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What Happened When This Online Business Owner Quit Social Media?

January 4th, 2022 · 19 comments

A reader named Alexander recently pointed me toward an essay he wrote about his experiment avoiding social media for all of 2021. What caught my attention is the fact that Alexander runs an online business as a freelance copywriter. I frequently hear from people who are exhausted by the frenetic, anxiety-inducing churn of social media, but are concerned that without their participation on these services their professional lives will disintegrate. With this in mind, I thought it might be useful to share some highlights from Alexander’s detailed breakdown about what exactly happened to his livelihood when he stepped away from his social accounts for twelve months.

I’ll start with the punchline: Even though Alexander used to make regular use of LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to promote and grow his business, his year without these services did not bankrupt him. Indeed, as he reports, both his business and his email newsletter subscribers grew by 50% during this period. How did clients find him? Google searches, referrals, and repeat work.

Alexander also notes an increase in his productivity. “Social media became my mental crutch when faced with a hard task,” he writes, describing the period before his experiment. “When I couldn’t think of how to write the next sentence or headline, my default action was to open another tab and scroll social media.” When the option for these easy mental escapes was eliminated, he found himself producing better work:

“It’s safe to say that [my output during my year without social media] is far more writing than I’ve done in past years, despite the fact that I had more client work than ever. Also, I would venture to guess that my quality went up a bit. One of the downsides of social media is ease of publishing. There are no gatekeepers stopping me from publishing lazy work.”

Then there were the non-professional benefits generated by Alexander’s experiment:

“Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram caused me more anxiety and stress than I even realized. The constant opinionated noise and comparison on these platforms is hard to overstate.”

He was able to redirect this energy, previously dissipated through endless scrolling, into more meaningful leisure pursuits:

“I discovered (and rediscovered) some outdoor hobbies this year. It’s hard to know whether this is correlation or causation, but I joined a couple adventure races, played many tennis matches, and easily walked and ran at least 500 – 700 miles last year, averaging a little more than 10 miles per week.”

It would be dishonest to imply that social media has no professional benefits. Alexander admits, for example, that his success without these services was supported by the fact that he was already established. “This would have been a different experiment had I given up social media during my first year,” he writes.

But in the end, Alexander decides that he had no interest in returning to his past habit of constant social media engagement. In true digital minimalist style, he decided, after his experiment completed, to carefully reintroduce LinkedIn, which he’ll use as a publishing platform for his original articles, while remaining logged off from the other services that used to command his attention.

“The big takeaway of this year is that I love life without social media,” Alexander concludes. I can’t help but suspect that many others might feel the same, given a chance to experience what such a life is really like.

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Related note: if you decided to participate in my No Twitter Challenge, announced late last month, please send me updates to author@calnewport.com with “No Twitter Challenge” in the subject line. I want to hear how it goes for you!

19 thoughts on “What Happened When This Online Business Owner Quit Social Media?

  1. Nice work Alexander! Congrats on your 2021 success! Thanks for sharing Cal.

    1. Thanks, Michael! It was a great year. I’m proud of the results!

  2. Carl says:

    I like his quote: “One of the downsides of social media is ease of publishing. There are no gatekeepers stopping me from publishing lazy work.” Further, there are no gatekeepers to curtail meaningless expression in general. With that out of the way anything a person expresses, would have to improve.

    1. Indeed! With the break, I definitely increased my guest posting last year (and this year). I believe this has had a positive impact on my writing. Drafting articles for gatekeepers who can reject my work requires me to produce higher quality content.

  3. Kierra says:

    I clicked on this article so fast because I dream of a day when my business is so well established that I can leave the social media world behind. I love adding value to my audience but the rest is just so…. well, you know! Congratulations to Alexander for taking the big leap. I left all SM back in 2018 (before I had my business) and it was a year of exponential growth. I read 50 books, worked out twice a day, and got a promotion. I was happier, healthier, and smarter. Now I have a Digital Detox Day every month, but it’s definitely not enough ?. Anyway, Cal, if you’re reading this I ? you! Your books have changed my life!

    1. Thanks, Kierra! It seems like taking digital breaks is on-brand for your business. This line from your website, “Reclaim Your Time, Energy, & Attention WITHOUT Sacrificing Your Self-Care,” aptly describes my experience without social media for a year.

      It was definitely scary to take the break as a business owner. I didn’t know if enough clients would find me without social media. But it turned out to be a successful experiment. I hope you get to try it with your business someday as well!

  4. Nick says:

    I bet you anything Adventure Racing is a huge part of his success. I found it recently as well, and the mental and physical focus training for those races gives is tremendous. then actually doing them… you realize your body can handle incredible things, under intense focus.

    1. Absolutely! The last few years I’ve really enjoyed getting into running and taking long walks. Adventure Racing took that to another level. I would recommend it to anyone.

      (Thanks for the reminder: I should probably put another race on my calendar soon!)

  5. Nicola says:

    We need to share more of this. We have a rare bookshop and small plant based Cafe. At first I thought I need facebook and Instagram in order to promote it, however over time I realised that the people finding us or making an effort to come and visit were not our followers. The followers were the people who (like on Cocktail parties) just wanted to make a point being part of the so called tribe. I do pretty well without it. Most people google us or just by accident find us.
    And yes, social media is quite time consuming. Thanks for sharing Cal and just so you know your books are in our bookshop for sale as the only news ones sharing shelve space next to all the forgotten writers.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Nicola. Google search has been a much more effective marketing tool for my business as well. Social media gives the appearance of attention through likes and comments. But the most meaningful engagement I receive comes from Google and guest posts.

      Also, my wife and I love exploring bookstores and plant shops. Brilliant to combine them into one shop!

  6. Julia Reed says:

    “When I couldn’t think of how to write the next sentence or headline, my default action was to open another tab and scroll social media.” God, I can relate to that!

    1. Vivit says:

      I do feel that way

    2. This is one of the biggest reasons I took the break. Social media was pulling me away from my most high-value work.

  7. Nadeem says:

    I like the fact he is still using LinkedIn to publish articles while not scrolling or reading anything on them himself. This is what I think a lot of very successful people do who want to avoid getting sucked into social media’s time waste.

    So what does it say about the people who are reading his articles and mindlessly surfing?

    1. I sometimes do something similar on Facebook and Twitter:
      I prepare posts/tweets offline or articles that I want to share, then I go online, post them all, and log out again or block the websites for a few days, so I don’t constantly check the likes and interactions.
      All of this on the desktop, of course, because I don’t have a so-called smartphone. I get so much time to read books, it’s amazing.

      1. Shoogy Bee says:

        Do you use a flip phone then? Or do you not carry around a mobile phone at all? Just curious.

        1. Brian Campbell says:

          @Shoggy,

          Just chiming in because I do something similar to Andreas in terms of how I engage with social media, and I have recently switched to utilizing a flip phone.

    2. Yes, it’s been nice to have another place to distribute articles. Since I wrote the original post that Cal shared, I’ve automated my LinkedIn posting so that I am sharing articles without having to constantly log into the account.

      It’s like Cal talks about in Digital Minimalism: I took a break, found out what tools were most important to me, and now have a system that reflects my values (as they pertain to attention / social media). So far, so good!

  8. sometimes social media become so toxic and time taking. I
    have wasted so much time of my life on social media. Your below line is matched with my vibes.
    Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram caused me more anxiety and stress than I even realized. The constant opinionated noise and comparison on these platforms are hard to overstate.”

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