In a recent conversation, someone very close to me casually implied that WhatsApp is ‘social media’, and that comment has been grinding my gears.

Apps you use for meaningful communication - one to one, or with small groups - are communication apps.

Apps you use to broadcast - no matter how small your following - are social media apps.

But I admit, the lines have become very blurry as we approach 2021. I thought it was worth penning down my thoughts on this.

Meaningful Communication & Messaging

When we send a message to a person, or a small group of friends or family members, we are communicating meaning - something genuine, tangible and personal to the recipient(s).

The problem we all face is that meaningful communication can now occur on almost any medium today, not just WhatsApp, iMessage, SMS or Skype. Anyone can ‘slide into your DMs’ on Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook Messenger for a meaningful chat.

For people who need to take a break from broadcast messages, it can get a bit tricky to pick the right media or channels to avoid while not missing out on meaningful communication. How can you go on a ‘social media cleanse’ without missing important family updates?

This issue is further compounded by the fact that every individual has their own understanding of communication vs social media apps, and each has their own ‘setup’.

For instance, I use Whatsapp, iMessage, and DMs across social media as one-to-one communication tools. I also use Skype and Slack for important work-related communication. I am on the fence about Facebook Messenger - it pops up on my phone over every other app when someone messages me, so mass sharing and marketing messages there really annoy me, but I still use it for important work-related communication with at least one of my freelancers.

Facebook Messenger, back when it was just private messages within Facebook, is how I once got a job, back in October 2011. A VP Digital for a WPP digital agency was headhunting marketing strategists and stumbled upon my Facebook profile. I used to get a ton of notifications (and I used to check each one), but I was busy that day I didn’t see the message until the following morning. I can’t imagine how life would have been had I completely missed the opportunity.

(I remember checking my notifications in a dazed state the next day and almost jumping out of bed, panicking, thinking I may have missed out on a very ideal and timely job.)

See, there is personal communication and there is work communication, and they are both meaningful. I don’t think anyone wants to miss out on either of those. What helps me navigate this is a clear demarcation between the essential and the optional, but this is easy for me because I’m mature enough to know my priorities (at least that’s what I tell myself). For teenagers, twenty-somethings and the less savvy trying to figure it all out, I appreciate that this can be tricky.

Social Media & Marketing

Social media is typically designed to broadcast a message about yourself, your group, your cause or your brand for promotional purposes.

You may be communicating personal brand, to say, this is me, I like to eat sushi, I like to travel and this is my latest exploit, I care about my family so please pray for my grandmother who is sick with Covid, I care about my local community and we need a zebra crossing in front of this primary school - please sign a petition, I follow politics and I find this article agreeable on such and such issue, etc. There’s a wide range of things we share on social media to further our personal brand.

Or you may be communicating something commercial, like, please follow my new business Instagram page, check out this article I wrote that just got published on our company blog, we are doing recruitment so please apply for these roles or help me find someone who would, please share our new play’s promo and help make it viral, etc.

If you are a passionate activist for autistic kids, perhaps because you have an autistic child or sibling, your personal and commercial intentions may overlap, but you should still be able to clearly distinguish between meaningful communication and broadcasting.

But generally speaking, you should be able to detect whether you are broadcasting your personal brand or your commercial brand when it comes to social media.

It’s true that I sometimes try to leverage my personal brand and following for commercial purposes. But guess what, it almost always falls flat on its face.

This is why it’s important to experiment and understand the nature of a medium or your message will be ignored. Not just by people but also by the medium’s algorithms.

The fact of the matter is that in 2021, even your social media broadcasts need to be meaningful.

In website copy I have written for my marketing consultancy, I often say ‘synthetic authenticity is just honest fakery’ - a phrase I love so much it even made its way on our business cards. There is no room for mere virtue signalling in 2021. Companies and brands have to actually believe in what they are selling. It is always better to be upfront than to sneak in marketing messages - we don’t have unsuspecting audiences in this new decade.

Mental Wellbeing in Online Communication

It is imperative that we try to dissect mediums so we don’t ignore important messages when we go on one of our ‘social media cleanses’.

When I am at work, I tend to ignore personal messages (minus those from my partner or child’s school). When I am at home in the evening, I try to tune out work messages - even informal chats on Slack. In any case, I make it a point not to miss any critical or meaningful communication just because of social media clutter, and this is one way to do it - perhaps you will find it useful to distinguish between different platforms in the table below:

Medium

Purpose

Intent

Exceptions

Facetime

Meaningful communication

Personal

Hangouts

Meaningful communication

Both

Virtual conferences etc.

Kik

Meaningful communication

Personal

Public groups

Landline

Meaningful communication

Personal

Sales calls

Personal email

Meaningful communication

Personal

Spam, newsletters, promotions

Phone calls

Meaningful communication

Both

Sales calls

Skype

Meaningful communication

Both

Virtual conferences etc.

Slack

Meaningful communication

Commercial

#random channels

SMS

Meaningful communication

Personal

Spam messages

Telegram

Meaningful communication

Both

Channels

Whatsapp

Meaningful communication

Both

Large groups, Stories, Broadcast, Status

Whereby

Meaningful communication

Commercial

Work email

Meaningful communication

Commercial

Spam, newsletters, promotions

Zoom

Meaningful communication

Commercial


Microsoft Teams

Meaningful communication

Commercial


Discord

Social media

Commercial

Mentions

Facebook

Social media

Commercial

Facebook Messenger minus its stories

Houseparty

Social media

Personal


Imgur

Social media

Commercial

Chat

Instagram

Social media

Commercial

Direct Messages

LinkedIn

Social media

Commercial

Direct Messages

Pinterest

Social media

Commercial


Quora

Social media

Commercial


Reddit

Social media

Commercial

Inbox

Snapchat

Social media

Commercial

Chat

Swarm

Social media

Commercial


Tango

Social media

Commercial

1-1 video calls

TikTok

Social media

Commercial

Inbox

Tumblr

Social media

Commercial

Inbox

Twitter

Social media

Commercial

Messages



The point here is that there are personal aspects (exceptions above) to social media just as there are commercial aspects (also under exceptions) to communication platforms.

As you try to declutter your virtual life it is useful to think of who the most important people are in your life and what platforms and channels they use to communicate with you. As I write this, the medium of choice across the board seems to be WhatsApp.

I have a client who messages me on WhatsApp when he can’t make it for a meeting, all my friends and my kids’ friends’ parents are in touch with me on WhatsApp, I’m in touch with my wife throughout the day on this platform. For this reason, I keep WhatsApp Web open in a pinned tab next to my two inboxes (work and personal) in my browser so I don’t miss out on important messages.

But I am also part of some political chat groups that can amass hundreds of messages in a matter of hours. These are always muted and I never check these threads unless I am taking a break from work or I am not needed by my family.

I have several family groups on WhatsApp, but the one with my partner, mother and sisters is the only one that isn’t muted so I don’t miss important updates.

What I’m trying to say is that your “social media cleanse” does not have to include Whatsapp.