Social Media Tips for Small Business Owners: Are Notifications Running (or Ruining) Your Life?
I saw a rumor that the Instagram algorithm (or programming) favors your posts where you reply to comments within 60 minutes of receiving them. So is it true?
I have yet to see something that is an official pronouncement from Instagram or another authoritative source. All I could confirm definitively was that in March 2016, Instagram moved from a chronological feed (much like Twitter) to an algorithm-based feed attuned to what they believe users will care about (more like Facebook). So as far as I'm concerned, it's just a rumor that I'd have a tough time confirming.
But the problem isn’t whether Instagram does, or does not, use such a time-based algorithm to position posts in a news feed. What’s troubling are some of the reactions from small business owners to this possibility. I noticed some indicate that they would turn on instant notifications on their phones so that they could reply within that magical 60 minutes and gain the blessings of a bump up in their followers’ news feeds.
My reaction? Really?
For me, this is SSDD: Same Situation (although I'm tempted to use another word that starts with “s"), Different Decade.
Back around 2009 or so, there was a spate of social media “experts” who were espousing replying to every mention on Twitter in real-time, or risk being seen as a robot or poser.
And my reaction to that “always-on” advice for social media notifications was the same then as it is now about a decade later: Really?
Let me get something straight. I am all for replying to comments, mentions, and the like on social media networks. It’s engagement and it can be very powerful in building a dedicated audience of followers and fans to help build your business. So, yes, reply and engage!
But if you think you’re going to attain greater visibility by engaging within a certain amount of time, or by complying with any other algorithm-imposed requirement, you are attempting to game a system in a game you can never win. The algorithms change constantly (maybe even daily). So what worked today may not work tomorrow.
What's the Real Time to Comment in Real Time?
Upon receiving a social media notification, it could conservatively take up to about 30 seconds (or more) to switch from whatever you’re doing to the app, read the comment, and reply. You’re probably thinking that’s not too bad.
But here’s where this scenario gets worse... a whole lot worse. Every time you allow your smartphone or computer to alert you of God knows what, you have interrupted your mental flow and productivity. The reason for this is what my business coach referred to as “recovery time.” I call it “switching gears.” Regardless of what you call it, it is very difficult to jump from task to task and maintain any sort of momentum. Once broken, it could take several minutes afterward to get back up to speed after any—ANY!—interruption, from social media or otherwise.
What if you do become super famous in your sphere and have thousands of engaged followers, with you receiving comments at the rate of dozens to hundreds per day? Those 30-second impromptu comments could end up costing you hours of your productive bandwidth per day.
So is your social media reply procedure sustainable as you grow? Instant replying to any and all comments in real-time is unsustainable.
What's Your Motivation for Replying Immediately to Social Media Chatter?
Personally, I refuse to have an algorithm or random followers (even strangers?) run my life and my time. What if I get an Instagram notification when I’m at dinner? Should I drop my fork and pick up my phone? How about when I’m working on a paying client project? Or what about getting a notification in the middle of the night from some follower in a time zone on the opposite side of the planet? I absolutely will not care in any of these cases.
Here’s a perfect example to illustrate the value of a “no (or limited) instant social media notifications” policy. I made a friendly comment on a fellow author’s Instagram photo. It took him about two weeks to reply because he was dealing with the birth of a new baby and caring for his other young children. Yeah, he’s got his priorities straight.
You might say, “Well, I wouldn’t reply during times like that either.” Then you’ve already broken your “reply immediately” policy, which means you have no policy. This is just as bad as dealing with interruptions since you are rewriting your policy and procedures with every single notification. Pick and stick with a policy! By doing so, you’ll set realistic expectations for yourself and your followers.
For me, the beauty of social media and email is that they are asynchronous communication tools, meaning that the sender and recipient don’t have to be connected and communicate in real-time. This eliminates the space-time problem of more interruptive communication channels such as unscheduled phone calls... and instant social media notifications.
A social media notification is NOT a command! If you treat it as such, you have subjected yourself and your small business to be social media slaves.
Aside from the very real challenges to bandwidth, momentum, and real priorities that interruptions from social media chatter cause, what we need to question is the motivation to reply instantly. Is it prompted by trying to get a leg up on various social algorithms over which you have no control? Or are you submitting to some artificial social pressure?
And here’s another side benefit of adhering to a “no instant social media notifications” policy, you’ll save on your smartphone’s battery life. As I was beginning to experiment with using Instagram for business, I left all notifications on for all activity on my account. But as my following and activity started to grow, Instagram notifications alone were causing a drain on my phone's battery throughout the day. So, see, a policy like this can save energy all around!
If you're a slave to social media, you cannot be a master of your small business.— Heidi Thorne
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2018 Heidi Thorne