You know that friend who frustratingly and inexplicably won’t get a Facebook account? In my social circle, that’s me. I also don’t tweet, pin, or tumble (that’s what they call posting on Tumblr, right?).
It’s not that I’m completely off the grid: I have a blog, a professional website, and I also write for a few other sites, too. I just don’t like the more “social” forms of social media. I have nothing against other people using them – and I have nothing against other people in general, for that matter — but whenever I think about having to constantly update and interact, and deal with new interfaces, and privacy issues, and password leaks, I need to find a paper bag to breathe into.
I’d gotten by in my mostly sans-social-media existence, but when I decided to try to make a living as a freelance writer, copy editor, tutor, and travel planner, I suddenly had to rethink the way I’d been doing things.
Most people will tell you that a social media presence is a must for any business. We’ve all heard the reasons: You need social media to attract potential clients, to control your image, and to get your company’s name out there. After all, one Yahoo! article reminds us that “Facebook is the most visited website [on the internet]” and “64% of Twitter users and 51% of Facebook users are more likely to buy the products of brands they follow online.” Those are just two of fifteen compelling statistics in the piece about what businesses “need to know.”
It all sounds more than convincing. Still, I’m stubborn. So I chose not to open a Facebook account. Nor did I open one on LinkedIn or Twitter. Instead, I decided to be more focused and look for work online, sign up on Elance.com, and see how it went.
So far, it’s gone pretty well. In my first month of freelancing, I’ve met my (admittedly very low) financial goal. I’ve found one-time and regular clients, and have even had some who’ve contacted me thanks to either word-of-mouth or my Elance profile. Still, as month two approaches, I find myself wondering — could I do even better if I joined at least one social media platform?
Twitter is the one that most attracts me. As a writer, I think it would be a fun challenge to see if I could compact my rambling thoughts into a single tweet. But on the other hand, for every Lena Dunham there seem to be dozens of users who only tweet to plug their projects or those of their clients, co-workers, or friends. No epigrams or profound reflections – just RT’s and @’s and #’s.
It turns out I’m not alone. Apparently, some users are starting to bemoan this symbol-littered nothingness. Rob Anderson, an ad agency content strategy director, admonishes: “[I]t’s time for marketers and brands to realize that social media is…not just a place [to]… post marketing messages.”
That’s when I decided it was time for some research! I typed into Google, “Can a business succeed without social media?” That was the first way I put it. Even after rephrasing the question, I barely came up with anything: It turns out that anytime you type words like “succeed” or “success” and “social media,” the search results will mostly be articles and blog posts about why you need social media to succeed.
I discovered only a few writers who’ve dealt with the idea of not using social media – and they’ve got some surprising things to say.
One USA Today report reveals that social media may not be the answer for everyone. “About 61% of small businesses don’t see any return on investment on their social-media activities.” On Social Media Explorer.com, social media and marketing specialist Stephanie Schwab confesses, “As someone who is deeply entrenched in, and very much in love with, social media, it’s very hard to say ‘Don’t do social media.’ But honestly – more and more, I find myself telling some of these entrepreneurs and business owners that social media may not be the most important thing for them to do….” Schwab is talking about small businesses, but other articles point out that there are some huge, successful businesses that don’t use social media at all, Apple being the most unexpected example.
Although it may seem that people like me, who work mainly with online clients, would have different rules, Mike Smith of Guerilla Freelancing points out that this isn’t necessarily the case. Reflecting on what he learned from his decision to stop using Twitter, he writes, “You don’t need social media sites to get work.” Like some of the business owners interviewed in the other articles I read, he realized he was spending so much time updating his Twitter and responding and re-tweeting, that it was cutting into time he should have been working on assignments or searching for writing gigs.
Sure, some companies and individuals have benefited from their social media presence, and there are many ways you can use these platforms to your advantage. But at some point in every article I read in my quest for answers, it was at least mentioned that word-of-mouth and just getting out there and looking for new opportunities seem to be what most of us need to focus on.
What I read reassured me — and, I’ll admit, made me feel a little vindicated. But then, just as a lot of pro-social media articles could be propaganda created by people whose careers depend on it, who’s to say that the information I was getting from the opposition wasn’t biased in some way? I decided to ask two successful people I know and trust. The first, a long-time freelance writer with a social media presence as strong as her impressive portfolio, confirmed what Smith had found: she’s gotten work from word-of-mouth and from pitching directly to editors, but never from a social media platform.
The second person I talked to is Steve Salzberg, founder and CEO of Chain Reaction Marketing. (As you may have guessed from our last names, Steve is my father.)
CRM has been around for nearly thirty years, and my dad is very tech-savvy. He was using the term “paper-free office” long before it was a thing. And yet, besides a website he describes as not “slick or impressive, but that serves the purpose of getting the information out to the people I need to reach,” my father’s company has no web presence. I asked him whether he thought not having social media accounts has hurt his business, or even if it’s helped it. He says, “I think it has done neither. I am in a niche business and at this point rely on word-of-mouth or referrals for new business.”
So it looks like I’m off the hook, at least as far as things currently stand. Like technology itself, online society changes — one day I might have to join every social media platform around to stay in business. But for now, if I do join Twitter, it won’t be for income; I’ll do it for the epigrams!
Alysa Salzberg is a writer and travel planner, as well as a reader, art lover, worrier, ailurophile, and history buff. She lives in Paris, France, with an eccentric Frenchman and a dog-like cat. A regular contributor to The Bugle, an expat newspaper, as well as the websites Burgundy Girl and the MOVE Guides blog (posts coming soon), she also loves celebrating the work of other writers, and is founder and Editor-in-Chief of Beguile, a literary and arts e-zine. She blogs regularly on Open Salon and has a website she’d love for you to visit. Alysa spends most of her free time poring over books, exploring her beloved home city, antiquing, traveling, eating chocolate, hanging out with her cat, and trying not to be so neurotic.