Social media isn’t so social

I’m thinking a lot about social media these days. The question that lingers at the back of my mind is: What’s the point? I’m particularly annoyed with Facebook and the changes it keeps making to shove yet more ads and suggestions down my throat. The gap between what the platform used to be – a place for friends to share stories and keep in touch – and today is so enormous that there is hardly anything left to celebrate. Do you feel this way? Or is it just me being grumpy?

That brings me to today’s post which is based on something I wrote several years ago.

Today, we’re all writers. I might go further and say that today we’re all writers and creators because many of the images we see are so carefully constructed to stand out from the everyday. Some of us are videographers as well.

Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, SnapChat, TikTok, Goodreads are all examples of where people ‘hang out’, writing something for others to read and almost invariably posting photo creations as well. Some choose one social media venue while others are active on many—so many you could reasonably ask whether they do anything else with their time … but I digress.

Consider Twitter for a moment. While a tweet’s length is limited, this social media vehicle was (and maybe still is) acclaimed for its on-the-ground, instantaneous reporting of world-shattering events. But what does it mean if a subscriber merely retweets others and never composes an original thought? Are they uncreative or lazy or merely sharing a point of view that resonates for them? What does it mean if all you ever do is press the like button? Should those who bombard followers with tweets about their latest book, gadget, or service offering be considered spammers? And what about the vitriol that permeates Twitter? Or the piling on that occurs when someone posts a statement that others find offensive? Or the tweets that go viral and ruin reputations as a result?

Some use social media to harass others with unwelcome direct messages or ‘friend’ requests that are spam or are attempts to intrude on the lives of others. Such actions can be creepy and vaguely threatening, the perpetrators thought to be con artists or worse.

Image Source: Adobe Express

Do those who post pictures showing artfully arranged food want to impress others with their culinary tastes and expensive living standards? And what about endless photos and commentary on high-end décor or fashion or travel destinations? Are such people braggarts or are they curators of tasteful life experiences?

As for authors, some offer photos of their everyday lives, many offer commentary on world events or inspiring words about life, some post daily enticements to ‘buy my book’. Book groups are everywhere – historical fiction, cosy mysteries, travel fiction, contemporary, romance. But they too morph as the organizers seek ways to satisfy groups whose interests ebb and flow.

There are bloggers who offer information and insights on almost any topic you can imagine, wonderful blogs with design ideas, travel information, food and nutrition, book reviews, and so on. Some bloggers write about whatever is or is not happening in their lives. And there are blogs serving political interests of all stripes with sound information and passion, while others promote extreme wings of political thought or propagate hatred for specific groups and causes.

As far as most social media is concerned, I feel that we’ve drifted a long way from notions of building community and sharing ideas that might once have driven their development. As far as authors who hope to spread the word to an interested audience using social media – it seems that every tactic works for only an instant before it’s no longer relevant. Social media isn’t very social anymore!

Others have written about this topic with great insight and reams of data to back up their conclusions. This post is merely my own little perspective.

Sorry for the rant. PS – yesterday I deleted the Facebook app from my phone.

What do you think?


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website

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32 Responses

  1. I couldn’t agree more with all of this. It’s incredibly frustrating for those of us who want to build authentic relationships with readers only to have the platform’s algorithms make it impossible to unless we “pay to play”.

    1. Hi Barbara … you caught me at the phrase ‘authentic relationships’. One source of authentic relationships for me is book club visits (either in person or virtual). Of course, finding bookclubs can be a challenge!

  2. My choice to protect my life and my mental health is to delete al political emails, to stop taking a newspaper made in the US, ( I do get BBC news) I don’t watch TV, click off of Quora and limit any Twitter, Next Door Neighbor, and FB to news of friends. I put a blocker on ads, so many sites won’t send me their “free” stuff. I am careful about what I read. Historic Fiction works as a way to escape. I no longer worry about being uninformed, as if the third World war happens, I can neither prevent it, nor make it happen.Someone will tell me the bad news when it happens. I have a family, and a host of friends, a community to become involved with, a writing group, a church where I am a sometimes – member. I feel protective of my emotions and mind, and have chosen to not enter the divisive arenas that are so available. I know how I will vote, and I know how to support my causes through my bank, and only write a blog that shares the world as I view it when I am out and about watching the idiosyncrasies of our humankind. I write and I read. I speak with friends. I love on my family and friends whenever I can. I try to find purpose in my life. That is perhaps the most rewarding. Thanks for the thoughtful share.

  3. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Twitter is where people rant and range against each other or boast. No-one seems to tweet that they’re feel low, or those who used to (like Matt Haig) seem to have disappeared or gone to a site I don’t follow. Publishers insist on their authors use social media extensively when they have a new book out. Does it increase sales? Not sure.

    1. Does social media increase sales? … maybe at the margins but only if you do it well. But in order to do it well, you have to either keep up with all the changes and new techniques or pay someone else to do that for you. Thanks for stopping by, Sally.

  4. I am a Canadian and was first persuaded to use Facebook by family in England to keep in touch. Before that, we used to telephone or write lovely long letters. Now, I get pictures and brief messages that they are sharing with the rest of the world, and sometimes not even that. I have to go to their site to check on anything new because my feed is full if ads. and other things I have no interest in. I am also an author and for me the most irritating thing is the men who have no interest in writing or reading and would be better off sending their posts to a dating service. But that would cost money, I believe. On the plus side, I get a lot of useful information from the writers’ groups I belong to – that’s where I ‘met’ you. Thanks for the post. I agree.

    1. Many thanks, Susan. The male trolls are annoying as heck (substitute four-letter word beginning with H). I’m delighted to have you as one of my author friends!!

  5. To follow on with what Judith said about how much media and social media invades my mental space, I’ve turned to similar tactics: one hour of tv drama at night (sometimes historical fiction!), very little “news” programming (BBC in the morning and NYT), some writing blogs, some topical podcasts, and no FaceBook, Twitter, etc. I have learned that for me social media just sucks time. Having lived 70+ years, I’ve experienced the huge technological shifts that now seem to manage many people’s lives. It takes effort to set boundaries, and I’m not perfect about that. But the difference is immediate when I turn a “channel” off–a bit of initial agitation, then more time to read a book from the library, time to deal with one more task on the endless list of to do, and to feel the satisfaction of finishing a book or a project, or simply listen to the birds in the backyard.

    Yes, Mary, I think you’ve touched a nerve for many of us, and so much more can be said about it. Thanks for asking.

    1. social media – time suck!! Thanks, Chris. That should have been my headline 🙂 I hope all is well!!

  6. I quite agree with you about Facebook. It really is driving me mad plus the fact that despite jumping through all their hoops after being hacked, I still have no access to advertise my author posts to a wider audience! You’d think that Facebook would want my revenue, but apparently not.

    1. Let’s just agree that Facebook is run by idiots 🙂 And I think a lot of folks are getting off this platform and looking for other places to hang out.

  7. I agree about FB and all the other social media that I shut down a little over a year ago. It was not healthy for me – I feel much better for not having to deal with the undertow of ignorance and contrarianism. I just call my friends and relatives and talk to them, and that’s almost never a downer. The effort required to make FB and other social media function to promote my books, or really the story that I am telling, was far far greater than any realized value. I keep my website and blog to document my research, my writing, and the interesting bits that I find while along those paths.

    M.K.: I like your writings on the thinking about and writing of historical fiction. I consistently find your blog is interesting and useful to me. Cheers to you!

    1. Hi Charlie – many thanks for the compliment! Totally appreciate your support. You are so right about ‘not healthy’.

  8. I agree as well. I do enjoy following various people such as you via newsletters and on Facebook, etc., but social media seems to be holding writers hostage to doing something they don’t want to be doing. They would prefer to be writing. Sales are so dependent on having a robust following. I see differing opinions, but for a newbie like me who hopes to publish my manuscript one day, I fear I have to go with the flow. What “the flow” is remains to be seen in this changing landscape.

    1. Hi N.J. … many thanks for you comment. The key words are “robust following”. I’ve been on Facebook since 2012. I’ve also been blogging since 2012. Probably 70% of my Facebook followers are other authors, 15% are readers, and 15% are friends. The good news is that I’ve become friends with many of the authors 🙂 But if you’re actually looking for readers, you need to find a different way. IMHO.

  9. I’m with you. I miss the community building. It’s changed so much in the last few years.

    1. You are so right, Katherine. If they’d actually done some customer research, they would discover what people want to see. However, people like us aren’t their customers, it’s the companies that advertise who are their customers.

  10. Social Media is acting like violence in movies and tv. We are getting numb. So much crap. And I’m not throwing stones because I’m as guilty as any and maybe more so. What I also notice is that I am constantly deleting buy me ads/promotions. Which makes me feel guilty posting ‘I have a new book out. Hope you are interested.’ Plus Google has an algorithim that keeps track of how many posts you post so you can maintain your ranking on Google Search. I just wish there was another personal way to keep in touch now without all the marketing crap

  11. I don’t have any social media on my phone. Facebook doesn’t bother me and is also a decent way to keep in touch with far flung friends. Someone said I should do BookTok but I really don’t want to delve into that for a variety of reasons, but I’m mulling. Good post!

    1. Thanks, Gina! If I could actually keep in touch with those friends rather than have to scroll through endless ads or photos of the dinners someone had, that would be good!

  12. I have a different take. For me, social media is/are just a tool and a communications channel. I rarely use it—going with singular here—on my phone; just on desktop, where I do my writing, designing, creating.

    I don’t bother much with Twitter and only use LinkedIn for updates, like new books or deals. I like Facebook; probably because I’m in groups I like, and I share things about me and my life that others who know me respond to (most I personally know, either real-life or virtually). My current favorite is Quora. I get ideas from it, have some interesting dialogues in it, and also use it to soft promote my work.

    But the key for me with all social media is “gating.” I log in and out when I’m not doing something more important. I open the gate only when needed. It’s an attractive lure, but I don’t have to bite.

    1. I like the idea of gating, Harald. I haven’t been on Facebook or Twitter much at all lately and I was never a big user of Instagram. Let’s make no mistake, these companies are selling advertising space pure and simple – if they can devise yet another algorithm to serve us up more ads, they will. Grrrr.

  13. Very much endorse your thoughts! Rather than a conduit for ideas, commentary and civilised discussion, sites like Facebook, Twitter and the more extreme variants too often become a haunt either for the passive robot (human and otherwise), mindlessly pressing ‘Like’ buttons or re-broadcasting rather than originating comments and the active aggressors who would shrink from the vituperative insults they throw if face to face with their target. Not to say that this is the mainstream audience but unfortunately there are too many in this minority.

    re: Quora – I find this a huge waste of time – ignorant questions from either bots or people so mind-bogglingly stupid or ill-informed that I leave the site feeling I’ve wasted valuable time that I’ll never get back. This is one site I don’t visit now as a result. My daughter and her husband, like you have turned away from Facebook and I use it rarely but still find it useful when communicating with a well-controlled group – although they make no money from my participation as I studiously ignore the adverts.

    So, what’s to do? I have argued for greater control of content along the same lines as regulation of newspapers and broadcasters. The internet companies claim that they are a platform, not a content provider and some of the larger players attempt to police their content in case governments crack down, but they have not gone far enough. While there is a fine line between regulation and censorship, it is clear that the internet companies long ago crossed that line in a big way. It’s time to bring things back in to balance.

    1. Thank you for your comment, David. Content control and other regulations are key. What sort of platform allows bots anyway? Each of these technology companies has enough bright software engineers to do away with bots that spread vicious, ugly content. My personal preference is for companies to charge users – it doesn’t have to be much but enough to keep the idiots and haters away.

  14. Mary, you’ve covered so many topics, I hardly know where to begin.
    The biggest problem I have with social media is that the platforms are not accountable. If newspapers were to print a fraction of the bile that is on social media they would soon be out of business. And rightly so.
    I think social media’s saving grace is the special interest groups. Such as those for eg., bridge players, car enthusiasts, authors of course.
    Ads we’ll always have to live with. After all, they do pay for the services.

    1. Like the idea of special interest groups as the ‘saving grace’. Thanks, David. How’s your book doing? Are you working on another one?

  15. Excellent article, Mary. I agree with you that aspects of social media are highly toxic. But when used judiciously, it is invaluable for meeting interesting new people whom you otherwise would never get to meet in a million years!!! Plus, you can use Facebook for free! I am friends with an Indian Physicist who shares his excellent thoughts on an almost daily basis. And I’ve connected with relatives in France would have been out-of-reach. Through a blog, I learned about distant relatives in England (my great-grandfather sang with the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in the Savoy Theater in London and surely knew Gilbert & Sullivan). So take social media for what it is: a crazy, powerful medium that can do all kinds of outrageously bad things to people, or open up new worlds to people!

    1. Thanks for adding this perspective, Sophie. I’ve discovered many interesting people via Facebook – such as you!! – and have had lots of dialogue over the years. Sadly, I’ve lost a friend through one ‘conversation’ over a post that I ultimately deleted – that experience goes to the occasionally toxic back and forth generated via social media. I usually stay away from the political in my posts 🙂

  16. Well done, M.K, for not only raising such a fascinating subject but encouraging such enthusiastic discussion. FB has never resonated with me. I write historical military fiction and have only begun to use FB this year to introduce my work to special interest groups. Author-marketers, supported by analysis, have advised that only 1-2% of the audience who receive any post will actually read it, of which only 1-2% will respond. Quite extraordinary for us writers who understand we need to be found and bought so that our efforts can be read and appreciated. Thanks again.

    1. So true, Rob, and a discouraging thought. Many thanks for your encouragement. And best wishes for your writing.

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