How to Avoid Becoming Just Another
Social Media Burnout

cartoon image from Hugh MacLeod

Dear Social Media Maven,

So … you work in social media, you’re passionate about social media, you live and breathe social media, your life revolves around social media, helping your clients with social media, turning the world on to social media, etc. etc….

To keep this whole social media thing on the road, you find yourself spending 18 hours a day on the computer, working that online buzz, working those relationships, for both you and your clients — Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr. It’s never-ending. Relentless.

And guess what? There are thousands of others just like you, mining that social media mountain for any gold they can find.

Like everybody else in your space, you’re burnt out. You’re over-extended. You’re exhausted.

Enough already

Some time ago I found out the hard way that keeping up with social media, keeping ahead of the curve, was impossible. You might as well try emptying the Atlantic Ocean with a bucket.

I found that the “helping clients with their social media” schtick wasn’t sustainable. It just takes too much time and there are too many other people doing it — most far younger and charging far less than me.

So what did I do? 

I asked myself, OK, so what can I do that is unique? What can I do that nobody else is doing? 

The answer, of course, is the cartoons.

There are a lot of cartoonists online, but nobody’s doing it the way I’m doing it. Cube Grenades: corporate and private commissions, my way. Like I said, unique.

So if you want Cube Grenades, fine, I can help you. If you just want the same social media stuff everybody else is offering, well, you’re frankly better off asking everybody else. That’s what I started telling people.

And it worked

I’m now buried in cartoon commissions. And it’s been that way for a while. It’s focused. And I’m happy.

Two points to conclude:

  1. If you’re going to do social media, you must find a totally new and unique angle. Cartoons were my thing, you have to find your thing. Otherwise you’re just going to end up underpaid and burned out. Web designers and social media experts and copywriters have become a commodity — unless you find your angle.
  2. It took me a couple of years to figure all this out, how to build the reputation and the business model so I could offer something truly unique. So if you haven’t quite figured it out yet, don’t worry. It takes time. But do it, regardless. Make it happen.

Any questions?

About the Author: Hugh MacLeod is a cartoonist and has a popular blog at gapingvoid.comCheck out his corporate commission work here. And if you want to find your own unique angle, you probably should read his books.

Note: The image used for this post is one of Hugh’s “Cube Grenades” created for his client, Rackspace. See them all here.

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  1. Hugh:

    This is great. Do something nobody else has done.

    Recently, I’m hearing that advise. I have produced golf Internet radio shows on Blog Talk Radio and Talk Shoe for clients. I was approached and selected by Matrix Media to do a pro show. I’ve set up an Internal team of golfers and some radio advisers, from my client network. The client has a young pro partner and he will be the co-host. I’ve set up an Internal advisory team of golfers and radio advisers, from my client network. This is in addition to the Matrix Media advisers.

    One internal adviser did an interview with Jerry Seinfeld. He had twenty minutes to interview. He asked him something different – forgot what it was. It was something like sports or what he likes to eat. Jerry gave him 40 minutes.

    Do something different – if works. Great post today.

    Randy

  2. Hugh, you are sooooo right. When Aging with Grace was started 6 yrs ago, there was virtually no one in the “eldercare” space. Now if you google eldercare there are endless companies listed…many that have played off of our unique company name.

    However, to your point of finding something that no one else has…Aging with Grace is the only eldercare assistance/management company in the US with an accredited VA Claims agent to assist veterans to apply for pension benefits.

    Business is booming and we have a tremendous advantage over the so called competition!

  3. Thanks Hugh.

    I wonder how do I know if my offer is

    too unique and not interesting to anyone….

    Or just early in the game and needing more time to gain traction…?

    How did you know when you finally hit on something that people would want and would stand out?

  4. I call this Initiating Unique Innovation. Thanks for sharing

  5. Love your spot-on advice, great stuff, really enjoy it and share it often …will you be presening at RISE (www.riseglobal.org) in Austin this week? Would love to hear you!

  6. You’ve just mad my mind up. I was just about to agree to take on a clients(conventional) social networking for his business.

  7. If only it was that easy…

    Sometimes it takes more effort to crowbar your slightly off-kilter take into a market, but I guess it must be really worth it.

    I just did what everyone else was doing. But sarcastically. ;)

  8. Well, i’ve checked that “Cube grenades” link and while i was reading THE thing struck me…

    I got to the part where you wrote “…World Wide Web…” not that this term is new to me, you know some things struck you when you repeat them on a thousand time, so the thing that struck me is that WORLD WAR III – is already started but nobody seem to be aware of it… It started on the web… World fights intellectually every day with new weapons on different fronts for the same thing it was fighting entire history – FREEDOM.

    You just invented a new weapon and sold it… Congrats.

    P.S. “Not cynical, not a bit. Simply my perception of ying and yand is a bit different than of the most people… ;-)

  9. Great blog post and finding your own niche is now the way to go. You are right on when you talk about that. I see social media people crawling all over each other when I log into my FB account, and some even sign you up for their fan page or group. How desperate is that?

  10. Stop focusing on the stupid peripheral shit that doesn’t matter and get to the HEART of something that MATTERS. Being a social media expert is like being a telephone expert 50 years ago. Only with more complicated “phones.” Do something great and people will use whatever means are available to them to talk about it.

    • Absolutely — or as my ex used to say, “being an expert in ASCII.” The tool is meaningless — it’s all about what you use the tool to do.

  11. Thanks for this – uniqueness rules the world.

    If you rehash what everyone else has said, you are no different from everyone else. There remains nothing worth paying for.

  12. Hugh. I think you hit the nail right on the head with that grenade. It’s so easy to do what everyone else is doing because the path is laid out right there for you…but that path becomes a bumpy road really quick when you discover you are the “prius” going down the road with everyone else.

    It’s those that look at their passion and create a new space who really win….

    :)

  13. Agreed! To me this is about finding a niche.

  14. A little off topic here.

    I’ve got a comic concept, it makes south park look like etv, anyway point is.. I need someone to handle a website and traffic, anyone game?

  15. You also have to find people that you admire. Teaching whatever it is to people you don’t admire is a bummer of a life. When you dread the client calls because your work doesn’t attract people that you admire (or you’re not enough of an expert to pursue them), life is meaningless.

  16. social media expert, I don’t think that’s a title I want to have. The way the internet is growing and moving, in a couple of years that title will probably be deceased, that’s just me guessing shit here, I’m not a social media expert to tell you what’s going to happen.

    I don’t think doing something unique or that nobody has ever done before is new, but you’re totally right, some people just don’t get it. example of those who do: apple.

    Thanks for the Advice my friend, about to read Evil Plans for the third time now, I love this book!

  17. If everybody stood out from the crowd…

    there wouldn’t be a crowd.

    But luckily, not everybody has balls. Thanks for this reminder, Hugh.

    Everybody should listen to Mitch Joel’s interview of Seth Godin, which he published on Twist Image yesterday. It’s right down this creek.

    I’m a freetard. I pre-ordered your latest book … from the library. Sounds like you’re eating regularly though, so I don’t feel so bad confessing my sins. Heh.

  18. This is what I’ve been hearing: NICHE IT! Now if I could just decide on my niche…

  19. Oh, Amen! I have to say I am bored to tears with hearing the same pitches for the same products over and over again…The result is, even if I could probably use the info or the coaching, I tune it ALL out because I’m glazed over by the constant hum of conformity…

    The tools we have allow us to all be creative and unique. Your community wants you to shake them out of the stupor and they’ll reward you for it…

  20. These are the most important words from your article: “What can I do that nobody else is doing?”

    Very powerful stuff and so true!

  21. this missive couldn’t have arrived at a more perfect time… thank you.
    Just this weekend i’d been moaning about how i can’t keep up… my clients really rely on m to deal with their social media – but ive had these clients forever… i do NOT want NEW clients for social media work – i’m definitely burned out of it. I can do it for these few, happily, but the idea of doing it for new ones who’s work i’m not extremely familiar with seems completely overwhelming.

    no idea what my uniqueness will be,yes, but i am grateful for this affirming notion that i don’t HAVE to be a social media maven.

    thank heaven!

  22. You are right. once you decide to start a business online, because other people do not do it, they prefer rather work for somebody else, you find out that so many people do online marketing that it seems like everyone in the world is doing it now.

    That is the reason why it is so hard to stand out.

    And Uniqueness is the answer to “how to stand out”.

  23. Great idea. You are so right! You have to reach out with something new and unique. Love the cartoons, you are very creative. In a sea full of the same, you made yourself stand out.

    Shara

  24. Thanks for telling the truth. ‘It takes time’. Not many people will do that. Good on you!

  25. Marshall Adler :

    To be honest I didn’t read this article for two main reasons…

    1. You guys have already touched on Social Media and the avoidance of the Social Media jungle.

    and

    2. You guys are running out of new and innovative things to say.

    I used to be a hardcore evangelist of Copyblogger Media and would read every article published and then go boast about it to my friends who are now avid bloggers and Internet Marketers. Lately I’ve noticed a nasty pattern with most of the Authors. You guys have nothing new to say.

    All I see are the same topics being talked about in different perspectives and all with different titles.

    This is why blogging sucks. Eventually you run out of new things to say and you end up going back over old data and trying to pass it off in a new light with a new headline and perspective.

    Gone are the days that I actually look forward to your articles showing up in my inbox. Gone are the days that you guys have anything new to say about Content Marketing and Copywriting. Gone are the days that you can just put up a blog and be successful.

    I am thankful for the days when I knew nothing about writing compelling copy and Brian and Sonia’s content was what got me off the ground and successful with writing jobs and clients.

    However, I’m getting sick and tired of reading the same crap over and over…written in a slightly different tone with a catchy headline.

    Sooner or later you either have something new to say or you close down.

    Stop trying to trick us by passing off the same information in different lights. US SMART PEOPLE GET IT, THE KEY TO SUCCESS IN COPYWRITING AND CONTENT MARKETING IS BUILDING STRONG PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS.

    Wow, I just summed up 5 years of Copyblogger in one outburst.

  26. Great post. Keep up the fabulous work!

  27. I am still trying to figure out my angle and it gets frustrating at times. Thank you for reminding me it can take time. I will persevere!

    • It evolves, and IMO it’s really hard to know what you’ll end up doing and how you’ll end up doing it. You’ve just got to stay in the game until something really clicks.

  28. Yeh, you’re realy right, personaly i’m going seek with all these “social media” stuff which is just everywhere the same. Most people believe that they are unique and smart, and and so on, and so forth… but there are just few, who could do something outstanding. And that’s why i want to show you my respect: despite the fact i didn’t like your cartoons too much – it’s actually unique, and you’re actually inventive and creative:)

  29. Settling on one thing is tough when you enjoy doing so many different things. I have a few angles but haven’t quite found the one that’s right for me. My solution always seems to be to start a new blog, which is fun for a while but doesn’t last forever. Any ideas?

    • Ben, I’ll point you to a book by Barbara Sher, not in the least “social media sexy,” called _Refuse to Choose_. It’s about people who can’t pin themselves down to focus on one thing, and she has a lot of very practical strategies for doing great things while refusing to do exactly that. I think you’ll dig it.

  30. Hugh, thanks for this breath of fresh air on this fine Monday. Everyone’s always out to grab on to the latest thing without a clue of what it is and whether or not they should or could do it and social media is that latest train wreck. I am sick and tired of all the social media gurus and their 5 tips on how to do just about anything right.

    To your point it’s not about just doing something different but doing something that is uniquely provided by you. That’s when something really can start happening. Thanks for sharing your story. Best of luck to you!

  31. Hi Hugh!

    Good story and very inspiring, too! I never would’ve thought of that perhaps because I don’t have the skill of cartooning like you do. But, this really got me thinking as to how I could make a niche of my own in social media. After all, it’s all in the details and in how unique all of us are that we could rise above uniformity and be someone all our own.

    Thanks!

    • You can’t be Hugh, he’s already taken. :) But you can figure out what’s really interesting and amazing about Elmar and you can start to polish that, refine it, hone it, make it stronger.

  32. Well said, over information, I am attempting to build web based businesses but there is way too much information. Everyone wants to help at a (hidden) cost, no more to pay, except, and also if you want, you will also need…..and on and on. The stress levels just soar.

  33. I really liked this post, I actually had to start and enact a social media plan for a class in these past few months and the idea of finding creating something new in a medium that is flooded with similarity. I’ll definitely need to keep an eye out for ways to innovate my own social media in the future.

  34. Hugh you’ve nailed it here. The times I visit social media I see the same people always there whatever the time of day or week or night. The thing is I have little idea what they do or feel they offer nothing remarkable, they simply assume that being visible on a permanent basis will convert customers to their cause. It has the opposite affect to me as I switch off and blot out their presence. Be different, offer something ‘out there’ or beyond the norm or just pass on your personality in business form and let people naturally connect to that. Stand out from the crowd don’t log into it! Awesome post my friend.

  35. Interesting article. I don’t have an idea to start any social media startups, but the article explained a lot about producing uniqueness in all areas of the internet. Another great post.

    Sathish

  36. Finding your uniqueness — your own voice — is vital in blogging, certainly. I think it’s vital in anything you do, if you want to be more than just one of the pack. Figuring out what’s really YOU, and what you’re all about, goes a long way to avoiding burnout, too. Because you’re not just going through the motions. You’re more . . . yourself. I guess you could get tired of being yourself, and you’d want to try something new–but that’s being yourself, too!

  37. Hip Hip Hughray!

    Okay, a little cheesy but…
    Social media is driving me nuts.
    The term gives me withdrawal symptoms and I’ve never been hooked.
    The next big thing? FaTwi, the newest bestest soc. med. device that will tell you what to wear and how to communicate with the martians in the upcoming invasion:)

  38. Nice article.

    I’m pretty new to the “using social networking for marketing” world and the unique angle is definitely an important thing.
    I guess the other important dimension is making sure the unique angle you have is easily accessible to a wide audience. If you have both combined with something that many people want it’s definitely something that will capture peoples interest and hopefully be really successful!

  39. Hi Hugh

    Thanks for sharing the thoughts here. Unlike Marshall, I see an advantage in people like Copyblogger repeating the same message in new/more creative ways.
    Why?

    Because not everyone does know what is being said here. It’s that simple. There are still plenty of people out there who are struggling with the “why am I not being successful in this space” or even “how do I get started”?

    Any lessons that can be shared are always worthwhile. They might not have seen anyone elses post in this space before.

    Love the cartoon btw:)

    Cheers
    Barney

  40. Social media is just like a Wall to me and i don’t know what is behind there. But i always jump at front of it because I believe one day i will be on other side. I spend only 1 hour of day to meet my friends on social sites. Thanks I have learned here new things which i didn’t know.

  41. I think that due to the churn rate for social media (platforms, strategies, evolving utility) there will always be a place for the 30K social media “gurus” because there will always be a newbie falling off the social media turnip truck. That said, for those who have explored the space for more than a year, the need to narrow one’s focus becomes more important (for the reasons you state).

    There is value in exploring the platforms in order to refine/define one’s own voice and to determine/discern which platform is the best conduit FOR their niche.

    Good stuff. Thanks for sharing. Best, M.

  42. Sandrine Chaumette :

    Okay, any ideas on how to turn my shot-gun blast attempts to recreate myself into something meaningful and lucrative? How do I know I’m unique vs. a small fish in a large pond wearing blinders and ear muffs?

    • Sandrine,

      How can you tell? Easy: Because your phone is always ringing and your bank account is awash with money.

      i.e. There are no guarantees, before the fact.

      You learn to get used to it, over time… Fail cheap, fail quick, fail often, as they say….

      • I’m with Sandrine and many others on this… It is very hard to find the “my thing”… I guess it takes time, resources, help from others and above all bravery. No “quick pill”… It takes knowing what you’re good at and fine tuning it to work with people or companies you want to work with… Sounds good, and easy…. it’s not until you actually find it… (I guess)… still looking… :)

  43. Hey,

    This is a great post, I’ve always found that BEING UNIQUE, and showing your true colors on social media, is a great way to connect with customers, client, and heck even your friends.

    Thanks for this post :)

    Caleb

  44. Brian Killian :

    “copywriters have become a commodity”

    Oooooooooh………that’s why.

  45. Thanks Hugh. Perfect timing for this post. I just started getting into social media and was thinking some of the same things…

    How to get a head of the pack.

  46. Great post! I agree you need to become UNIQUE to standout in the BIG SOCIAL MEDIA party. You need to have that awe factor that happens when the VIP walk into the party. Simply put, we need to take the time to discover our definite purpose and passions and translate those characteristics into your NICHE. It doesn’t happen over night, but overtime folks will gravitate to you. I know because I just got some emails this morning from people that told me that they’ve been watching me for a while and want to learn more about what I do because they need help!! So as painful and as tedious as it maybe, stick with your passion, translate it into a niche and watch it work over time.

  47. I love this post. Reminds me of the Levis story. When all the “Forty-niners” were falling over themselves digging through the muck in California, Mr. Strauss must have been tempted to grab a shovel. But instead he stepped back, looked that Gold Rush around him and then new needs it wes creating and asked himself “OK, so what can I do that is unique?” Hugh, your story is every bit as inspiring. Keep zagging. Best of luck. – Sean

  48. Hugh, It’s great to find your writing on copyblogger.

    Thank you for this:
    “So if you haven’t quite figured it out yet, don’t worry. It takes time. But do it, regardless. Make it happen.”

    It takes time to find our unique voice. As Gary Vaynarchuk says “Patience & Passion”!

    Do you have other examples of people apart from yourself where you see there is something unique about?

  49. Hugh, you take a well deserved break from the crazy-making social media world. You have a solid history. You have many fans. We’ll follow you. Enjoy the success of your latest book.

    Robin

    P.S. Writing is also something unique you do very well.

  50. Thanks for sharing. Definitely something that I have not read before. I agree with many of these comments, especially that knowing what you are using the tool for, is what matters. You can’t just sign up on a social media and expect to have hits or friends right away, you need to market, use the tool correctly.

  51. Great post! I have to agree that you need to find something that will stand out in order for people to be interested. I have seen so many similar, yet different things on facebook that just didn’t attract my attention too much. They all seemed the same to me, even if they came from different users. It’s just like writing, in order for people to read your piece, you need to grab their attention. This goes for anything!