We get it: No one likes Facebook. Twitter is full of trolls. Social networks can be a pain, but they're also great ways to stay in touch with friends and talk to new people. Even so, every few weeks we hear from someone who wants to just "quit" Facebook altogether. Here's why that's a silly idea, and what you can do instead that will make you just as happy.
Why "Quitting" Social Networks Is (Mostly) A Bad Idea
There are plenty of reasons to be disillusioned with most social networks. From Facebook's intrusive approach to privacy and other issues to Twitter's failure to deal with spam, abuse and harassment, it's tempting to just give them up altogether. However, there are benefits to maintaining a presence on those networks that go far beyond reading the news and staying in touch with friends and family.
For starters, remember that potential employers and just about everyone else will Google you to learn more about you before meeting you -- whether it's for an interview or something else. Even if you don't care for Facebook or Twitter, it's important to make sure that what they find is something you'd like them to see, and having Facebook, Twitter and other profiles is a good way to do that. Also, if you want to be an active part of your professional community (or your own group of friends) with minimal effort, there are great tools (which we'll get to in a moment) to have your cake and eat it too.
There are usually two big factors that drive people to "quit" social networks. Either they feel like it's a pointless time-suck full of bad information and poorly informed friends, or they have an objection to the company behind the network. Both objections are easily resolvable. You can be in control of what your presence on those networks say about you (and even how you choose to use them) without being distracted and annoyed at the drawbacks that come with them. Best of all, you'll never have to deal with the raised eyebrows that happen if you say "oh, I'm not on Facebook" or "I don't use Twitter" to friends or colleagues looking to get in touch.
Option One: Keep Your Account, Just Tidy Up And Walk Away
When people say "I just want to quit Facebook, but my family and friends are on it, what should I do?" my first response is usually "Well, just stop using Facebook." It's a little flippant, but it's my personal approach to Facebook too. There's a big difference between being present on a social network and being active. Often, just being present -- as in, your friends can find or message you to get in touch -- is enough. You don't have to devote any time into it beyond making sure your public profile looks good to outsiders. Then, you can check in when the mood strikes, or set up email notifications for whenever you get messages or event invites. Respond to those requests and messages, let your friends know that you don't spend a lot of time on Twitter or Facebook, give them better ways to get in touch with you, and then go back to not using them.
I do this with my personal Facebook account. Every now and again I'll make a public post (usually when there's an article I want to share, something I want friends to see, or I'm a guest on a podcast like Supercharged), but I rarely have time to look at my news feed, much less sit and scroll through old posts. I may be late wishing a friend happy birthday or chiming in on the birth of a cousin's new baby, but it's the thought and the reaching out that matter more than being the first comment on a Facebook post.
As long as your profiles say what you want them to say about you, you can walk away freely and just leave the network to its own devices. Most of that involves making sure your privacy settings are locked down, and the only public information is what you want to be public, even if that's nothing. There are still some risks, like friends sharing information about you publicly that you don't want public, but as long as you check back when you choose to, you still have control over how widely that spreads, too. (In fact, if you weren't on the network in the first place, you probably wouldn't know if your friends posted something about you without your permission -- yet another reason to stick around.)
Option Two: Put Your Posts On Autopilot
If you want to be a little more engaged on your social networks (or at least appear like you are), your next step up is to set your accounts on autopilot. Some people love this, others hate it, but ultimately they're your accounts, so it's up to you. Services like Buffer and Hootsuite let you schedule posts days -- sometimes even months -- in advance, so you can round up a batch of articles, links or other interesting things you want to share, queue them all up for your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or whatever other account you have (as long as it's supported), and then let the tool do its job. Buffer or Hootsuite will post for you, and you can check in to see many friends commented, liked, retweeted, or replied to you.
And, just like the "walk away" method, you can still engage on your own time when you want to. The big difference is that this approach gives you the bare minimum to look like you're active on Facebook or Twitter without you actually having to be active. You can come and go as you choose, instead of dedicating time to your social presence. Doing this comes with drawbacks though. You're not really building a strong network with this "set it and forget it" approach. On Twitter, some people don't want to follow users who just broadcast links. On Facebook, too many articles back to back with no personal updates can look pretty phony to friends and loved ones. That said, the content of your posts is entirely up to you to decide. These are just tools -- it's up to you to use them in a way that works for you.
If this sounds like a lazy way to have a social presence, it is. However, that doesn't make it less valuable. As we mentioned above, if your goal is to have a presence that updates with some regularity, showcase your work or the things you find interesting, and looks good to people who may search for you, then this gets the job done. Best of all, it will get the job done while you go off and spend your time doing things that really matter to you.
Option Three: Fix Facebook And Twitter's Annoyances Yourself
If there's something about the network you actively dislike, there's also a possibility you can fix it. Maybe it's all difficult to keep up with. Maybe you're tired of Facebook's quirky and frustrating News Feed, or what your friends and relatives post. Maybe it's philosophical, and you have no desire to let Facebook or Twitter track you around the web or use you as a product to drive their own profits. In all of those cases, leaving would address the problem, but you have more control over how you use those services than you think. The key is to engage on your own terms, and use the tools those services offer -- even if they're limited -- to make sure you only see what you want to see.
Use Lists, Clients And Blocklists To Take Back Twitter
For example, over on Twitter, if you're not eager to follow a bunch of people whose updates you don't care to read, make heavy use of Twitter lists to organise people into individual streams you can read and interact with when you choose to. This way you don't have to follow all of those breaking news organisations if you like Twitter for news -- you can just add them to a list, and then look at the list when you want to know what's going on in the world. You can make lists for anything -- your favourite musicians, blogs, personalities or celebrities, whatever appeals. Most desktop and mobile Twitter clients let you view your lists at any time, so you don't have to jump through hoops to keep up with friends, then read a list, and then go back.
If your issue with Twitter is trolls and serial harassers, you can always mute or block people. If the problem is bigger than that, shared blocklist services like BlockTogether and The Block Bot let you take control of your mentions with filters and other options. Similarly, Twitter clients like TweetDeck, Falcon Pro (our favourite for Android), and Tweetbot (our favourite for iOS) allow you to filter your feeds based on hashtag, user, specific terms or language.
Declutter Your News Feed To Make Facebook More Useful
Over on Facebook, things are a little more complicated, but we have a complete guide to getting your feed under control. It helps to make liberal use of the "Hide" and "I don't want to see this" menus, along with unliking pages you don't read and unfriending people you don't want to follow. Also, don't be afraid to use Facebook's "Organise" tool to cut down on noise from chatty friends. Facebook's new Groups feature gives you a great place to stay in touch with the people you actually care about.
If it's the overall Facebook experience that bothers you, Social Fixer can help with that. The tool gives you complete control over how Facebook looks and behaves on your desktop. When paired with privacy-protecting browser extensions like Disconnect and uBlock or AdBlock Plus, you can have the experience you want without annoyances or philosophical objections.
Be Ruthless With Your Time And Attention
At the end of the day, Twitter and Facebook are just tools. You can quit, sure, but the benefits that come with sticking around are worth considering. Appearances matter, as does having control over what people find when they look for you online. Having the option to stay connected with friends and loved ones is better than just giving up. Even having the accounts just to use to log in to web services is a perk that's pretty valuable.
Keeping those benefits doesn't mean sinking time and energy into those networks though. If you prefer, you can be completely hands off and let your profiles act as portfolios that speak for you. Alternatively, you can get involved as much or as little as you have the time or desire. However you approach it, do it on your own terms and armed with the right tools, and you'll be able to make those networks bend to your will, instead of taking them as they are.