Good business and the heart-sinking reality of social media messaging

Maybe it’s just me. Of course, it could be just me.

But I’ve been hearing this from a few people, so maybe it’s not just me.

As part of my digital minimalism drive for the month of January (thanks, Cal Newport), I removed Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram from my phone, took a break from posting anything on any social media, and committed to writing one blog on my website every weekday (like the one you’re reading now; the rest of my daily notes are over here).

Quickly, my avoidance of social media extended beyond just my phone. I went days without opening any of the platforms on my laptop too.

As February began, my thoughts turned to how I might re-engage with the world of social media.

Because I know that social media can be a force for good. I’ve met and conversed with some phenomenal people on social media. As a conduit to building real-lief rapport, its powers are unprecedented. Just this week I watched a stunning, emotional, heart-breaking documentary made by a video team in Seattle last year, and within 12 hours I was chatting with the two filmmakers by Twitter.

So there is phenomenal power in social media, when it’s used intentionally.

But truth be told, as January went by, I didn’t miss it at all.

I was more productive for the month of January than at any other time in the past two years: my new business, which offers a three-pronged framework of business coaching, strategic planning and digital marketing services, is going through all the paperwork to make things official; and I ticked off 12,000 words of writing between these short blogs, a number of longer essays I’m working on and my weekly Saturday morning email bulletin. I did almost zero networking (online or in the real world) and my workdays were all no more than 7-8 hours long (I had also committed to taking things slowly during the darker winter days after a couple of winters when I’d run out of gas come February…)

Last weekend I logged back into Facebook. I expected the avalanche of notifications after more than a month away from my personal profile, but most of them were either completely irrelevant, or not that important.

I saw there were six messages, so I clicked the icon to see what they were.

Of the six,

  • One was from a friend of mine, a link to an event I might be interested in attending later this year.
  • Three were automated messages from people/businesses who were trying to sell me something through their MessengerBot. At some point over the past year or so I had done something to get onto their “funnel”, and this was their latest automated reach-out to me to remind me of what they had to offer.
  • Two were from Facebook friends, people I’ve met and spoken to in real life but don’t know all that well away from my computer. They were both inviting me to join a group they were setting up. I asked both of them if the group was for the purposes of selling something. Both replied yes, of course. After a period of time, they would offer to those for whom it made sense a paid mastermind in one case, and private one-to-one work on the other.

On the face of it, that’s fine. Everyone has to make a living, and for many people direct private messages by social media is the preferred method of reaching people who might become customers.

And I firmly believe two things about business:

1. All good business is win-win

It’s not a matter of the seller winning, and the buyer losing out. (This was my old default mindset, and one I’ve worked hard to change, with the help of some great people along the way, including people I’ve met and worked with, like Moira Ni Ghallachóir, Robert McKernan, Peter Beckenham and Mike Szczeszniak, and those whose advice I’ve followed from afar, such as Robert Kiyosaki, Tony Robbins, Brendon Burchard, Lewis Howes and Chris Harder.) But good business is not a zero sum game. All good business is good for both sides, seller and buyer coming together in a

2. Business is the best way to deliver positive impact

Yes, charities do amazing work. Yes, there are countless NGOs out there doing incredible things. And yes, Government and public service is a key place where societal change can happen. But I still believe that all of them are trumped by a good business doing great things. To borrow a line from the podcaster and coach Chris Harder, “when good people make good money, they do great things”. Business categorised as social enterprise, or purpose-driven business, or conscious capitalism, is not pie-in-the-sky ideology. Good business can really work to deliver positive change at scale. (This is the thinking behind B1G1, a great organisation run by the phenomenal Masami Sati, who I interviewed last year for the podcast.)

Reacting to social media messages

So why do I react so aggressively when good people, working on good businesses, ping me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other places inviting me, and only if it makes sense for me, to join in?

I think it’s no real reflection on them. This is just the reality. And that’s what I’m reacting to. I’m reacting to the culture of what it is to live and breathe and work in 2020.

While a million things are better than they’ve ever been in the history of humanity, we still don’t know, and may not know for a long time, the impact of the assault on our brains of Internet connectivity that has become so pervasive to our culture since the advent of the iPhone changed everything after 2007.

And social media messaging, even from excellent well-meaning people, is just another piece of artillery in the assault that rains down on us virtually every waking moment.

What are the alternatives for aspiring business owners who want to create impact?

Something a friend of mine and fellow business owner said to me recently has really lodged itself in my brain.

I don’t want to be found. I want to be looked for.

There’s a big distinction there. Being found is the core goal of so much of what adds up to digital marketing: Facebook or Instagram Ads, Google Ads, search engine optimisation.

Even when we’re found, that moment when our business name or logo or offer pops up in front of someone for the first time, can be pot luck whether we’re really seen or really listened to.

This is the unavoidable outcome of so much intrusion in our brains. We’re perpetually scanning, and we rarely go deep on anything. A piece of longform journalism? tl;dr. A political party’s election manifesto? Forget about it…

So many businesses are trying to be found, but to be looked for, that’s next level, or several levels up.

To be looked for means you stand out with the quality of everything you stand for.

To do great work. Provide great customer service. Provide a great experience for everyone who encounters you, in real life or online.

All that is hard. Doing the work well — doing all the disparate strands that add up to the work well — has always been extraordinarily challenging, and nothing about business in 2020 makes it any easier.

In fact, when you take the multitude of ways that people can see us or hear us now, and multiply it by the creeping low hum of anxiety or overwhelm that so many of us feel, it’s perhaps never been more difficult for business owners to do great work for long enough to be looked for.

But that’s the aim, I think.

Not to be found. To be looked for.

And maybe one route to that point is private messaging over social media. Maybe that’s okay. Once the end goal is clear.