that my (distant) friends will be there when and if I get back.
Taking Control of My Facebook News Feed
Note that I will mostly be talking about Facebook in illustrating examples, but the principles are the same for all currently available Social Media. And I would like to say ‘and future media to come’, but I am not that much of a visionary.
Facebook used to feel intrusive to me and my newsfeed felt disorganized and full of things I didn’t want to see.
Like shares of catastrophic events, pleas for help and donations, conspiracy theories some of my friends subscribe to, horrible ways of human condition. Unfairness in the world. And friends who share 347 pictures in one Facebook post from their vacation with no other caption but Our amazing vacation.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t care about world events, human condition, donations to causes. I do. But like everything else, I like to explore these topics in a controlled way that is aligned to my conditions, and my own mind state at the moment. In other words, I prefer to control my News Feed.
So one day, 5 years ago, after I had returned to Facebook from a month of exile I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Why Am I on Facebook?
Like I said at the beginning of this article, with everything that we do we want to be sure we know our ‘whys.’
1. My First Why
My own number one ‘why’ of Facebook was to stay in touch with friends I wouldn’t otherwise stay in touch with for the sheer lack of time for an individualized approach.
And I wanted it to be a place where I can enjoy interacting with friends in a positive and joyful way. To not burden anyone who is following my newsfeed with overly negative information of any kind, because I do like to do my activism in other ways, and not necessarily on Facebook.
So my own rule is to never share alarmist, clickbait information (or if I do, to actually make sure it is true- and that precaution really is another post in itself). Actually, at the time of writing this, another blogger I follow had just written a post about how to make sure the information you share is true. I am happily linking it here because I wholeheartedly agree.
So all in all, I want my Facebook Profile to be a friendly space, a medium where I can freely share personal thoughts and pictures of my private life, my children, etc. Things I would never share on my public accounts.
One of my friends once said, “those pictures from my living room on Facebook are too intimate.” Of course, if you share them with 2000 people. But I do not collect friends for Facebook, I carefully select who goes on there and who sees what.
(yes, you can really do that!)
2. My Second Why
My second reason is the helpful groups I joined on Facebook that reflect my interests and engagement at the time. I’ve learned many things through Facebook groups and met many great people too.
3. My Third Why
And my third is that, depending on where I lived or am living, most local events are shared on Social Media. It is possible that I wouldn’t miss much because I can probably get that information elsewhere, but it is only my third why anyway.
I Went Through My Friends’ List
First, I went through my friends’ list.
I had one rule of Facebook that I always kept – never accept anyone I don’t personally know in real life.
But I was surprised to find that there were still people there I didn’t recognize. I unfriended them and hoped they would not get upset if they ever noticed.
I organized the remaining friends into default Facebook lists.
- Close Friends for some more personal announcements and pictures;
- Acquaintances for everyone else;
- Restricted for those who can only see your public posts.
(Restrict is a great feature if you meet someone randomly, say 2 words to each other, they invite you to become their friend and you notice they have 1730 friends and realize you don’t use Facebook the same way. But you still don’t want to offend them by not accepting their request.)
You can also narrow it down further by creating your own categories.
It took me days to sort this out, but once I did that, now I only need to maintain it. Every new friend goes into one of those lists.
When I mentioned to my friends over a cup of coffee that I did this, I got comments like “where do you get the time for that.”
But as someone who is always looking for better ways to organize, I know that you must spend time to make time, there is no escaping.
I Took Control of My Actual Newsfeed
Now that I have grouped what my friends can see from me, I went on to decide what I want to see from them.
I went again one by one (manually!) and followed or unfollowed based on the information below:
- Those who share their personal lives on Facebook to any extent;
- Those who don’t share anything about their personal lives but share interesting (to me), fun and accurate information.
- The sharers of bad news and frightening messages of impending doom on the planet who never share anything personal;
- Those who share every single article that ever crosses their path and clutter my newsfeed.
However, even the friends I unfollowed on my daily newsfeed, I will every now and then, manually go to their profile and see what’s new, leave a few likes if there is a personal post.
They are all my wonderful friends, I love them and everyone is free to use their social media as they want but this is how I decided to make Facebook a joyful place for me to log on, observe and most importantly interact with my friends in a way that brings ME joy.
A friend recently remarked that she sometimes sees my comments on Facebook and wonders how I can be bothered writing. But it is an interaction I am in control of and I love it.
I only see what I truly enjoy seeing!
Of course, the above may look quite different for you and it is important that you find value for yourself.
I Took Control of Facebook Groups
I love Facebook Groups. They were helpful to me when I moved somewhere new to connect with, let’s say other mums, join a book club or any other interest I have and want to share with others.
I went through all the Groups I was a part of, examined the value of them to my life, and stayed or left them.
Facebook has a great group feature where you see, follow and engage with all your groups in one place.
Your groups should be useful to you now. If they no longer are, just leave them. Think of it this way, you can always rejoin.
It is as simple as that.
Remember, you are in control and should see only what you want to see.
A Note on Facebook Pages
Now, many times I have liked a page to help out a friend. Or you have liked a page because you saw value in it back then but now you no longer want to follow it.
You can of course unlike it and it is gone, but you can also unfollow it (but still remain liking it) if you don’t want it to pop up in your newsfeed.
Love Your Social Media
And just like that, my love-hate relationship with Facebook has ended. I am no longer its victim. I no longer have to delete the app from my phone. (but I do, because, let’s face it, it is designed to suck you in and make you spend hours on it!)
If Facebook starts advertising to me, I inevitably go through “I don’t want to see this” and believe it or not, after a while, it stops or at least becomes rarer.
Side Note on Facebook
I noticed that the millennials use their Facebook like they use their Instagram (or Linkedin for that matter), the more friends you have, the better it is.
By doing that, I believe, you lose on the best of Facebook.
Collecting kind of makes sense on Instagram, it is more public and those “followers” are not even called “friends”. The platform forces you to collect!
But Facebook still has friends. And you can hide them from view (I do) so that those who aren’t your friends (or even those who are) cannot see your friends. I think that is a great feature and it doesn’t add to the ‘number of followers’ craze.
Use the Principles of Clear Why and Clear Rules for all your other Social Media
After some brainstorming, here is what I currently do to take control of all my other social media. I know, you may think it’s crazy, but I do consciously refine these processes continuously. And I really believe that you should, too.
Three years ago I temporarily deleted my Instagram account because it was no longer adding value to my personal life. And then I resurrected it when I started this blog. My account is public, open, and loosely connected to my blog, so anyone can follow me there.
I mostly follow other bloggers and friends who are more active there than on Facebook. Although I frequently take long breaks from this app as it easily becomes too much (in time consumed and anxiety induced)
Like Facebook, Instagram also lets you adjust your feed. You can differentiate your close friends and you can follow but not have to see some accounts in your feed. In other words, you can “mute” them!
Your personal branding here. This is my standalone account. Just for work stuff.
I did go all millennial on this one and added everyone I know and don’t know to reach that magic number of 500+ which makes your account look…better?
Like networking is your thing?
Honestly, I don’t use it all that much, but I do keep it up to date, you know, just in case anyone wants to check me out professionally.
I signed up for it in 2009 (almost from the beginning!) but as it wasn’t widespread among my friends I never really used it. I resurrected the account with my blog in 2020, and changed my handle.
But it never really took for me. (I am going to go ahead and say thankfully!) Although I can see how one can be as sucked in writing and reading clever tweets.
I was addicted to Pinterest when it was still an invite-only app (bet some of you didn’t know about the invite thing!) and the content was real and useful. Now it seems to have become more about blog/website/business promotion with little or no real substance to content.
What I mean by that is click on any clickbait, pretty pin and, more often than not, it will take you to some add ridden post, listing 10 generic things on how to do something, content recycled over and over hundreds of blogs and businesses all trying to sell you the same thing.
As a user, who used to spend hours pinning, honestly, I don’t find that it adds value to me anymore. At the moment. I am old enough to know that things change and to never say never.
But as my husband (who doesn’t use Social Media) remarked the other day when he was searching for something and Pinterest pins kept popping up leading him to articles he did not want to see, he exclaimed, exasperated “How do I turn off this damn Pin Interest.”
That about sums it up.
So there, with some (significant) time investment and purposeful examination, you can take control of social media by making it add (some) value to your life.
Because let’s be honest, you probably won’t leave it for good anyway.
At least not until they come up with something that will replace its value to certain big corporations.
I hope we will avoid it becoming like the episode of the Broken Mirror that has frightened me the most.
Vow to spend that time and thank yourself later. Social media is no longer just a mindless fun activity you do when you are waiting or on your break. It has the potential to seriously impact your life and make you feel inadequate, jittery and like you are not living your best life. Don’t let it.
Examine and keep reexamining, take control and notice your feelings the next time you scroll through your feed. Do you feel joyful, neutral, do posts from a particular person make you experience an emotion of envy, jealousy, sarcasm? Remove them from your newsfeed even if it is your friend and go have a cup of coffee with them instead. Or call them up. Or just let them be.
But don’t force yourself to look at anything that doesn’t add to your happiness level.
You want to vibrate happily. For yourself. If celluliteless celebrities make you feel lacking, unfollow. You won’t miss out. It would be worst of all, to let it consume you without being aware of what it does to you.
And don’t forget to take a month or so off every now and then. It helps put its perceived importance in to perspective.
Take Control of Social Media Recap
How to Take Control of Your Social Media Summary
- Remove Notifications
Remove all notifications from your Social Media, both on your phone and your desktop. Remove any email notifications you may be receiving from your Social Media, including “notify me when I am tagged in a post.”
You can see all of these once you consciously decide to open and take a look.
- Figure Out Your Why
What is it that you want from Social Media, what value does a particular Social Media adds to your life. (do this for all Social Media you are on and using frequently)
- Go Through Your Friends/Following Lists
Do this step manually, go through it one by one and add to categories such as described above. Unfriend, unfollow, restrict, mute everyone and everything you no longer need or want in your virtual life (your News Feed)
- Maintain the Lists
Every new follow or friend should go on one of the lists. Every now and again analyze your Groups and feed from Pages and unfollow, delete or leave.
- Does it Still Spark Joy?
I am going Marie Kondo on you here, but always, monitor the way you feel when you are on Social Media. And if it is anything other than pleasure and joy (ok, neutral is allowed, too) unfollow, unfollow, unfollow.
- Remember That Your Are In Control of Your Newsfeed
Your are not a victim of Social Media. Spend time to adjust your NewsFeed to be just the way you want it to be.
- Monitor Your Statistics
I aim at no longer than 30 mins on Facebook a day as a user. Sometimes it is longer, it’s ok, as long as I understand why.
Most phones and apps have these statistics embedded and will monitor them for you.
Find out where they are and check them frequently.
- Remember: How You Spend Your Days is How You Spend Your Life!
Please do let me know in comments if you have any other suggestions. How do you control your social media?