Social Media Tips for Small Business Owners: Are Notifications Running (or Ruining) Your Life?

Updated on March 15, 2018
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Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.

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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 being 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

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Heidi Thorne

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    • heidithorne profile image
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      Heidi Thorne 6 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Brian, that is so key to getting things done! It's taken me some years to come to that realization. But now that I respect my productive time, I find a get a lot done. Thanks for taking some of your time to stop by and comment! Have a lovely weekend!

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 6 weeks ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Don't interrupt mental flow and productivity unnecessarily. I'm going to keep reminding myself of that lesson.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 6 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Linda, I didn't realize it could drain my phone battery either. But since Instagram was the major difference in my iPhone use, I did a search and saw an article about turning them off for that reason. It's probably because the app is constantly working in the background. Whether it's for saving battery or my life, I turned them off and just look at the app for updates later in the day.

      Thanks for chiming in and have a terrific weekend!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Being a slave to social media and its notifications would certainly sap a person's energy. I've never thought of notifications draining a phone's battery before. The quote at the end of your article is so true.

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 6 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Bill, I totally understand! I'm primarily playing on Twitter (since late 2008) and lately Instagram, and on Facebook and LinkedIn only by force since a number of my networking buddies are there.

      We only have so much bandwidth in our days and lives. I'm not going to spend it chasing an algorithm. I'd rather be writing, too, and let that be my contribution to the community.

      Kinda chilly here in Chi-town (30s), but the sun is getting warmer for sure. Have a great day!

    • heidithorne profile image
      Author

      Heidi Thorne 6 weeks ago from Chicago Area

      Flourish, I figured you'd be on board with this! :)

      I have some of the same situation with replying. Not only do they come at some inconvenient time, but some do require me to think about it, check something out, etc. So I think it's worth it for both the people commenting and me.

      We'll have to see what engagement features HP will roll out. I might want to see something like a "like" button (didn't they have that years ago?). And I'd like to see an option to comment or like for readers who don't want to become HP members. That's been frustrating for some of my readers who then email me to comment.

      Anyway, you do a good job of engaging your readers in comments. So your input is always worth the wait.

      Have a beautiful day!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I've had to give up all social media except Facebook. It just became too much. It was taking me away from writing, which was the whole point to begin with. I'll just let my reputation speak for itself in marketing and keep doing what I'm best at...which is writing.

      it's spring here....hope you see it soon!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 6 weeks ago from USA

      Amen! I try to respond to all comments within 12-24 hours, but some are rude and don’t merit the courtesy of a prompt response, very complex and require some mulling over (the HR situations about discipline, discrimination and job loss), or utter nonsense like someone thought there was no person on the other end reading their musings. As I get more people commenting I’ve had to stick to my schedule to avoid becoming a slave to them. I enjoy the depth and variety of comments but sometimes I get commenters who repost repeatedly wondering why I haven’t responded after only 2 hours. (Because I’m either writing or responding to other comments! Or sleeping!). HP is rolling out a new feature that is designed to increase engagement. I’m not exactly sure how it will work but some comments are pushed out to followers to get them more engaged. We’ll see.

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