How To Practice Digital Minimalism as a Marketer

Having better boundaries around social media doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your work

Amanda O’Bryan, PhD
Feb 11 · 8 min read
Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Social media is the new drug epidemic. In just a decade, millions of people have started to view their lives through a lens of likes and posts. It’s not enough to just passively drink in a spectacular sunset; we have to catalog it, share it, and then create “content” to accompany it.

Along with this habit comes ugly side effects, including a twitch that can only be relieved by checking. Checking our feeds, checking our likes. Our hands cramping as we scroll, shoulders hunched, neck strain, eyesight suffering. It’s shocking how consuming it’s become in such a short amount of time. It’s frightening how second-nature it is to check our phones in the morning, at night, at a stoplight, in the bathroom.

By now, we’ve all heard the warnings; the tech is addictive. You get little hits of dopamine when you get likes. They mess with the algorithms to keep you coming back. Responses are delayed or spread out to make you keep checking. We get it, we get it, this shit is bad for us.

Maybe you want to quit. I know I did. I could feel my creativity draining away, feel my attention span shrink to the size of a tweet. But I kept butting up against a wall. I need it for work. I need social media to get clients, to get students, to get my message out, to create a brand. Don’t I?

The Social Media Audit

I did something recently that helped me answer this question — a social media audit. Last year I read “Digital Minimalism” by Cal Newport, and the book gave me some insight into how I’m using social media for work.

Cal is an inspiring writer with some unique ideas, but they are a little extreme. If you are someone who doesn’t want to give up social media altogether, his advice can be hard to relate to. He doesn’t talk about using social media for work other than the fact that he doesn’t use it. Instead, he extolls the virtues of “Deep Work” (the title of his first book), which is the idea that focus and flow are only possible if you can work for long periods without distraction. He talks about the Amish and the way that they use tech and preaches about the importance of being alone. Not exactly the best marketing advice.

But, he does give some sound advice for looking at how you use social media. And I applied that to the way I’m using it for marketing. You start with your goal and consider each platform as a tool. Then you ask yourself, “Is this the best tool for this goal?”

What’s the Best Tool?

To brush my teeth, I need a toothbrush. I can use my finger if I’ve got nothing else, but is that the best tool for my goal? If my goal is clean teeth, and my livelihood depends on it, you’d better believe I’m getting the best toothbrush I can!

I teach meditation classes in person and online. I run coaching sessions, and I write. Those are my three streams of income. And, a large part of marketing my work up until this point has been creating a social media presence.

A social media “presence” is an online persona that posts content that’s useful and engaging and will occasionally ask people to buy a product. I’ve tried loads of different engagement tactics with potential students and clients on social media; stories, inspiration, book and app reviews, polls, live mediations, mediation challenges, prizes — you name it, I’ve tried it!

But here’s the thing about social media. The ultimate goal is to get followers, and it’s all geared towards that, especially if you are using it for marketing.

What was my goal in using these platforms? To get clients. And how do I get clients using social media? Through some vague notion of “connection,” which involves gaining followers by providing them with useful and inspiring content.

After reading this book, I realized that the mistake I was making was equating followers with clients. More followers doesn’t necessarily mean more clients or more money. A digital audit can help you see this for yourself.

One of the first things I did when I started this audit was to start asking my students where they had heard about my classes and why they came. Then I asked the same of my clients. Finally, I looked at the big breaks that I’d gotten and tracked their origin too.

Here’s what I found out. They weren’t coming from social media. My work was largely coming from two places — word of mouth and my website.

Return on Investment

After you’ve made a list of all the different platforms you’re using and figured out what your goal is for each one, then ask yourself, honestly, is this the best tool for this goal?

You must have a concrete way to measure this. It’s easy to get caught up in the flash, the likes, the attention. But what is your return on investment? If you are using social media to market your work, you should be thinking about your hourly wage while you’re on it. How much do you get paid an hour to be on social media? Oh wait, you don’t pay yourself to be on social media? You should. Think about how much you’d pay someone to do it for you and then ask yourself if you are making that much.

For example — Instagram. How much time was I spending on it? At least six hours a week, probably more. How much is my time worth? $25/hour? So I should be generating at least $150 a week from Instagram. How many people are coming to my classes because of Instagram? Maybe one or two a month. Coaching clients? No. Job offers? No. Therefore, my ROI with Instagram is pretty bad.

The way to find out if this is the best tool is by looking at your streams of income and seeing what tools are bringing you the most revenue. If it’s working for you, keep doing it. If it’s not, let it go and focus your time and energy on what is working.

Opportunity Cost

This is so important that I can’t stress it enough. Your time is valuable. Your time is your most precious (and expensive!) resource. Wasting time trying to grow a following on Instagram or Facebook or any other platform is not worth it for many types of businesses.

But, a social media audit is personal. Platforms that didn’t work for me may work excellently for other people. Take the time to calculate for yourself how much time you’re spending, what your costs are, and what your ROI is. And don’t be afraid to cut your losses.

After reading Newport’s book, I sat down and did a hard look at the numbers. I looked at all my varied sources of income. I looked at the “big breaks” — I categorize these as times people have reached out to me to create content for them or teach. These included an app developer paying me handsomely to create meditation content for their new program, a corporate office hiring me to teach mindfulness classes regularly, and a festival reaching out to me to teach classes. I considered these important because they didn’t require me pitching or cold-calling anyone. They found me.

When I looked at these three instances, one found me through Insight Timer (where I have meditations posted), one found me directly through my website, and one was through word of mouth.

Once I started looking at the other classes I’m teaching and the students I have gained, it became pretty clear that they weren’t coming from social media. There was one exception, though. A lot of the workshops I teach do reach people through Facebook Events. When I ask students how they heard about the class, very often, they saw it on Facebook. That seems to be changing, though. More and more, Facebook is becoming unfriendly to those of us that don’t want to have a business account or pay to boost their ads and events.

There has been tons of speculation about Facebook algorithms. As I understand it, if you don’t pay for advertisements, Facebook will show your posts to a vanishingly small percentage of your followers. They will also search for images with text, times, dates, and prices, recognize it as an ad, and purposefully reduce the views.

It can all feel futile and exhausting. How did people ever get a “following” before there was social media? It’s a weird question, but it’s worth asking.

It’s easy to think that if I just spent more time on it, created a prettier feed, and had better photographs then I would make more money, but it’s just not true. This is what the platforms want you to believe. But I know I’m not going to outsmart the algorithm. It knows I’m thirsty, and it knows that I’ll pay to create ads. Instagram and Facebook pretend like they’re giving you free advertising, but it’s not.

Social media marketing is not free. It comes at a cost. To your health, to your creativity and to your wallet. If you could be spending that time on a platform that is making you money, you should be doing that.

Find Platforms That Support Your Work

There are other ways to market ourselves. And the key is to go where your audience is. Insight Timer is a meditation platform that has a business model similar to Medium. It’s easy to get your work published, and if people like your mediations, they will give you stars, a useful review, and they can follow you. As a teacher, you get a small payment for each listen. I upload a meditation and the app does the rest of the work. They have excellent quality control, and they work to advertise your stuff for a day or two after it’s posted. There are tens of thousands of people using the app, so my meditations have a broad reach. I have listeners all over the globe.

This what I feel like social media is supposed to be. The platform helps you. The platform values you. Yes, you are making them money, but it doesn’t feel like theft.

Doing a social media audit taught me some valuable insights:

One: Don’t waste time on platforms that aren’t working for you. I was spending a lot of time trying to grow a following on Instagram, and I had never gotten one student or one sale out of it.

Two: We are creators, and we would rather spend our time doing that than anything! Creating useful work is of the utmost importance; if you can spend more time creating a quality product, rather than frittering away time on flashy posts, your work will stand for itself.

Three: Go where your audience is. Work is work. Social media can be fun and exciting, but your followers are not necessarily going to be your clients.

Figure out what is the best tool for you, and wield that baby like mad. Devote your time to creating a presence that’s meaningful in a space that works for what you do. The big social media platforms want you to believe that they are it, but there may a much better tool that you’re neglecting. That tool could be your incredible public speaking ability, it could be a podcast, an email list, or a book. Be willing to set yourself apart, and dive into the work that you want to do.

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

Amanda O’Bryan, PhD

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Meditation teacher. Psychologist. Human mood ring.

Better Marketing

Advice & case studies

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