Is it possible to run a business without using social media?

When I stopped using Twitter, lots of people asked me:

“Aren’t you worried that if you stop using social media your business will suffer?”

My response was, “Well, I guess we’ll find out!”

Here is what happened:


Nothing happened.

Nothing “bad,” anyway.

My clients did not fire me.

My client waiting list (people who would like to work with me in the future, when I have availability) continued to grow. (70 people and counting.)

My newsletter subscription numbers continued to tick upwards.

My readership (here on this website) remained consistent. [Update, as of 2017: actually, my readership numbers have gone UP.]

I did not receive any furious letters from Jack Dorsey, CEO and founder of Twitter, demanding an explanation for my sudden absence.

Also, I still have friends.

Everything was… fine.

I briefly dabbled with Instagram after quitting Twitter, but I quickly decided to sign off and return back to my social media-free existence.

Everything is still… fine.

It’s understandable that people who know me, or follow my work, are curious about this.

People continue to ask me:

“How can you run a business without using social media to promote your work?”

In whispered tones, almost as if it’s a dirty secret, I get quiet confessions from people who say to me:

“I’m jealous of you. I want to cut way back on social media, or stop using it all together, but I am scared that my life / work / career / business / etc. won’t function without it. I am afraid that if I stop using social media, clients won’t ever find me.”

If that’s something you are feeling or wondering, too, this is my response:

Social networking websites (like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) have been around for less than 10 years.

Businesses have been around — and thriving mightily — for, uh, a lot longer than that.

Scan back through the annals of history — from the silk, silver and spice merchants of ancient Rome to the Ford motor factories of the early 1900s to the grand opening of the world’s first Starbucks in the 1971 — all of these tremendously successful business began, and grew vigorously, without the aid of social media marketing.

How? I’m no business historian, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d chalk it up to good ol’ fashioned “word of mouth.”

As in: one happy customer telling a friend or colleague, “Hey, you’ve got to check this out…”

The same principle holds true today. At least, when it comes to my business.

Every single one of my current clients “discovered” me because a trusted friend, client, colleague, or writer that they admire said to them: “You should hire Alex…” or “Check out Alex’s writing sometime…” or “I think you might enjoy one of Alex’s workshops…”

Word of mouth is king. Always has been.

Social media is an amazing tool that can facilitate & amplify word of mouth marketing like never before.

After all, if somebody tweets — “OMG, check out this amazing sale at my fav shoe store! #LifeChanger” — that’s word of mouth marketing, too. It’s just happening on an online conversation-space.

But social media is not a prerequisite in order for word of mouth marketing to occur.

Personal emails, private texts between friends, phone calls, face to face conversations, events, mentions in respected books and resource guides — there are so many different ways that word of mouth excitement about a person, product, or service can spread. Social media is one of these ways, but not the only way.

As a self-employed writer, I’ve worked hard to build an impeccable reputation as a service provider, writing teacher, and creative collaborator.

I have also (very intentionally) chosen a business model where I really only “need” 5 – 10 clients per month in order to earn the amount of money that I want.

This means that I don’t necessarily “need” millions of fans hanging on my every tweet. I just need to delight 5 clients so mightily that they eagerly tell 5 more people about me. And then delight those 5 people so that they (hopefully) tell 5 more. And so on, and on, and on it goes…

Am I saying, “Hey, everybody, run your business exactly like me!”…? Obviously not.

Your career or style of doing business might be very different from mine.

Maybe, for you, social media really is a vital and necessary tool. How fortunate, then, that you were born at this precise time in history! Charge on!

I certainly don’t believe that social media is “bad.”

I do believe, however, that for most people… it is “optional.” (This is something we forget.)

Which brings me to my last point…

If social media is “optional,” why are so many people “afraid” to stop using it?

I believe that, deep down, it’s all driven by a “fear of missing out.” #FOMO

Fear of missing out on a funny, witty video clip.

Fear of missing out on a potential business connection or client relationship.

Fear of missing out on a big sale at your favorite store or big news from a friend.

I feel it, too. I feel afraid of missing out on all of those things, too.

But do you know what I am afraid of missing, more?

I am afraid of missing out on my life.

My fucking LIFE.

That’s what.

I am afraid of missing out on human touch, eye contact, sunrises, sunsets, unplugged experiences, great books, great talks, big hugs, home cooked meals, and those fleeting, almost indescribable moments of connection that happen when you move through the world without the barrier of a screen held like a shield, guarding “you” from “the world.”

That is what I fear… missing out on.

So that is why I choose not to use social media these days and why I continually re-evaluate my relationship with technology to make sure it is healthy. (Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is not.)

So far, I have noticed absolutely no negative impact on my business.

The only impact on my life has been a deepening, ever-increasing sense that time is passing quickly — the life-minutes are ticking by — and it is imperative that I do everything in my power to make those minutes count. Which means crafting a very intentional relationship with technology — using certain tools, but not others — in a way that feels “right” for me.

If that makes me an “under-ambitious entrepreneur,” so be it.

And if you’d like to join me, feel free.

We can meet under the trees, watch the sky, and you can leave your cell phone at home.