• Advice

The trouble with "likes"

Do you get a little endorphin rush when something you post on social media is popular or gets a lot of likes?

You’re not alone.

When something I write online for business does well, I have this mini-surge of feeling cool (“at last!!”). Like I’m accepted, cherished, and other cushy feelings. When I get a new follower on Twitter, I feel excited every time.

For freelancers, likes and follows on social media is good for business. It gets your name in front of people, it reaches new audiences, and it can ultimately be another “social proof” of the success of your business.

The trouble with likes

The trouble comes when you believe that the value of whatever your posting is measured by your like count. When you feel bad about the blog post or Instagram photo or video you lovingly made and sent out into the world that got 2 likes.

Or worse, when you actually make business decisions based on the fact that no one liked the project you just put out on Dribbble or GitHub. Or when you only produce work you know will be popular.

This is when the like count becomes dangerous.

Here’s a small example: I have a “side gig” writing poetry. I take it seriously even though I don’t make any money doing it. I put up a poem on a website. Frankly, I didn’t think that much of it. The poem was about a relationship.

And it got a lot of likes.

“Maybe I should change my usual style of my poetry and write some more romance,” I thought. But on the other hand, I felt like that was far from my best poem (it felt a bit like the kind of poem I’d write in college) and was kind of ticked off that this was the poem that got popular.

The truth is, we can get sucked into trying to repeat something that is successful but is old news for us creatively. I felt this inner resistance to repeating a creative experience I’d already had -- I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to be told what to create. But that feeling of being successful was so wonderful….

See how I almost forced my creativity into a new direction based on a response on social media? My desire to be successful was overriding my desire to move creatively in my own direction. And let me tell you, that doesn’t feel good.

In fact, it feels completely sh*tty.

Freelancing can be lonely

This problem is magnified because as freelancers, we get kind of lonely.

If we work at home, we want human connection. Because we don’t have a boss, we need a bit of validation -- to verify that what we’re doing (in our dark holes) is good. We think that retweet or that like is going to make us feel more connected to the outside world.

Does it?

In my opinion, it might work for a second, but only if something does better than we expected. If something does worse than I expected, or even does OK, I feel more isolated and grumpy than I did before.

The expectation that an “interaction” online will make feel connected actually makes me feel less connected.

Yes, other people have this problem

I don’t think I’m the only one who battles with this. Case in point: two of my favorite bloggers and podcasters, Paul Jarvis and Sean McCabe, have both talked about how difficult it is to be objective about social share numbers.

Paul names it “the metric of more.” He means that rather than valuing the followers you do have and the people your work does touch, you want more.

As Paul explains, “The metric of more makes it seem like reaching one person isn’t enough. But, for that person, maybe your work made a world of difference. It’s just like when you read a book that feels like it was written for you. It doesn’t matter how many other copies that author has sold, it changed your life.”

Sean McCabe had a webcast with 3 other creatives, all of whom are popular on social media; not only does the podcast explore more about these issues, but it also shows you that even if you become more popular (like these guys), the feeling of anxiety about social connection doesn’t even go away! You always need “more,” wherever you are. You can hear Sean's podcast on "The Like Drug" here.

As one of the participants Rogie King said in this fantastic post on the subject:

"You eat the "like" drug and boy does it taste good. You keep consuming it, but you want more. You don't realize that your mind and heart are now accustomed to this new "drug". Worse, what will happen when you take the "drug" away? Sadly, I'm not sure all of us will find that out."

-Rogie King

Can I unplug from the like machine?

Unfortunately, I have yet to find the socket. Telling myself, “I’m not going to care about likes anymore!” just hasn’t worked.

But every day, I’m practicing three small things that are bringing me closer to self-validation:

1. I create and share what I want to create and share. The thought, “I wonder if this will get a lot of likes!” does occur to me. But I don’t allow it to censor what I share.

2. I’m not taking for granted the 3 people who like my new, less popular work. 3 people. 3 individuals who took the time to read my work and appreciate it for what it was. That is still validation.

3. I’m not checking social media constantly. I turned off notifications. When I feel lonely, tired, or bored, I pet my cat.

This is not a cure. But it’s something.

Freelancers, do you come against this problem when sharing your work on social media?