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Being successful today means understanding social media. You need to be active on it to gain new customers, or, at minimum, to be aware of it to engage current customer conversations. I am actually an introvert, a Myers-Briggs Personality Test INFP. (Or, if you really want to get specific, I am an ambivert.)

The struggle is real for ambitious people like myself, who need to master social media to keep the business thriving. Fortunately, we’re not only in the age of social media but in the age of social empowerment—namely through technology.

Here’s how you can thrive online and still be true to your introverted self:

1. Follow Fewer People

Like many journalists, Twitter became my platform of choice many years ago. I loved sharing varied opinions and conversations. I eventually started to feel suffocated, though—as if a continual sea of commentary was constantly thrashing me against the rocks. I realized that I was following too many people. I love initiating and enabling passionate, one-on-one conversations, and it was becoming debilitating to do that while following thousands of people.

Instead, I took a drastic approach: Around 2012, I began culling the people I followed down to the most essential and insightful. It’s been tough, but I regularly keep my following group to around 300—the number of people I can consistently engage during the day. Instead, I use Twitter lists to keep up with other people without having the heavy news feed. Figure out how many people you can comfortably be connected with on your favorite social-media platform and stick with that number.

2. Go Away for a While

As I learned in my week away from social media, fear of missing out (FOMO) is a bigger issue than actually missing something. You wouldn’t be in a conference call 24 hours a day, nor would you have a non-stop conversation for days on end. Why would you constantly be on social media? It requires the same social energy, so treat it like any other engagement. There are also very few businesses, apart from airports and hospitals, that actually require 24/7 media engagement. Take regular, planned breaks from social media, all based around the times when your business has the lightest online needs.

3. Treat It Like a Party

I love parties, not because of the number of people together, but because the odds are higher that I will have a great, engaging one-on-one conversation with at least one or two people there. Social media is similar, in that you connect with people who resonate with you and carry a continual conversation through the platform, and maybe even offline. As an introvert, it makes sense to focus on having good conversations with a few key people, rather than trying to have superficial conversations with everyone who is talking.

4. Respect Your Introversion

During my recent social media unplug, I realized how much I sacrificed my alone time to run my former startup, do more public speaking, and support my books. I’m proud that I pushed myself to grow, but I also realized that I needed to rest. Again, social media time requires the same type of energy as having a face-to-face conversation. Listen to your own social flow and respectfully stop engaging in noncrucial conversations when you need quiet.

5. Schedule Posts

When Cuddlr was hitting the Apple Top 10, it was taking all my energy to keep up with the media requests, user feedback emails, and online responses. Scheduled posts became a life saver: Apps like Buffer and Hootsuite allowed me to write and preprogram announcements at moments when I had more social energy. I could then build in quiet time without worrying about the business’s social media going off the rails. Use free scheduling apps for preplanned content and get more time to yourself.

For me, a turning point came when I saw social expert Susan Cain speak at the TED Conference. Her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking talks about how introverts can be extremely strong business people in this social-focused age. As I learned, our introversion doesn’t have to prevent us from soaring on social media.

If you are an introvert like myself, how do you master your social-media presence?

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Updated 6/19/2020