Maybe You Don’t Need Social Media to be Successful

Social media conceptYou 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, 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, 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.

Image via iStockphoto/Oleksiy Mark

  • Excellent Article and excellent use of the information we shared! I hope it leads to more opportunities and greater success for you.

    Have a wonderful, worry free weekend!

    Love, Dad

  • Amy McVay Abbott

    Alysa, nice to see you here. Excellent post and provocative thoughts. I will tell you, however, that I use Linked In extensively for my work as a freelancer. I also have my Twitter account set up specifically to feed my writing interests, and a quick view in the a.m. lets me know what is trending in health care as well as new clinical studies released. (By profession, I’m a health writer.) Facebook, to me, is a toy and a terrific time waster. Not that wasting time is all bad, you see, those of us who work at home need a water-cooler also.! I think it serves that role for many work-at-home writers.

  • Thanks for reading and commenting, guys!

    Dad – Thanks again for agreeing to answer my questions, and all the best to you, too! Talk to you soon!

    Amy – Thanks! It’s an honor to be published on a site with such great writing. As for your thoughts on social media and writing, I definitely found that there is a use for social media – I like the idea of being able to set up searches, as you do. I like that. And it’s very interesting to read that you get work from LinkedIn…hmmm….now I’m more tempted than ever to try out social media….we’ll have to see, I guess…..:-)

  • Great post, Alysa, and thanks so much for referencing my post on Social Media Explorer (as well as the USA Today article!). I think you’re absolutely right in that you can definitely exist in business without social media. You may need to network a little harder offline, but there’s no question that it’s possible.

    I would, however, also encourage you to join Twitter, just because it’s a ton of fun – I’ve met some good friends on Twitter and continue important relationships there across many miles. A few of my favorite accounts to follow (for fun): @arjunbasu, @cookbook, @stevemartintogo, @mental_floss, @sree (last one a little bit work-related – he’s a journalism/social media guru).

    Also drop me a line if you’d like to send me some links to your work – I do hire writers from time-to-time! 🙂

    • Hi Stephanie – Wow, how cool to hear from someone I quoted! And to get some additional advice, to boot! Thanks so much for reading and for your comment. As for your last line, watch out: my social-media-unsavvy self might just get in touch! 🙂

  • Anne Born

    I would hate to say that a Twitter account was a must-have, but it certainly is one of the fun things I do. When I want news flashes and don’t have the time to read the whole blah-blah-blah, Twitter. When I want to know what’s on sale or what’s hot, Twitter. When I don’t want to miss writing competitions, Twitter. I stopped reading the paper for the longest time because I could read a Tweet, connect to the article, and save over $2 each day. Twitter specifically is a great way to keep an online presence, even if you only offer up pithy Oscar Wilde bons mots each day to remind your followers you are open and ready for business.

    So very nice to see you here too! I’ll Tweet this. 🙂

  • Anne – It’s great to see YOU here, too! Thanks for reading and sharing how you use Twitter. I’ve heard it can be a really great, fun site to be a part of. But I still get so caught up in thinking about things like having to interact with others in a timely way (I’m not anti-social, just not good at time management), and dealing with possible spyware, interface issues, etc, etc. It’s sad that my fear holds me back. If I overcome it, I’ll let you know… And thanks for tweeting! 🙂

  • Great perspective. Totally understand how there is a lot of pressure to use Twitter, and agree that it is a big time suck. I’d like to think there is a way to be successful without it, but I do use it for my personal writing and try to have fun with it, with friends and family (it is the latter that got me into it!) and not to get too crazy. I agree that the most meaningful relationships most likely come from word of mouth, not just a tweet. My “day job” as editor of a niche business/legal publication does not rely on social media too much – it is word of mouth and focused conversations (and of course great content on our site!)

  • Thanks for your thoughts on this, Rebecca. It’s interesting that Twitter has an important role in your life, yet it seems to be a role that isn’t too heavily involved in business. Twitter does seem like a lot of fun – I really am tempted to open an account. But as you point out, too, it does take up a lot of time, and that’s one of the reasons I hesitate. Still, I know it would probably be such a cool thing to do, in so many ways……

  • Laura

    Hi Alysa,

    Thank you for helping me breathe a sigh of relief on my choice to leave social media for my business. I was never a Twitterer (is that a word?) or a Pinhead (as I call Pinterest users) but I did have a Facebook media presence for my business. Last fall, I decided to close it. I found that it did indeed take up valuable time to keep my business followers ‘engaged’ and the ROI was not worth it. After awhile, I also started to see what I posted was redundant, regurgitated information in my particular industry. I also realized that my competitors were watching my posts, which did not give me an advantage. Quite the opposite! They knew my every move (as I would later see similar offers, ideas, etc on their pages), and that is when I decided that some things are better kept private. (you don’t see Coca Cola sharing their secret recipe with Pepsi do you?) People feel compelled to put everything ‘out there’ and I learned it isn’t always a positive thing. No, I am completely off all forms of social media, and thank my lucky stars I have a terrific word-of-mouth referral base from happy clients and my website. I will never go back to social media in any form for my business. You summed up beautifully in your article the very essence of how I feel, and now more than ever, I can add vindicated to that list.

  • Hi Laura,

    I’m so happy that my article put you at ease! I really was surprised by how hard it was to find information about social media presence not being absolutely essential for all businesses. I understand that, as some people pointed out in the comments, there are some useful ways you can apply social media to helping you in other ways – but still, it really does seem like in terms of getting clients and work, it isn’t the vital thing that it’s been made out to be. You also bring up a really interesting point I hadn’t considered: the way social media presence might give your competitors a way to copy your ideas! I’m glad that you’ve found a solution. All the best to you and continued luck with your sans-social-media-presence business!

  • Hi Alyssa,

    Thanks for your refreshing article. I currently have three websites and a FB page for one of my businesses. I’ve really wrestled with the social media thing, as I find it can suck my time, and feel disheartening if no one comments on or “likes” my posts.

    I also love to write and am thinking my time would be better spent keeping up a blog on my websites and continuing to write for other websites, like “”. In fact you may find this tidbit interesting – In the January issue of “Outside” magazine, it was found that “more use of Facebook meant less sense of well-being and more feelings of envy.”

    I wrote a blog for “Slow Down Your Life: Letting Go of Technology’s Grasp” you may be interested in reading.

    I’d also love to hear any more thoughts or experiences you’ve had since you posted this blog last May. I’m envious you live in Paris! Good for you.


    • Hi Barbara,

      Thanks for reading and for your comment. It’s interesting that your experiences, as well as your own research, seem to reflect what I found when researching this article. As for me, I haven’t joined any new social media platforms since writing this, but I’m thrilled to say I’ve had an increase in clients, including several who’ve either found me via my website, the freelancing site, or through word-of-mouth. So it does seem like social media really isn’t necessary for success in many cases. But I do know of companies that have of course used social media marketing campaigns to great success. I have a friend, for example, who works at a dojo that uses its Facebook page to publicize different classes, deals, etc, and apparently they get a good deal of new clients from that. I feel like maybe the ultimate solution is for people to go with their instincts and capabilities; if you feel like a social media presence is crucial for your business, and if you have the time and energy needed to manage that, then maybe go for it – but if you don’t, then you’re probably better off just getting work by other means.

      Thanks again and best of luck to you with all of your business endeavors!

  • Hi Alysa,
    Thanks for being an oasis in the desert. As a published author of eight novels for teens, and a freelance lettering artist (my day job), I find myself incredibly resistant to social media. Not only because it seems a shallow time waster, but also because I think the constant pressure to engage and respond, negatively affects the sustained creative attention artists need to produce great work. I also think many artists are not highly social, but introverts.

    I have increasingly come to believe that if it is now longer possible to be an author without spending hours on social media, I will be happier just writing poems and tossing them into a drawer.

    I wish someone would write a book about this. Thanks so much, Dia

  • Thanks for your comment, Dia. I’m glad that you thought my article was comforting. It does seem like a lot of advice I come across for writers says that they should have a social media presence – but I’m not sure if that’s necessary, either. I mean, it can’t hurt because you’re trying to sell yourself and get people interested, but I feel like when most of us buy a book or check it out from the library, it’s about the subject of that book, rather than whether or not the author has a Twitter account. Of course, I understand that publicity for authors can be tricky, and that social media is a great way to spread the word about your book. This is a very different angle I hadn’t thought about before, since my article was more oriented towards business/freelance writing, rather than fiction writing. I would say that you make a very good point, though, and one that’s in keeping with what I found when I researched this piece; sometimes, being active on social media can actually be detrimental, because it can take time away from your writing. Personally, I say, keep on being creative and letting that be the priority! Best of luck to you with everything!

  • Hey Alysa,

    Thanks for this article, this means that I am not alone 😀 I have researched other articles on the Internet as well. I do have similarities like you.

    I am a Webmaster and have been working online since 2006. I have been pretty busy with my life and online work that I did not even need to make personal social media accounts at all, please have a look at my website and photos to see what I have been doing with my life or what I have achieved in my life. You are absolutely right that you don’t need social media presence to be successful. But in this fast growing tech world I thought that I am missing something and have to show myself up to the world. I came up with the new creative idea and decided to launch my own personal website in a social way so that I don’t have to manage every other social media network like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google Plus. All these networks are very popular and how the heck can you manage all these? It’s too much time consuming for me and I don’t feel comfortable. If people wants to know about me, my life, my work, then they can go to my website and can find out about me. I think this is a must otherwise people will look at you with suspicious eyes because you got no social media presence.

    Social media networks are there to connect average human beings and they are doing pretty good job to connect people and their families. In my country where I live 80% of the facebook users don’t even know what is an email address and how to send an email:) believe me (they register accounts with the help of others), but they do know that how to like, upload and share stuff on facebook and they don’t even know that how can they change their facebook password 🙂 I bet that, this kind of situation does exists in other parts of the world as well. So, I commend the efforts of social media networks in brining that kind of people to the Internet and slowly they are getting used to the Internet.

    As a Webmaster, to me google traffic is the quality traffic and social traffic is not good enough for me at least for now. Google has been doing a pretty good job recently.

    • Hi Muazam, Thanks for your insightful and thoughtful message. I’m glad you liked the article and I agree with you – social media can definitely be a great way to bring people together in terms of their personal lives. Professionally, I also agree – it’s probably a good idea, especially if you run a business where you communicate with/get clients online, to have some kind of web presence. I also have a professional website, as well as a blog. On my website, people can find information about the services I offer, but also a little bit about me personally. Like you, though, I don’t additionally manage social media accounts. Thanks again for reading, and all the best to you!

  • Ellya

    My gut instinct is that all the activity on social media *can* have the act of blocking progress, motivation, and activity that would otherwise be spent on work product. I loved your article and would be curious to see if your opinion has changed in the last 12 months. As a former pr professional, the current social medium norms seem exhausting.

    • Hi Ellya,

      Thanks for reading! To answer your question, since writing this article, my opinions on social media and business haven’t changed. I’ve been able to get new clients and establish relationships with those I’ve already had, without making the merest tweet or posting anything on Facebook. The only thing I can’t say for sure is if I’d get even more business, since I haven’t joined any social media sites. And as you point out, it all also depends on what social media means to us, and how it can influence us. Plenty of people are able to use it for their business without feeling like they’re losing time or are overwhelmed. And of course many of them do find clients or make sales based at least in part on their social media presence. I do stand by my research and experience, though, in thinking that, at least in a majority of cases, it seems like a social media presence isn’t necessary for a business to be successful. Thanks again for reading and all the best to you.

  • Elise

    Hello I very much appreciate your article and comments letting me know I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed (to say the least) to try to build a few websites/companies as well as mange social media accounts. When I first came along FB I dove in and gave my all as a personal social engagement where I could share music, art, quotes, some social issues. I gave my all for 3+ years. Then realized this wasn’t at all helping me to achieve my dreams and goals, which was to have a successful business, feelings of accomplishment and , hopefully, a very nice income as well as financial security. So I left and pretty much focus all energies towards building my business, so that maybe one day I may even have product or business people would be interesting in talking about, etc. But I just cannot see that I would have the time or resources to mange social media account and keep others engaged. But I still cannot get away from this, as many marketplaces where I like to have online presence (like eBay or Fine Art America) force you to have social media share ‘follow’ buttons so you still feel pressured to have followers or end up feeling and looking like a loser! I feel this is very unfair. As I don’t want my business to be poorly reflected upon just because I don’t have these social accounts and thousands of followers. I wholeheartedly agree that it can be disheartening if you don’t generate likes or follows for your company or products. One article suggested ‘not having time or resources’ is not an excuse as you can hire social media marketers — and yes, this was coming from a social media marketer. –My conclusion is that it is not for everyone and for me, right now, I feel I need to give up on the pressure to be popular on social media and just create the meaningful valuable content that may acquire some loyal fans or support. But I still feel, maybe I just feel it takes too much time and if I can’t mange and have a lively presence on these sites I should just not give these links on my websites which only shows there is little content or activity, so how can I expect anyone to like or follow? Although it still kills me that I cannot do or be better at this. I still wish I could be successful or popular on social media. I at least secure usernames in the event where maybe I am at different place or could or felt it would be best to have a presence, even if it means hiring professionals. But for now, I can see this would be, and is biting off Way more then I can chew. So I am just going to have to be realistic and find a way in this social media pressurized society to feel and be successful without the the multitude of ‘ Followers’ which seems to come so easy for others –Maybe not so much for me.. Which has seriously made me wonder how I can make it without it! –Not fair at all that that I cannot engage in most places without having the Dreaded Follow Button There !!

  • Tom S


    Thanks for writing this article. As a guy that has taught college Marketing and ran a couple businesses, I am still a little “old school” that although social media gives clients and future customers real time info, I believe in Word of Mouth and talking directly with your customers or keeping a good email list when staying in touch or keeping clients on board with your business.

    Too many of the younger generation Y or even some of the X’ers rely so much on social media platforms and even digital media, that I think those entrepreneurs or business owners forget, running a business is about GETTING OUT there and staying in touch with your clients either face to face, on the phone, emails, and more of why I use to call the 5th P of Marketing – PERSONAL SELLING.

    I am sure most folks are biased and so use to FB, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, etc… that they don’t know how businesses were run back in the pre 90’s. Just take a look at that show MAD MEN and how hard folks hustled their butts off in Marketing and Advertising. All the wining and dining of clients. Do what it took to keep a client or build your BRAND identity.

    Folks talk about HUSTLING, but I think they need to try and audition for SHARK TANK and see what all the old timers on that panel appreciate when they hear a young entrepreneur goes door-to-door selling their product or service. How they bang on doors, how they contact big companies or stores to get their product in their stores.

    if folks running a business would really understand how to PROMOTE and PERSONALLY SELL their product or service through hustle, hard work, word of mouth, and really understanding that customers only buy your product if they NEED or WANT it. If you can satisfy that and spread the word, you don’t need social media at all.

    Anyway, I hope you like my input and I appreciate you writing this article.



  • Vanessa de Largie

    Alyssa. Thank you for this article. Your article is the only one I could find about success and NOT being on social media. I have had a love/hate relationship with social media from the get-go. It’s too much noise for me and affects my mental health and productivity. I am currently deactivated. I hate the pressure to be on it, it does my head in. Kind Regards. Vanessa

  • Kylie

    Really happy to find your article! I did internet marketing for a few years before falling in love and switching to freelance writing, I used to hate SEO and used social media as an alternative but it wasn’t worth the time it took.

    Social media is definitely not a must! It’s more for people, in my opinion, who are concerned about image. I do use Twitter but I share what has been helpful to me and I don’t market with it.

    I think key to success is hard work and not being afraid to be outgoing but outgoing does not equal social media. Though, I know some employers will disagree.

  • Luz de Luna

    Thanks for the article, Alysa.

    I’m starting right now with a blog, and I have a twitter, pinterest and facebook page but I’m saturated with all the information and I HATE Facebook, I sincerely hate it. But most of my traffic comes from there. I need to improve my SEO and think of something else to do to keep my audience without Facebook and Twitter.

    I like pinterest, so I’ll keep that one, but not as a necessity but for the fun of it. 🙂

    Thanks again for the article.

  • I waffle on the subject. I don’t want to play the social media game, at all, yet I feel like by not doing it, even a little, I lose potential readers. I’d write regardless of whether I had readers or not, but it’s nice to know someone is reading your work, and I fear, sigh, that disconnecting completely would disconnect me from an audience I wouldn’t reach otherwise. I’m not sure what the answer is.

  • I’ve been going back and forth on the matter for years, taking mini-breaks from certain platforms and then going back into them with new gameplans. I’m at the point now where I really want the toxicity of social media out of my life.
    I studied all of my Google analytics for the past few years and where all of my income had come from. Hardly any of it – really an insignificant amount – had come from social media. That kind of analysis really made the decision an easy one for me. I’m out!

    • Thanks for reading, John – and thanks for sharing your findings. I love that you thought to check out your Google analytics to get some real, statistics-based answers!

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