Social Media for the Sensitive Entrepreneur

My dad would’ve called it a “hissy fit.” I prefer “tantrum” myself. Whatever it was, it wasn’t pretty.

There I was, minding my own business, checking up on a client’s business page on Facebook. Not just any client, but a thoroughly kind and thoughtful soul. Poking through posts and their replies to see what conversations she was sowing, I came across a bizarre, politically-biased response so full of vitriol that it made me instinctively lean back, away from the screen. It was a profanity-laced paragraph labeling my client as “one of those nut jobs who’s ruining America,” and other choice proclamations.

Social Media frustration

The advantage of having someone like me manage your social media? They know how to make those things go away. But after I did, I stormed away from my office, slamming the door and putting my coffee cup on the sink so angrily it shattered into pieces.

My little dog Gordon found me on the couch staring straight ahead, and talked me into taking a walk in the forest. That got some of the poison out. But I knew that day that, effective immediately, I had to find ways to move through social media without letting it ruin my peace of mind, my blood pressure, or my cortisol levels.

The Social Media Jungle

Depending on who you listen to, the world of social media is either A) a handy way to keep tabs on friends, family members, clients, and other interesting people, all in one place, or B) a vast wasteland of self-absorbed people who use it as a bully pulpit because they love the sound of their own voices. Astute readers will note that it’s actually both. Beautiful conversations and connections take place on social media. And terrible ones take place there as well.

It’s the latter that make dealing with social media so stressful for people like me, who need (and want) to engage there for business purposes. Not everyone finds it stressful, but as an introverted intuitive person who’s sensitive to the needs and pain of others, it can be utterly overwhelming at times.

Why Does It Have to be So Hard?

1) Social media is something impersonal masquerading as personal. No matter how pretty a picture you want to paint, it is always going to be a poor substitute for true human interaction, which is rich in inflection & tone, body language, the meeting of eyes, and (generally) social boundaries. It’s not real. Real is real. Mind you, it can close up distances, such as the 5000 miles between my wonderful coach and I. But when a good friend who lives down the block says “Happy birthday” via Facebook rather than taking the 2 minutes to call or even leave a kilogram of Belgian chocolate in your mailbox, it’s a sign our species is going somewhere I don’t want to follow.

2) As we’re all aware, the anonymity of the online world – real or perceived – brings out the worst in certain people. Perfectly rational people say things online that they would never in a million years consider saying if they were standing in the same room with you. Sometimes these things are vicious, spiteful, critical, even hate-filled. I’ll often get an image of a snarling, chained dog, spraying spittle as he tries to get free and latch onto your throat. It unleashes the inner jackass of many people.

3) Conversely, others tend to put only their best foot forward on social media, wanting so badly for the world to think of them as good people, to approve of them, to socialize or work with them. With words and pictures they have carefully crafted an online persona that, upon meeting or working with them, turns out to have little basis in reality. You’re expecting the Dalai Lama; you get something more like Rush Limbaugh in a “Save the Whales” t-shirt.

 

When You Have to Enter the Jungle

Social media is no longer just a place to share vacation photos, post upcoming life events, and say hi to Cousin Bob. More often these days, it seems like a place to stake out your value system and defend it to the death. Lurking amid the sharings of Kahlil Gibran and favorite Thai restaurants, waiting to spring, are people desperate to be heard, and to prove at any cost that they are right.

Express virtually any original thought online, and it’s a safe bet you’ll become a jerk magnet, attracting people eager to argue, to show you the error of your ways. And that’s tiring.

Turning our backs on this dysfunctional space isn’t really an option for entrepreneurs. Many of us have Facebook pages and groups we manage. In order to reach out to far-flung readers everywhere, we need to spend a certain number of minutes each day or each week in our accounts. We answer questions. We disseminate useful tips and information. We offer support and encouragement. We intermingle with people interested in what we do.

In order to get to talk to those readers, and even when we’re interacting online with them, we have to brave the rest of it: the complainers and the attackers, the armchair critics of all stripes, the interrupters and the conversation-dominators.

How can we reap the best of social media without having it drain the joy from our day and replace it with tension and stress?

Map, Compass, Machete, and Bug Spray

Here are some tactics and tools that may help make it easier to enter that space and keep your sanity:

1) Get clear about why you’re on social media in the first place.

Very few of us set up social media accounts with the express purpose of getting into arguments with people we’ve never met, listening to rants, or hearing endless tales of woe from distant relatives. Be purposeful about social media. Decide why you’re entering that world—what you want to get out of it. Here are my reasons, just to offer an example:

  • I want another way to stay in touch with people who add to my life – people I love, people who are wise, people whose presence in my life feeds me.
  • I want to connect with people doing good things in the world. I want more access to good news, which isn’t as profitable and therefore is harder to find.
  • I want to keep up with my clients, and share their wonderfulness with others who might not yet know them.
  • I want to share bits of myself with others, in the hopes it’ll make someone’s minute/day/life better in some small way.

When I’m tempted to start bickering with someone who’s being insulting, obstinate, pushy, or downright hateful, I try hard to remember my list . . . and to note that “Teach a lesson to jerks who desperately need a beat-down” isn’t on it.

Why are you out there? Get clear. Write it on a brightly-colored sticky note that will catch your eye when you’re tempted down the Facebook/Twitter rabbit hole especially.

2) Turn off notifications on your desktop or mobile.

Have you ever been seated next to someone at a restaurant whose phone bleeped, pinged, squeaked, and buzzed through the entire meal? How would it feel to have someone following you all day long, randomly poking you in the arm without warning, without rhyme or reason? “Hey. Hey Margaret. You know what? Hey, hey, are you listening?”

Unless your business depends on getting immediate notifications of every small detail that happens in your world (think stock broker, surgeon on call, political PR director), do yourself a huge favor and turn off “push” notifications. 

3) Take time to get to know your social media settings.

There are a lot of people on social media who don’t know how to change their settings in order to keep out the things and people they don’t want to see. A friend expressed frustration at the sheer volume of notifications flying past all day long – unaware that with a click she could control who appears in her feed and who doesn’t. Learn how to use each service. Check out their how-to regarding privacy, timelines/feeds, and notifications. On Facebook in particular, learn how to turn off notifications if and when you need to, so you stop seeing what you don’t want to see. And…

4) …Make friends with the Unfriend/Unfollow functions.

We are all pulled in a hundred different directions every day, and most of us suffer from the insidious effects of stress in one way or another. Do you really need to add to it the complaints, insults, demeaning jokes, and arguments of distant relatives and sorta-friends? Are the photos of your middle school friend drinking at the football game adding something to your life? Does your happiness hinge on being perfectly up to date with the latest gory news stories, gross injustices, political outrages?

Consider paring down the people in your online world to just those who make you feel better, not worse. People you actually know, like, and trust. Or even those you don’t know personally but who have something kind, or wise, or supportive to say. For the rest, either turn off their voice in your feed or delete them altogether. And watch your blood pressure go down.

5) Get relief with helpful tools

Lucky for us, software developers get just as annoyed on social media as we do. They’ve been hard at work dreaming up ways to give us more control.

Want to filter out specific topics, people’s names, ads, that annoying celebrity news feed on Facebook? Social Fixer and FB Purity are add-ons that allows you to block, hide, and filter out annoyances of all kinds — literally giving you the power to control exactly what you see. If you’re a Twitter user, Lifehacker has some suggestions for filtering your Twitter feed. When in doubt, google “filter posts on {insert a social media service here} and see what’s available.

Can’t stop yourself from spending too much time on social media? Try one of the blocking tools like Freedom, Self Control, Stay Focusd, or Cold Turkey.

 

Social media outlets can be useful tools for keeping connected with people who help us have the kind of life and work we want. If we can all make conscious choices about why we are using these tools, and put intelligent, thoughtful limits on how we engage there, we can have the best of both the “real” and online worlds.

Do you have any tips, tactics, or tools that you use to engage in social media without losing your peace of mind?  What has helped you?  Please share in the comments below — thanks!

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