Social media anxiety: notes from an introvert

Image of a crowdThe recent exchange between Atlantic online tech editor Alexis Madrigal and freelance journalist Nate Thayer – and its ensuing discussions (see Jane Friedman for an overview) – only highlights the fact that digital publishing is here to stay, and it devours content at a rate that leaves even (gasp!) radio in the dust. Digital is ‘on’ 24/7 and, as freelance writers, we need to find a way to live with it.

Engaging with social media is without a doubt the biggest challenge I face as a writer. Forget the repetitive strain injury. Forget eking out the word-count. Forget the critical feedback. I can take the heat. I can take it all.

But social media? It leaves me weeping.

You, you, you

From every angle we hear, “You must have an author platform!”; “Build your personal brand!”; “Get yourself a mailing list!”. And, okay, I get it. We all get it. We need a touchpoint. Several, if possible. We need to look professional. We need a unique voice.

But there’s the rub. That unique voice? It’s you. And if you want to build your following (they say) you’d better start trumpeting, because nobody else can do it for you. Find your flavour. Know your expertise. And now tell us all about it! Often! (Because you only have an 8-second window on Twitter, marginally longer on Facebook, and you should be blogging two to three times a week. On top of the other content you’re putting out there.)

Me, me, me 

The actual process of submitting information about ourselves in order to ‘opt in’ to a social network can create, for some people, more anxiety than it’s worth. Do we want Mark Zuckerberg to host albums of our kids? Do we really want search engines to aggregate disparate bytes of our lives and present us with a digital picture of ourselves that we may not be ready to brand or endorse?

But, leaving aside the ‘opt in’ anxiety, some people (often writers) have personality types that find it difficult – and, indeed, draining – to be in the spotlight or to share personal information about themselves with others. Some people need time to think about what they want to say, and social media, therefore, can become a very large challenge.

Get it out there

Cartoon: Libby has a freak-out
On Tuesdays, Libby suffers from a bad case of cognitive overload

My social media interactions to date are a good example of this. My tweets are intermittent. I don’t easily partake in Facebook small-talk. I don’t go round gathering Page-Likes or Friends. Not because I reject this mode of being: not at all. I just have a full-time job on my hands dealing with the ideas in my head. Put social media interactions into the mix and, if I’m not careful, I can get a serious case of Cognitive Overload.

The up-side of this is that my output is content-rich, because I love being a writer and a thinker, and I’m happy to share my world of ideas once I’ve percolated and brewed.

But the down-side is that I sometimes look at my extraverted friends and colleagues and wish I was like them. Their content is no better or worse than mine, but somehow they additionally manage to be their own publicity machines … at a mind-boggling rate of knots. I admire that. I love the ease with which they share and communicate. But there’s always that little voice in my ear: “If you could do what they do, your platform would be bigger. You’d have more followers! You’d be a success!”

What do you want?

Joanna Penn
Joanna Penn at WriteCon Zurich, 2012

Some people do Frequent, and some people do Funny. Some do Sell, and some do Big Ideas. We’re not all the same.

Joanna Penn’s advice to everyone who attended the Zurich Writers’ Boot Camp last October was: Know yourself. And I agree. It’s the best place to start. Being a writer is only sustainable if you know how you operate. Know your personality type, know your lifestyle, your needs, your strengths. And then work with them.

You also need to know what you want and why you’re doing it.

When it comes to social media, the truth of it is that all kinds of people with all kinds of personality types do it with great results, though not every platform or method suits every person.

Proactive or Reactive?

In my experience, Managing ‘Reactive’ is important. If you’re an introverted thinker, a barrage of input (email, tweets, Facebookyness) from people expecting or requiring a response – however simple – can present a potentially large drain on your time and energies.

Here’s one approach to managing it:

  • Establish how ‘urgent’ the response is.
  • Assess the depth of detail that’s required.
  • Apply a time limit to email/tweet construction, if necessary.
  • Try to stick to a preferred time of day to do your communications.
  • ‘Manage your inbound’ with mail filtering, of which I’m a big fan.

Managing ‘Proactive’ with technology

The beauty of the 21st century is that there are tools out there that can ease social media anxiety.

Tweet Deck is one example. HootSuite is another. These are social media clients that enable the management of private and public social media profiles (Facebook, LinkedIn, G+, Twitter, to name a few). You can pick and choose which content gets posted to which streams. And the beauty of it is that you can schedule your output. Release it once a day. Or let ’em rip in a barrage once a decade, if you prefer.

Give it all you’ve got … in doses

I recently read an article on the Study Hacks site, in which a study of students at Berlin’s Universität der Kunste looked at the study patterns of ‘elite’ musicians. The stats told an interesting story: of the students who were considered to be top students, the factor that differentiated ‘elite’ ones from the rest was that they practised their instrument only twice a day, as opposed to scattered across the day. They all practised once in the morning, and once in the afternoon. The lesson for the rest of us? In order to do our best work, we should “Do less … with complete, hard focus.”

So I say: put that Social Media Anxiety in its place. Concentrate on what you do best, and enlist a bit of help from tech-savvy friends if you need to, so your time isn’t taken up fretting about the next tweet or blog-post. Trust your strengths, and know your content. Because, in this liquid-modern world, content can sometimes appear to come second to delivery, but if it’s good content, people will come back.

PS1. Useful link: Joanna Penn wrote a post, Know Thyself, on the Write To Done site.

PS2. Orna Ross (on the Alliance of Independent Authors blog, Self-Publishing Advice) wrote a post that might be of interest for people who don’t take easily to self-promotion.

PS3. For more reading on introversion, try Susan Cain’s Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.

PS4. I know last time I said I was going to talk about disposable literature, but I got side-tracked. :)

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