Fitness industry and social media- why so serious?

Posted on June 17, 2015

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This is Part Three of a three part series on technology and health, with a focus on fitness. Part One started out broad discussing an overarching theme of what technological progress does to the human body. Part Two looked more at the value and costs when technology is implemented into health / fitness, honing in some more on the digital age. Part Three will deal specifically with social media.

As this site has grown, I’ve gotten more questions regarding tangential topics, such as social media or building a blog. “Are you on Twitter?” Or inquiries into doing videocasts. Like a Skype interview.

These are topics I’ve wrestled with throughout the years. They’re things I thought about before starting the site. I spent a year prepping this site before publishing a post. (Something I highly recommend doing.) Surprisingly, my approach has remained essentially unchanged since the year before I first hit publish. I’ve tried things here and there, but have come back to the same approach repeatedly.

I’m going to address some of these topics, and tie it into a fitness industry specific way. Not is Twitter bad or good. But is Twitter beneficial from a fitness industry standpoint, from my point of view.

This is quite subjective. We’re dealing with all the vagaries of human personality. There are so many different ways to look at this topic, I don’t think anyone can say what’s best. So, what I’m hoping to do here is organize my thoughts on this topic and share what I think works well, and perhaps that will be of use to others.

For this, I’m going to group a lot of things together. Facebook, Twitter, Youtube (like the comments), Instagram, LinkedIn, forums, a blog, certain types of interviews like podcasts. Some consider certain things social media while others don’t. I’m going to throw it all together. For the most part, it’s all media where people can then make it “social.” e.g. A blog post with a comments section is “social” whereas an old fashioned newspaper article is not.

Starting broad

From Jason Fried, who often takes the words out of my mouth, or gives them to me:

“Designers often talk about the look and feel of a product, an app, an object, etc. These are good concepts to be talking about, but how the thing feels isn’t really the important feel. The important feel is how it makes you feel.

Since then, every time I’ve gone back to Twitter, I’ve noticed I’ve felt anxious, unhappy, uncomfortable. I didn’t notice this before I started using Instagram, because I didn’t have anything to contrast it with.

Every scroll through Twitter puts at least one person’s bad day, shitty experience, or moment of snark in front of me. These are good happy people – I know many of them in real life – but for whatever reason, Twitter is the place they let their shit loose. And while it’s easy to do, it’s not comfortable to be around. I don’t enjoy it.

When I occasionally reach for Twitter, I discover someone’s pissed about something. I often come away feeling worse, feeling anxious, or just generally not feeling great about the world. Twitter actually gives me a negative impression of my friends. I know it’s not Twitter doing it, but it’s happening on Twitter. That’s how Twitter feels to me.”

It’s been well established negative news garners more attention than positive. We’ve even put forth an evolutionary basis for this. Idea being noticing positive things is less beneficial for survival than noticing negative things. “Oh, the flowers have bloomed” vs “LOOK AT THE FUCKING LION!!!”

I don’t have Twitter, but I do have Facebook. Twitter and Facebook, and Instagram, have always been similar to me. Quick updates from various people or companies. Some in your social circle; some not. I don’t know how or when, but at some point, I started noticing what Jason describes. I’d be on Facebook and various emotions would flow through me.

“Nobody’s life is as great as their Facebook posts” has been said as a joke out there. A true one. But, for me at least, knowing that doesn’t negate how I feel when say, everybody’s life seems so one way or the other. When people are off traveling and I have to be up the next day at 4am.

I’d also say, “Nobody’s life is as bad as their Facebook posts.” Doesn’t matter though. All wonderful or all dreadful, reading a bunch of it doesn’t help. If I’m on vacation, I don’t want to read “To the person who x, y and z’d, (you know who you are), [here are all the things I’d only tell a few confidants but I’ll share them on Facebook for everyone I’ve ever met to read about].” I love roller coasters, but not emotional ones.

Some of it is even stupid. You have a new puppy? I love dogs, but I don’t have a lifestyle conducive to having one right now.

“Oh, look, you posted a cute video of your new puppy playing catch…I don’t have a dog…I miss having a dog…I wish I could have a dog…Screw this person. Ugh, no, I’m just jealous. Maybe I should I get a dog? Well, I’d have to move. What type of dog? Well, it can only be, maybe 25lbs? Who will take care of it when I travel? Wait, who even posted this? Who the hell is this? I don’t even remember this person.”

Nobody is doing anything bad here. But I think of it like so: If I’m sitting at my desk working, and a bunch of people called me to tell me about their vacations, that’d be messed up. Or if a bunch of people knocked on my door and started telling me -more likely yelling at me- about what’s bothering them, that’d be an uncomfortable, anxious experience.

“Uhh,

-I’m sorry your kid’s teacher is being rude?”

-Wow, what a tough day…to the person I haven’t talked to in 10 years.”

-I mean, I’m not sure what you should do with your life next.”

It’s why I’m barely on Facebook anymore. Every once in a blue moon I’m happily surprised I have an account, because someone is able to get in touch with me, but other than that, I stay off it. Beyond that and this website, I use zero Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, you can’t comment on my Youtube videos, no LinkedIn, nothing. Honestly, I’m not happy about the Facebook thing either. It’ll probably be gone soon. Whoever wants to get in touch with me I’m sure can do so another way.

There is a saying out there “You are who you surround yourself with.” It’s one I’ve given a lot of thought to. As someone who reads a lot, I’ve always felt the same way with what and who I read. Those words seep into my mind when read enough. People’s emotions, whether in person or in written format, rub off. I don’t like the ups and downs that seems inevitable on social media.

Extremism

With the internet nowadays, you can find pretty much any type of reading you want. If you have an extreme view of something, you can find reading / discussions on it. That’s not always a good thing. It can make your views even more extreme, to the point they end up being ridiculous. When the mob gets together, they typically get angrier and louder. Not quieter and more considerate.

An example of this is how people talk to one another behind a screen versus how they talk to one another in person. Say you’re listening to a speech you don’t agree with. If you went up to that person immediately after the speech was over, and said to them “You’re a moron. This is the worst shit I’ve ever heard. You are wrong on this, this, and that.” You’d be considered insane. Like you’ve been clinically diagnosed with a personality disorder. Do it in the comments after watching the speech on Youtube and a bunch of people will cheer you on!

I think social media helps feed into this. By its nature, it’s fast. Twitter has been heralded for its ability to get news out faster than traditional media outlets. If 9/11 is going on, great. Otherwise, does this really matter? Of all news, what percentage do you need 30 seconds faster, five minutes faster, 24 hours faster…a week faster? (A good case can be made for focusing on things that don’t change.)

Last year NPR posted on their Facebook page a link to an article, “Why doesn’t America read anymore?”

Here are some of the responses in the comments section. Just take a quick scan:

NPR prank responses 1NPR responses 2

Here is what the NPR link sent you to:

NPR why doesn't america read

There is something about these mediums where people feel they have to respond as quickly as possible. To such a degree, many people don’t even read the article! Tons of pages will literally have commenters respond with “first,” to brag they were the first responder. Who cares?

I don’t know if it’s the speed element, or the anonymity, or what, but there is something about forums, Facebook, Twitter, most comment sections, that cause people to speak inappropriately. In a way you do not see in person. I’ve done it myself. I just can’t think of any setting I regularly encounter in person, where I can witness people speaking to one another in any way remotely similar to what you’ll regularly see online.

Conversely, there is something about only keeping things on my website where it helps me step back and be better about this.

A comment section can be very valuable, but it has to be moderated and kept up with. Most sites don’t do this. I don’t see the authors of New York Times articles regularly chiming in to the comments section. (A lot of authors avoid reading it all together.) A notable exception is the science page of Reddit. I’ve found some really good stuff in their comments. They do a solid job keeping up with it. I often go to the comments before I read the article.

The issue of brevity and lack of thought (getting more specific to the fitness industry)

Take another look at those NPR comment responses. The question “Why doesn’t America read anymore?” is being given answers, at most a paragraph long. Like four sentences, max. I’m all for trying to be to the point, but anybody else think that’s probably an insufficient amount of thought put into a question that, should it be true, could probably take 300 pages to answer? Throw a bar graph in there at least.

Moving to Twitter, now we’re limited to 140 characters. How nuanced or detailed can you possibly be with this? The medium is conducive to short thoughts. I find this ends up being extreme thoughts, or not fully vetted thoughts.

-[On Twitter] @SoAndSo what do you think of this article / method / etc?

It’s tough to give a solid answer. Even if we’re talking about something trivial, like reviewing a cell phone, can you really give a detailed answer as to why you like one phone over the other in 140 characters? You’ve discussed the screen size, ok, what about the camera? Operating system? Why you hate or love Apple?

Can you really give a detailed answer to thoughts on a training system, a diet, behavior, etc. in social media? Anyone who has read a lot of research thoughtfully will tell you, “Be careful only reading abstracts.” Abstracts are notorious for giving an incomplete picture of a study. They’re a maximum of ~500 words. (That’s words; not characters.) Tables or charts are sometimes accompanied.

It’s still not enough to tell you what the study really says, or how it was conducted, who funded it. It’s tough to cover one topic, often just a branch of that topic, in 500 words. Good luck with even less than that. But does the act of trying only make matters worse? Make things as simple as possible, right? …But no simpler than that.

I rarely respond immediately

For this website, with the exception of this post on Lebron James, I never post something the day of writing it. The Lebron thing was unusual because it was during the NBA finals and I wanted to get it out before the next game. Beyond that, everything I write, most comments or emails I receive, I just about always wait the day or more to publish or send.

If it’s somebody who is upset in the comments section, rare but happens, I wait 24 hours no matter what.

1) I don’t want to give an emotional response. Sleeping on something inevitably makes me more relaxed about it. Sometimes I wait multiple days. I like to gather my thoughts.

2) I want to see if the other person actually cares for what they’re saying, or if they were having a moment and took it out on the comments section.

More on 1): After multiple days, on social media, the world has moved on. Twitter has a whole new list of what’s trending. (“Who can I shit on next?” is how it feels.) The easy, default setting, is to give a rash response. The hard work is to try and understand where the person is coming from, and give a thoughtful response.

More on 2): If the person really cares, they’ll respond despite my “slower” response. Invariably, people either don’t respond, despite me often taking 30-60 minutes to write my response to them. My assumption here is people realize, when I respond calmly and respectfully, how silly it is to go off on either me or others. Again, you wouldn’t do this to random people in a restaurant. You don’t have a bad meal and go stomping into the kitchen, “MOTHER OF GOD YOU SUCK CHEF!”

If they do respond, then typically the person calms down dramatically, and we can have a nice discussion. This is the type of talking which can best affect people. You don’t really see conversations where one person is yelling and the other person is calm. That’s weird, and ineffective.

-> If the rage continues, I tell them I won’t allow any more comments from them. There are consequences for running into a kitchen and screaming at the chef. There should be consequences online too.

This post is a perfect example of me waiting on something. I initially had some things written about how polarizing social media is. A couple days later I looked around, and found this study showing how social media can reduce polarization. That shocked me. Then I read the argument:

“But this new paper from NYU’s Pablo Barberá argues that that’s not true. The core of his argument: Social media encourages connections between people with weak ties — not just your best friends, for instance, but also your high school classmates, that guy you met on a business trip who friended you, and the local guy you heard was funny on Twitter. Those people tend to be “more politically heterogeneous than citizens’ immediate personal networks,” which exposes you to more perspectives, not fewer.”

That viewpoint makes a lot of sense. Although, getting information from various sources and listening to that information are not the same thing. I see a lot of people on social media get diverse information…only to berate it. And American politics doesn’t look so great from a polarization stand point. (Notice in the interactive graphic, at 2004, when Facebook came on the scene, is when things start dividing.) But now I realize there is room for debate, and it’s more complicated than I initially thought. Of course it is.

I also looked into things like Facebook and loneliness. It’s fairly complex, as most human personality things are. This is where you really have to figure out what works for you.

Video / Audio

With being interviewed, at least through video / in-person, there is also that need to answer something immediately. A lot of questions people send me about fitness topics, I read, then sporadically think about it during the day. Someone recently emailed me about breathing. I waited five days to answer them. In the mean time I watched clients and thought about it, read some articles and thought about it, did some exercises of my own and thought about it.

How could I possibly replicate this in a podcast or something, where the other person is there, waiting for a response? These quicker responses, in time and length, shortchange things. Often making things look easier or simpler than they are.

Whenever I see people being interviewed, I feel too often the audience is waiting for that one quote they can take out of context, or present in a controversial light, losing the other 99% of the interview. The moment they can catch the interviewee caught off guard. Whether the interviewer, interviewee, or audience, there is a convergence towards trivialization.

-> If you watch enough athlete interviews, you can tell they’ve gotten fed up with this. Marshawn Lynch has gotten to where he won’t speak. I’ve heard Lebron point blank, “Whatever I say, you’re just gonna write something else anyways. I know you’re waiting for that one quote. So I don’t care.” (This is probably why he wrote an article about going back to Cleveland, rather than the catastrophe that was his press conference about going to Miami.)

You also end up doing a lot of interviews with these guys when they’re at their worst. Just lost a game, body hurts, tired. It’s not really fair to expect them to give even keeled, thoughtful, responses.

After a video / audio response, it’s quite hard to edit something. While I try my best to leave posts alone, sometimes an edit really helps. I’ve edited things years later in the interest of accuracy. Can’t do this with social media, or an interview.

With any video, whether me posting it, videocast, whatever, I prefer things short. I read, way, way faster than someone can talk to me. I assume most are this way, like when it comes to learning. As I’ve heard some put their college experience, “I didn’t go to class because it felt like the professor was reading to me. Like what is this, I’m a kid and you’re reading me a bedtime story?”

It’s one reason nearly every video I post of mine is less than two minutes. Unless a topic is enhanced by the delivery, like you’re a great speaker, an animation, you want to show how to work through a problem (math), or it’s an intimate environment -maybe a small workshop, where you can have one on one time- I don’t see much value there. The great speaker thing tends to be more general stuff for me too, opposed to discussing the intricacies of the human body.

The hierarchy of internet communication

  • If a person has Twitter, they probably have Facebook.
  • If a person has Facebook, they have an email address.
  • If they don’t have Facebook but have Twitter, they have an email address.
  • If a person listens to podcasts, they have an email address.
  • If a person is on the internet, they have an email address. (Unless you’re a client of mine pushing 70, who doesn’t want to bother with email!)
  • If a person is on the internet, they go to websites.

I have an email notifier people can subscribe to, for my website, and anyone can email me. Email and websites encompass everyone. Email and my website can be way more detailed, media friendly, discussion friendly, than any other social media. Particularly in the health world, social media is often only a medium to link to a website anyways.

“But what about the ability to connect with others?”

Any type of connecting with me is probably going to follow one of two possibilities:

1) You ask something thought provoking, in which case there is no way I can answer it in 140 characters, or the Youtube comment section. (Also has a character limit.) Plus I’m going to want to take some time to think about it. A thoughtful questions necessitates a thoughtful response.

2) You ask me something I’ve already written about, in which case you can look at my website / a link.

A matter of control

Facebook can randomly change its algorithm, dictating what shows up in people’s newsfeed. I’m sure we’ve all thought at times, “Why don’t I see updates from certain people?”

If you’re someone relying on Facebook for traffic, you have to accept that one day, out of nowhere, through no fault of your own, your traffic may plummet. (Or, you know, you might be part of a study to manipulate your emotions without giving consent.)

This is why I don’t do any guest posts or writing for other outlets. Once it’s on their site, it’s really their content. They get to moderate the comments, they can edit the thing, they can add photos, whatever. It’s not fully me anymore. It’s sort of me.

If I encourage debate through posting a link on Facebook, then I’m helping Facebook’s bottom line. A colonoscopy sounds more fun than helping Mark Zuckerberg. It’s page views he gets, that I don’t. He’s already made enough money off other people’s work.

boom roasted

Not to mention now I have to check in on multiple websites to see if there are any new comments or responses. If I contribute to forums, which I did a little bit of in the beginning, now I have to check that forum to see if there have been any responses. These forums exist for years. How may sites can that tally up to me having to check into, if I keep going on forum after forum? I still respond to comments from posts of mine multiple years old, and plan on doing so forever. After a few posts on a couple forums, I got anxiety trying to keep up with it. So I stopped.

Some of these forums don’t exist after a while. All that content may end up getting thrown away. (I eventually copied and pasted some responses and used them as content on this site to prevent this.)

A matter of energy

  • Email

Don’t most people already feel overwhelmed? When I first got an iPhone, all an email notification did was make me worry. “Ahh, what am I missing???” Or cause me to look at my phone when I’d rather not. I turned email off my phone and it helped dramatically.

But let’s add:

  • Website
  • Text messages
  • Phone calls
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Snapchat
  • 20 other “world changing technologies”

How do people keep up with this? It sounds miserable. I keep my phone away from me practically all day. Even if my girlfriend texts me, she may be waiting hours for a response.

A matter of business

“But what about promoting your work?”

This is typically Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Because I don’t find the discussion element valuable as outlined above, then I’d be on here strictly to promote. I don’t like the idea of being on a site or using a site strictly to tell people about myself, work, the new thing I’m selling, etc.

Next, social media is lousy for enhancing business. This is fact; not opinion. Humans have stuck to old fashioned ways of buying things remarkably. Check out The Ad Contrarian for more on this. Search, email, and websites are what drive eCommerce. (Though most still buy at brick and mortars!)

“Alright, well if I’m starting out, how do I get an audience then?”

One reason I felt comfortable starting this website was I started out training clients in 30 minute sessions. Because we also had to get a workout in, there were certain questions I couldn’t answer for them in that timespan. So, I started writing the answers up on this site, and sending them the link. It wasn’t as rushed, it was more thought-out, the person could re-read it, I had an idea of who the audience was, I knew I already had an audience, even if it was an audience of one.

To be clear,

I don’t think badly of people who use social media or anything like that. All my friends are on it, as are many clients. I do think certain topics, or industries, need to be careful with certain mediums. Dr. Oz is an example what can go awry when you try to put complicated topics, like CANCER, in the bottle of an eight minute television segment. You can give all the caveats you wish, “We’re only scratching the surface,” but there is no guarantee the audience will hear that.

I’ve tried various things here and there, and over time I got rid of all the forums, social media use is non-existent (beyond my own site), no Youtube comments allowed, no writing for other websites. I will give the final caveat here of saying this route has to be harder from a “getting your name out there” standpoint, but it’s a route I’ve been very happy with nonetheless.

 

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