(Personally) sustainable social media

I hate seeing smart people throw away their time creating content for social media when they could be building their own websites, recording courses, making games, or writing their own books.

I’m a bit of a social media veteran. I've had accounts with next to no audience but, on the other hand, my Twitter account has 30K followers and, until recently, I had a bot that was followed by 600K people. At one point, I helped manage several “brand” accounts. I was an early adopter on quite a few social media sites. And, as a person from Czechia who is nevertheless active on the English-speaking internet, I have both (language-gated, small-scale) local as well as global experience.

Last year’s research shows that people spend an average of hours per day on social networks. It’s easy to keep complaining about how social media corporations are incentivized to keep us hooked but, in this article, I'd like to focus on how one can try to buck the trend and reap the benefits of social media while avoiding the time-sucking black hole.

I don’t want to get into the weeds of actually defining social media, but I think the two major defining traits are that social media sites and apps let users easily create posts and easily find others’ posts.

This is why the Unity Asset Store is not considered social media, and neither is Google Docs. Beyond that, anything goes, though. Experts on social media apparently include blogs, forums, photo sharing sites, product review sites (like Amazon!) and even MMO video games among social media.

We could graph social media on a scatter plot depending on how private or public they tend to be, and how topical or generic they are.

I think that, when people say “social media”, they mostly have the top-right quadrant in mind: Twitter, Facebook. Here, I’ll call them Broad-Public (as opposed to, say, the Niche-Private quadrant of Discord and your team’s IM).

Here’s what I’m trying to get to: Broad-Public social media are a waste of time. They are. We should all just accept this. Twitter and Facebook (and Mastodon, Threads and Bluesky), when used as an outlet for anything and everything you’re interested in, sucks way more of your time than they’re worth.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever use those apps. Just make sure you internalize the fact that they’re mere time killers. They’re distractions — sometimes useful, often not.

Remember this: you don’t owe it to the social media site that you generate interesting content for others. Understand that, when you post a long thread on Twitter or a 1000-word treatise on Facebook, you’re not really achieving anything. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that your content on social media is important. At best, it will provide some food for thought for a few thousand people, but will be forgotten in a week. If you want to reach out with your ideas, write a book, create a course, build a game, shoot a series of videos. Your chances of having any real impact with these are small, sure, but still orders of magnitude higher than with a Facebook post.

Be intentional about what social media you use for what. Currently, most people just do everything on {Facebook, Twitter, Bluesky, Mastodon, whatever}. They chat with friends, get news, watch funny videos, discuss politics. Anything and everything, in a large, never-ending firehose of content. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Instead, do this:

Avoid the never-ending. If you use a site or app and you seldom reach the “bottom”, that’s never-ending content. A normal-sized forum will have a few posts a day for you to read, and then nothing. A Discord server for even thousands of people will still only generate so much content. One thing that I love about Mastodon is that I regularly reach the end.

Once you’ll get into the groove, once you separate your use cases into non-broad-public-social-media, you’ll realize that there’s really only a tiny, niche need for something like Twitter or Facebook.

— Filip Hráček
January 2024