A Year Without Social Media as a Freelance Writer

Image: someone deleting the Facebook app from a smartphone.
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Today’s post is by SaaS copywriter Alexander Lewis (@alexander-j-lewis).

I became a full-time freelance copywriter and ghostwriter in spring 2016. Over the years, I’ve used social media to source new leads, maintain client relationships, distribute articles, and grow my newsletter. I’m convinced that these channels—LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, in particular—are some of the most effective marketing tools ever created, especially for writers.

But like many creatives, I’ve also found social media to be a major source of unwanted distraction. These channels are magnets for attention, often pulling me away from my most important work. A few years ago, I began taking this pull more seriously. How much more writing could I accomplish in a week without social media’s constant drag on my time and attention?

I tried many short-term solutions. I took social media fasts. I deleted the apps from my phone. I logged out of my profiles so that I would have to type the password each time I wanted to log in.

None of these tactics offered a permanent fix. At best, they helped me push through a single day, week, or (occasionally) month. In the end, I always returned to the habit of mindless news-feed scrolling.

In December 2020, I chose to try a more drastic approach. I took a one-year break from social media (which officially concluded in January 2022). Here’s how a year without social media impacted my writing business.

The pros of a year without social media

The first few months of the experiment were scary. My blog readers, email signups, and cold leads slowed substantially down. I wondered if I’d be forced to quit the experiment early just to keep my writing business alive.

Since I no longer had social media for content distribution or marketing, I had to find new ways to get my name and articles in front of my ideal readers. My two primary marketing tactics became writing guest posts (mostly for tech and business blogs) and SEO articles on my copywriting website. And these tactics turned the fate of my experiment around.

Almost every new client last year found me through Google or referral. At the beginning of my experiment, I was receiving about 3 website visitors per day from search engines. Today, that number is north of 40.

This traffic helped me grow the writing business. I was able to double my small email newsletter last year, as well as grow my writing revenue by about fifty percent.

Most notably, I believe my writing improved last year. One understated problem with social media is its ease of publishing. Before my break from social media, I might have a strong idea for an article. Instead of doing the hard work to flesh the idea into an article, I would often take an easier route: write a short synopsis, which I would publish as a tweet.

Taking a break from social media helped me develop greater patience with my ideas. If I liked an idea, I didn’t have the option to publish the one-sentence version. I was forced to sit with it, research it, and ultimately turn the idea into something of substance. Only then could I release the idea to the world.

The result: I was prolific in 2021. Beyond having more client work than any year before, I found the time to write and publish about forty articles across my blog and various guest posts. All this distraction-free writing culminated—I believe—in stronger prose in both personal and client projects.

The cons of a year without social media

Before launching the experiment, I wondered if my writing business would even survive without social media. Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook Groups were such easy forms of marketing and distribution. What would be the cost of ignoring all this low hanging fruit?

Obviously there was no way for me to split-test my year without social media to see what I missed. I can’t name the exact benefits I sacrificed last year because I don’t know.

What I do know is that social media used to be an easy place to grow my email list. Before the experiment, I regularly posted about my newsletter. Every mention—especially on LinkedIn and Twitter—resulted in several immediate email signups. By giving up social media, I also gave up that turnkey approach to finding subscribers. In 2021, I suspect that I worked a lot harder to earn each subscriber compared to the years before.

I also lost easy distribution last year. I was proud of many articles I wrote in 2021, but I had only one place (my newsletter) to share them. I didn’t miss the likes and comments of social media so much as I missed knowing that I had an easy way to tell the world about my latest article.

The biggest drawback of my social media break became clear after the experiment ended. In January 2022, I decided to return to just one social media channel: LinkedIn. The way I see it, LinkedIn offers the greatest benefits to my business, with the lowest drag on my time and attention.

I started publishing regularly on LinkedIn a couple weeks ago and immediately saw what I’d been missing for a year. It’s been like turning on a faucet. Almost every time I share a copywriting article on LinkedIn, a lead reaches out to me via email or direct message. It’s impossible not to wonder how many quality writing gigs I missed last year by disengaging from social media.

My relationship to social media going forward

On a personal level, I love life without social media. Every writer must strike a balance between deep work and platform building. This experiment taught me that I can indeed sustain (and grow!) my writing business without some of the most distracting social media channels.

For now, I will remain logged out of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I will continue to pursue SEO and guest posting as the primary marketing tools for my freelance writing business and newsletter, with LinkedIn reserved as a channel for distributing my latest articles.

As a copywriter, I’ve learned that focus is one of the most underrated strategies in marketing. It’s more effective to go all-in on a few channels than to engage lightly across many. Time to put that theory to practice.

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