As someone who has recently taken a digital detox I know all about the benefits but also understand the challenges of switching off. One leading communicator gives a frank description of her battles with being on and offline. Read on…
by Holly Bremner
I am having a communications crisis. Not the sort that I teach about at Sheffield Hallam University, or put mitigations in place for in my day-to-day work, but a crisis around my work-life balance and the use of social media.
Over the past few years I feel I have finally gained a good balance in my life. As someone who is a workaholic this is quite an admission. I now spend quality time with my husband, my friends and my family while continuing to do a good job for my employer and my clients, and I have learned to not feel too much guilt for not spending every evening and weekend working. (This has been difficult, but highly beneficial)
You might ask what this has to do with social media or communications, well I will explain…
Being a communicator I love the power of social media, in my view it has helped communicators realise Grunig and Hunt’s aspirations for a two-way symmetrical communications model, and as such help develop brands and organisations with the support and challenge of their stakeholders. But, for me there are also some negatives…
Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a really open person, sometimes a bit too open, and back in 2012 I made the decision to come off social media completely.
I was totally addicted to Facebook and Twitter. I used it daily in my work and found myself on it at all times when I was at home, for work and personally. I am ashamed to admit it, but yes, I was one of those friends on Facebook who you all detest because they post pictures of their lunch!
My wakeup call came one Sunday afternoon, when I bumped into an old school friend who I hadn’t seen since the day I collected my GCSE, results back in 1997! It was lovely to see him, but the conversation really shocked me. Although we hadn’t seen each other for more than 15 years, he seemed to think he knew everything about my life, and at that point I realised I needed to go cold turkey and say goodbye to my social media ‘friends’.
Looking back, this was one of the most liberating experiences. I posted a message saying I was only going to be online for another 24 hours and provided my ‘friends’ with my email address, in case they wanted to get in touch. I immediately received lots of messages telling me it wouldn’t be long until I was back, which spurred me on even more to say goodbye.
The month following the closure of my personal accounts was really interesting. I filled my ‘spare’ time doing the things I love and I felt strangely free. There were times when I wondered what I was missing, but then I just got back on with living my life. What interested me was how, by the end of the first social media free month, I had lots of coffee dates in my diary with people who I hadn’t seen in ages. Rather than just liking their pictures or comments, we caught up properly and talked about what was really going on in their lives.
Now, five years on I have never looked back. When I joined the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing, as Head of Dissemination, our communications strategy heavily relied on network development, which meant I had to set up a work twitter account. After several years without social media, I have definitely broken the habit and now have to remind myself to log in, which leads me onto my dilemma.
I am feeling under increasing pressure to spend more and more time on social media. I know I am missing things. Daily I am alerted by my colleagues and friends to industry conversations that are happening – most of which are not within work hours.
When I try to catch up, there are just not enough hours in my working day to do my job and keep abreast of the conversations that are happening after I close my laptop lid. Increasingly I am finding myself peeking at my work twitter account when I am not working – which ironically is how I was asked to write this, after commenting on Darren’s blog about taking a holiday from social media. And I know I am missing opportunities to engage in conversations that will help all aspects of my professional life.
So, what do I do? How do I maintain the work life balance I have worked so hard to establish, while not losing a professional footing? Am I the only person out there who feels like this? For once, I do not have any answers to these questions, but I would genuinely be interested to hear from anyone who has any thoughts about this.
Holly Bremner is Head of Dissemination at the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing