Have you ever had a real, honest-to-goodness social media reckoning?

That moment when you are sitting there, looking at the invoice from your social media management company, reflecting on the amount of time you spend “engaging” and “creating content” and are suddenly struck with the genuine and sincere question, “What am I paying for? What am I getting? Why does it matter? Does it matter? OMG, does it actually not matter AT ALL?”

We keep ourselves on social media sometimes because it’s what everyone says we should do. And we are all usually pretty clear on how we should be doing it (or, maybe more accurately, the ways in which we are doing it WRONG).

  • We need to be consistent!
  • We must strive for originality, authenticity, and (appropriate, but not gratuitous) vulnerability.
  • And we must rise above the noise and stand out!

While we all seem to know how we are supposed to do it, I hear much less clarity about how we truly know that it’s working. Across all the social media people I’ve spoken to, the most common answers refer to metrics that are provided by social media companies like follows/reach and engagement.

For me, this is where the social media reckoning reaches its fever pitch, because I have real problems with how these algorithms award success.

Here comes the rant:

The algorithms reward disruptive, divisive, over-simplified, and often sharp messaging. Simply showing content like this to more people, which is what the algorithm does, prompts more followers and engagement all by itself.

Remember, these are the very metrics we use to gauge success!

This simple mathematical reality creates a self-fulfilling cycle, as well-intentioned thought leaders are naturally drawn to do more of “what works.”

This creates a slow-burn “cultural” transition that, over time and almost without the conscious knowledge of the thought leaders participating, moves our feeds into a disruptive, divisive, manipulative, ego-parade. 🤮

I dislike being on social media for this reason. It can feel forced and coerced but also oddly absorbing in a soul-draining, dopamine-addicted kind of way.

I almost dislike it enough to avoid it altogether. But, I also have a business that I want to share about, and I have so many connections whose work is really valuable and I want to know what they are up to!

A tenuous truce prevailed for a long time, and I continued my lackluster participation on social media.

About 4 years ago, however, I was this close to shutting down all of my social media channels. The divisiveness and coercion and cancel culture and sheer outrage pulsating through these channels were just too much for me.

I kept coming back to the same question: What, actually, is the point of all this? Is there EVEN REALLY a point to it all? <- Bringing us full circle to the social media reckoning.


Saved by Social Physics

At this critical juncture, with my finger hovering over the “delete account” button on Facebook, I re-read the book Social Physics, by Alex Pentland.

In this (fascinating but dense) book, I was reminded of two things:

  1. The fundamentally social nature of ideas. Essentially, ideas die in isolation and can become a cultural force when shared.
  2. Our progress as a species stagnates and we are much more likely to fall prey to our worst instincts without powerful, new ideas circulating and influencing the zeitgeist.

In short: If I believe that my ideas matter (I do) and I believe that my client’s ideas matter (I totally do) then I needed to figure out how to help our ideas get the best flow. This includes the tool of social media but also other access points that we can create to our network, like events or slack channels or masterminds.

And– BONUS!– because our commitment to the idea is what guides our decisions, we are less tempted to slide down the slippery slope of algorithm-induced, worst-practice efforts that trade integrity for engagement.

Ok, actually, that’s the end of the rant.

Let’s talk about ties

One key idea in social physics is that ideas pass differently depending on the strength of the connections through which it flows. You may have heard of social networking theory and the specific “theory of weak ties” that are used to advance the idea that job opportunities come through friends of friends.

That’s a super helpful application, but it’s not the whole story.

Social Physics helps us to understand how to activate our network effectively depending on whether we are looking to create more weak ties or deepen strong ties.

Before we get into that, though, let’s get clear on the difference:

Imagine that you are a node in one of those networked community images.

They all look more or less like this. You are the white dot!

There you are with four direct connections that we can see. A direct connection is someone with whom you have actual real-life experience.

It might be a casual Facebook acquaintance whose dog is very cute and somehow you ended up connected. Let’s mark that with a pink dot.

Or it could be a deep and abiding friendship, like your best friend from elementary school, marked with a navy blue dot.

These are both direct connections, but they aren’t the same kind of connection. If you look closely you will see that the navy dot has quite a few connections in common with you. This means that you know many of the same people, which is a characteristic of a STRONG TIE. I can guess that the two of you have a lot of shared experiences, will resonate with similar stories, and have a history that keeps you connected, even when you annoy each other.

The casual Facebook acquaintance, on the other hand, is a weak tie. You don’t have a single other connection in common that we can see. This strongly characterizes a WEAK TIE. I can guess that you live in different worlds, connection-wise; you may not know the same kinds of professional people, you might have qualitatively different values, and your tie could be severed pretty easily.

Our goals on social media are different depending on whether we are trying to create more weak ties, regardless of the potential for a strong tie (which is largely what the algorithm accomplishes), or whether we are seeking to strengthen strong ties.

You might have guessed that a focus on strengthening strong ties (and creating the potential for more strong ties by seeking high potential weak ties) is what resolved my social media reckoning.

You are right! Over the last four years, I’ve strived (striven?) to focus on deepening the ties I already have while intentionally seeking new weak ties that seem likely to become strong ties.

Because everything I do is turned around to share with my clients, I’ve created outreach plans, content creation plans, and content calendars that deliver on the metrics of strong ties. This has given me blissful permission to ignore the in-house metrics of reach and engagement. #optoutofthealgorithm

And it works!

  • I’ve finally, FINALLY seen a positive impact on my business and life.
  • Shockingly, I’m actually having fun on social media, even on traditionally boring platforms like LinkedIn!
  • It’s been sooooooooooo much less stressful!

The social networking theory outlined in Social Physics guides a lot of what I recommend in Easy Launch.

Easy Launch is about making decisions this Summer that pay off in EASE (& SALES) this Fall

You can’t hack a real connection, so you need time. That’s why Easy Launch is taking place in July, even though your launch will likely happen between September 15 and October 15

The groundwork we are laying this summer is largely focused on creating and nurturing our strong ties (and enthusiastically recruiting weak ties that seem likely to be awesome new strong ties!) so the network is properly activated when your program or product is ready to launch.

But it’s worth knowing that the work you do to activate strong ties is beneficial long-term. It results not just in a successful launch this fall, but also in a successful business for the next decade.

Want more?

Join us at Easy Launch, the masterclass mini-series on July 11, 12, and 13th from 1-2 PM ET!

Click here to register for free!

About the author

Dr. Amanda Crowell is a cognitive psychologist and business coach who helps accidental entrepreneurs get more clients and have a bigger impact. She is the author of Great Work, the host of the Unleashing Your Great Work podcast, and the creator of the Great Work Journals. Amanda's TEDx talk has received almost two million views and has been featured on TED's Ideas blog and Ted Shorts. Her ideas have also been featured on NPR, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, and Thrive Global.