A Social Dilemma

BEFORE WE START…

This is a blog post on the importance of watching out for bad habits — from both a practical and moral perspective — when using social media to tell a story.

It’s also about my thought processes leading to having the courage in my convictions to make a strong stance, even though I feared it might jeopardise my project at a time when things are tricky enough already.

In short, taking a look at two social media behemoths and asking myself:

“Just because it’s what people say you’re supposed to do, does that mean it’s good enough and the right thing to do?

Of course, the words you are about to read are very much from my point-of-view as a creator and a documentarist who, for over five years, has built up an audience running into tens of thousands and has poured his heart and soul into sharing such a special good news story.

Whatever your perspective, I hope it’s helpful for you too, however you use social media.

After all, I reckon it’s important that we all watch out for bad habits and, yes, that we take a moral stance in the small way that we can, when we can.

A CAT AMONG THE GULLS

Nowadays, so many of my blog posts start their lives on social media, then I decide — or, as in this case, it’s suggested — that they really shouldn’t be left buried solely within the boggy ground of “social” platforms.

Some topics are so important that it soon becomes clear they should in fact take on a more permanent place here, as cyber plaques commemorating the milestones on the timeline of my project.

To my mind, these eclectic milestones are all part of the journey and huge lessons in how to go about making an engaging project in the modern era — huge lessons that I hope are useful for anybody reading this post.

So, what is this cyber plaque commemorating?

Well, I’ve recently taken a stance that has put a cat among the gulls: on Sunday, I decided to stop sharing the story of my epic journey on Facebook and Instagram.

Instead, I will now direct my online attentions solely to Twitter, Patreon, the newsletter and, of course, this website.

If anybody’s surprised by this, I’m reminding them that I’ve been bleating about my feelings for well over two years, not least in this post that I published in March 2018.

So, it’s not a decision that I’ve rushed into or taken lightly .

Indeed, as a final self-check before going ahead, I wrote a post of the same name on Patreon last Saturday, asking my patrons for their help to think it through.

Their response was unanimously supportive.

DECISION. DECISION.

There were two main reasons for my decision, which I’ll mainly explain by concluding with the Facebook version of my open letter further down the page.

But first, let me flesh out some of the details I shared with my patrons last weekend:

A small part of my case centres around one of my most successful Instagram posts from the last 12 months (as perceived by Instagram itself), a social platform where, on the face of it, I have 22k followers.

The highly successful post featured a video that I shot whilst on exercise with Newcastle RNLI in County Down, Northern Ireland, last September:

As you can see, it has three S’s — primary ingredients for a surefire hit on Instagram:

  • Sunset
  • Sea
  • Short

Now, let’s look at some of the stats:

  • 713 Likes — distinctly average for 22k followers
  • 200 Profile visits — not bad
  • 59,349 Accounts reached — not bad at all

It looks pretty impressive at points but, let me tell you, it has actually done very little for the progression of the project.

To illustrate what I mean, here is another stat from the post:

  • 1 Website click

That’s right. This post has reached 59,349 accounts, 200 people have visited my profile but there has only been 1 click on my profile link.

That is not successful in my book at all. In fact, it is shockingly poor.

A VANITY PLATFORM SWAMPED BY SPAM

In my years of experience with Instagram, I feel that this post’s performance has become indicative of the platform as a whole. Furthermore, I am aware that many other creators are reporting a similar experience.

Remember, this all relates to one of my most successful posts. The others rarely do so well.

Furthermore, Instagram’s stats tell me that most of my posts only reach 10% of my audience of 22k.

But who are those 22k?

It’s made up of the “hardcore” following — like many of you, of course — but, I have to say, most of the new followers who show up in my notifications appear to be spam accounts.

To be blunt, it feels like it has become a one-dimensional vanity platform swamped by spam, which becomes quite a problem when you have a large number of followers.

Instagram simply doesn’t drive traffic to my website, a sad fact that’s verified when I look at my web stats — unfortunately, Instagram has long been a minority player when it comes to referring traffic to my site.

The latter paragraph is important because I need people to visit these pages to buy things and/or become a supporter so that I can keep the project going, especially through the pandemic and beyond.

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS

I’m fully aware that this is my experience and that others may have a totally different experience with the Instagram feed they’ve built for themselves over the years.

Given the above, some logical feedback might be that it’s my fault, that my content’s not engaging or varied enough. That would be valid feedback to offer but — shoot me down in flames — I don’t think anybody who’s followed my feed would think that’s true. At least, I hope not!

Of course, Instagram is a business, so what they really want me to do is to pay to boost my posts in order to reach more people.

As they say:

“If it’s free, you are the commodity.”

In the early years, I gave it a good try and spent hundreds of pounds boosting posts. It worked pretty well at first, but not any more.

When I look at the kind of ads I see appearing in my own feed, I’m not confident that Instagram are targeting them well at all. And there are so many ads appearing in my feed that I can’t believe they have any kind of efficacy, which might go some way to explaining my own poor results in recent times.

Then there’s the other factor — if I always scroll straight past any ads that appear in my feed, it probably means that other people are doing exactly the same too.

A TIPPING POINT

The Instagram stats are pretty clear but there’s another issue at play for me here too: in the ever-difficult balance between information and self-preservation, I’m often feeling distressed, angry and upset — feelings mainly associated with our government and the scenes continually spewing from the US, and now here in the UK too.

Much as I try to keep politics away from the project, like many, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to keep my personal views at bay.

Reining things back to the topic of social media, I was appalled by Mark Zuckerberg’s stance on Donald Trump’s post “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.

That was my tipping point.

When reading the articles about it, I also remembered the scandal about Cambridge Analytica and Facebook relating to how they’d influenced elections over the years  — things that had troubled me at the time but I brushed under the carpet in the name of keeping my nose to the grindstone with The Lifeboat Station Project.

AN OPEN LETTER TO MY FOLLOWERS

Although some information will be repeated, I feel this is now a good point to conclude with the open letter that I posted last Sunday, 7th June 2020.

This is the Facebook version but you can also read the Instagram post here.


The Lifeboat Station Project by Jack Lowe

Dear Facebook Follower,

After many thousands of posts on Facebook and Instagram, this will be my last on the two platforms for the foreseeable future.

I love engaging with fans of my project on social media and I’m truly grateful for all the support you’ve shown me over the years. However, I feel I can no longer continue to post here.

From now on, you can follow and support my work on Twitter, Patreon and my newsletter.

Why?

The reasons are two-fold. I’ll do my best to keep it brief but the crux of it is this:

The first comes down to effectiveness, time-management and self-care.

I’ve consistently nurtured The Big Three for years — Twitter, Instagram and Facebook — and sharing my work via those channels occupies a huge amount of time and headspace, often hours every day. 

Furthermore, Instagram simply doesn’t drive traffic to my website. It used to but it doesn’t now. This is important because I need people to go to the website and buy things and/or become a patron so that I can afford to keep the project going.

The second reason boils down to politics and a moral stance.

In short, I was appalled by Mark Zuckerberg’s position regarding Donald Trump’s posts last week. That was a tipping point for me.

In those moments, I felt that I couldn’t bring myself to post on Facebook or Instagram until I’d had a good think about the platforms that are increasingly feeling like a cloak for dubious ethics.

Twitter isn’t perfect either but it feels like the most open, democratic, nimble and practical of the three. In contrast to Facebook, I also love their stance on Trump.

In conclusion, my revised approach is more streamlined, efficient and effective whilst marrying more closely with the ethos of The Lifeboat Station Project, and reducing the stresses on my time and mind!

If you’d like a fuller explanation, please read my latest post called A Social Dilemma on Patreon where my patrons have helped me think this through.

You’ll need to become a patron to read it but you’ll also have access to over 100 other posts and the kudos of helping to keep the project going through the pandemic and beyond.

Otherwise, thank you very much for following and I shall hope to see you on Twitter. You can find all the links you need via my profile.

Thank you for following and for reading this far,

Jack


STRONG SIGNAL


On a final note, and while we’re on the topic of releasing ourselves from the clutches of Mark Zuckerberg, do you use WhatsApp (another Facebook-owned platform)?

If so, perhaps you might consider installing Signal, the rising independent alternative. You’ll see there’s a mobile and desktop version.

I’ve been using it for a few of days now after a recommendation by my friend and patron Julian Calverley.

Julian also sent me this article by Wired, which played a part in persuading me.

After tweeting about it this week, it’s great to see so many of my contacts appearing on the app…

…perhaps you’ll feel able to vote with your feet in this way too?


BECOME A SUPPORTER


If you’d like to learn about all the other ways you can help to fund the project, here’s the page you need including a new way to contribute monthly, and where you can even simply buy me a pint:

BECOME A SUPPORTER


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

In the mood for learning more? I answer some frequently asked questions here:

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


PHOTOGRAPH CREDIT

Photograph by Arron Murray of Jack aboard the Newcastle RNLI lifeboat

4 Comments

  1. I fully agree with your comments Jack, the two platforms have become a simple time wasting exercise of scrolling. It numbs the mind as what you really want to see is buried within the ‘guff’ of adverts and spam.

    • Thank you for reading my piece and for your affirming words, Paul. It wasn’t an easy decision but now, a month or so later, I’m wondering why I stayed on them for so long!

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