Something Even Better | A Coaching Podcast

Social media marketing for coaches: The hidden cost to your practice

May 02, 2022 Stacie Mitchell Season 3 Episode 17
Something Even Better | A Coaching Podcast
Social media marketing for coaches: The hidden cost to your practice
Show Notes Transcript

Everybody and their mother says you MUST use social media marketing for your coaching business, but why haven’t we stopped to consider the possible repercussions on our craft – our abilities as a coach? Read the blog with linked resources here!

In today’s episode, Stacie talks about social media marketing for coaches, the potential hidden costs to your coaching practice, and a better, more mindful and moderate approach to marketing your business with social media. 

Stacie answers a big question – Does social media marketing – specifically for coaches – have the potential to degrade our coaching skills over time? – by diving deeper into the questions below:

  • Is social media marketing really worth your time and energy?
  • What creates a great coach? And how can social media marketing potentially impede these skills?
  • The research: Can focusing too much on social media marketing potentially destroy our skills as coaches?
  • A better, more moderate approach to social media marketing for coaches

If you desperately want to stop feeling glued to your phone, but you just can’t seem to make it happen, download the free guide to the absolute best resources to help you quit (or pull way, way back) right here.

And if you want to use SEO to help bring your perfect clients right to you,
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Mentioned on the podcast:

Book: Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
Podcast: Six reasons to quit social media, maybe even forever

Read the blog with linked resources here!

Social media marketing for coaches: Is it really worth your time and energy?

It’s time for a confession here: I built my coaching business on social media. I have roughly 1800 Instagram followers and before I closed it, I had over 600 members in my own Facebook group. 

But I also never really stopped to consider the repercussions of building the foundation of my business on social media. I’ll be honest that I really just thought social media marketing was something I had to do as a coach, and that other methods would be too slow or too unreliable to make them worth the extra effort.

And because I never stopped to think much about it, I slowly went from a relatively moderate user of social media before getting serious about my coaching business to what I’d call a super user. At the height of using social media marketing as a coach trying to grow my practice, I was spending at least 3 hours a day on Instagram and Facebook. 

At that time, my husband was constantly reminding me to put my phone away, and I felt like my brain was always elsewhere – thinking of the next story I could create, or the next mini-training, the next reel to create, the next feed post. Not to mention the effort and time of engaging with others on the platforms.

Social media marketing created something I hadn’t anticipated: A feeling of frenzy – like I could never stop creating or for that matter, stop responding, either. 

But it was also working, which made it easy for me to stay in denial. I was signing clients; I’d found the success I wanted. And that success created a kind of denial about the side effects. At least I was signing clients – even if there were tiny little alarm bells going off in the back of my head. 

I felt trapped in something I knew I didn't want to keep up forever. At some point, even though I mostly enjoyed creating content, I also felt smothered by the expectations of it all and anxious about what I was seeing there too. And even more so, I knew there were downsides to spending so much time on social media – even if it was in the name of marketing my coaching services. 

I knew social media had an addictive quality, and that I felt handcuffed to my phone, with fear that something would go wrong if I didn’t stay consistent or if I didn’t reply quickly enough. It sounds silly saying that out loud now, but it was true at the time.

In my coach training back in 2019, specifically during the business focused portion of the training, I remember the founder of my program looking pointedly right at me and saying, “You don’t have to use social media to market your coaching business.” And inside, I was thinking… “But why wouldn’t you?!?” Clearly, it was working for me, but I didn’t stop to assess the potential costs either.

I also will admit that my mostly social media free weekends at coach training were some of the best of my life. I was fully present, and I’d leave those weekends – which were 3 days of 8 hours of full-on focus each day – feeling sublimely calm in a way I hadn’t in a very long time.

And when I quit social media for the month of January this year, I honestly wasn’t sure what would happen. I didn’t know if I’d decide to go back all-in at the end of my break. I was worried:  Would I lose out on business? Would I lose momentum? Would people totally forget about me? What if I missed out on an opportunity or potential client? What if I lost touch and had no idea what was even happening in the world?

I’ve already talked about how none of those things have happened. In fact, I’ve been invited to do more podcasts, signed clients without much heavy lifting, and finally had time to do all the things I really wanted to be able to do for a long time: read more, research more, relax more, and create more deep work. 

And now that I mostly keep the social media apps off of my phone and have felt the difference for a few months now, I want to talk about something I’ve never heard discussed anywhere else before because I think it’s a really important topic to explore: 

Does social media marketing – specifically for coaches – have the potential to degrade our coaching skills over time?

Given the nature of our work as coaches, I’m surprised we haven’t taken a pause to second guess whether we should build our foundation on something that is absolutely the antithesis of what makes a great coach. 

What makes a great coach? And how can social media marketing potentially impede these skills?

Before we can answer this question, I want to first define what makes a great coach. 

And instead of  just giving my opinion, I went straight to the gold standard for coaching: The International Coaching Federation, or ICF for short. 

If you’re a coach, I suspect I don’t need to say much more about ICF – they’ve been around for 25 years, and they take the coaching profession very seriously. While I don’t think it’s necessary to be certified through ICF to be a successful coach, the credential can be extremely helpful if you want to work with bigger organizations since many require it. 

To better define what a great coach is, I looked up ICF’s coaching competencies. Now, I’m not going to sit here and read off the entire list of competencies and their definitions because I suspect I’d bore you to death and you’d stop listening.

Instead, I’ve selected the competencies I most suspect to be impacted by the side effects of too much social media, which include: coaching presence, active listening, powerful questioning, and direct communication. Do note that the ICF has very recently updated their competencies, and I pulled the following definitions from both the current and updated competencies.

Let’s start with maintaining presence or coaching presence which is defined as being “fully conscious and present with the client, employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded and confident”. Take special note of fully conscious and present in that definition.

For active listening, they define it as being focused “on what the client is and is not saying to fully understand what is being communicated in the context of the client systems and to support client self-expression.” And specifically, they touch on noticing and exploring “the client’s emotions, energy shifts, non-verbal cues or other behaviors.” 

If you’re a coach,I imagine you know what powerful questioning is, but I think the most important piece of the ICF’s definition for our purposes is to (1) “Ask questions that reflect active listening and an understanding of the client’s perspective” but also (2) “Ask questions that evoke discovery, insight, commitment or action (e.g., those that challenge the client’s assumptions).”

And finally, we come to direct communication – which is really about the ability to communicate effectively, but also “Reframe and articulate to help the client understand from another perspective what the client wants or is uncertain about.”

And reading through these competencies, among others I haven’t listed, I believe there’s one key ability underlying these skills: Deep focus. 

In order to be present, listen attentively, ask the right questions, make new connections, clearly see your client’s patterns, keep your client moving towards their goals or intentions, catch the nonverbal cues and energy shifts, trust your own gut and intuition, and just be a really excellent coach, you absolutely have to be able to maintain your focus and attention on the client.

And this is exactly why I worry about coaches relying so heavily on social media marketing for their businesses. Because social media is designed to steal your focus and attention, to keep you distracted from yourself, to keep you stuck in striving mode, and to seriously damage your ability to listen curiously. 

The research: Can focusing too much on social media marketing destroy our skills as coaches?

I want to start with a quote from How to Break Up With Your Phone, which is one of my favorite books on this topic written by Catherine Price: 

“If you wanted to invent a device that could rewire our minds, if you wanted to create a society of people who were perpetually distracted, isolated, and overtired, if you wanted to weaken our memories and damage our capacity for focus and deep thought, if you wanted to reduce empathy, encourage self-absorption, and redraw the lines of social etiquette, you’d likely end up with a smartphone.”

Our phones, and especially social media, mess with our focus, our memory, our stress levels, our sleep, and even our level of narcissism and empathy towards others. Eeeek…doesn’t sound great for coaches, right?

I talked a lot about this in my podcast about the six reasons to quit social media, but I’m going to revisit the research through the lens of growing your skills as a coach – and why focusing too much on social media marketing may be a bad idea for coaches.

First things first, let’s talk about focus, or in other words: attention. First, the definition of attention from a VeryWell Mind article is “the ability to actively process specific information in the environment while tuning out other details.”

When we look at social media’s impact on our attention, it’s actually quite complex. Because it’s also tied up with multitasking, which is common with our use of social media: we sneakily check our Instagram while we’re chatting with a friend at lunch, for example.

But a research study by Ophir, Nass, and Wagner, has shown us that heavy users of social media – which unfortunately can be very true for coaches who use social media their main means of marketing their services – are more susceptible to distraction from “irrelevent environmental stimuli” and from “irrelevant representations in memory” based on their performance in a task-switching scenario. 

And it’s not just the impact social media may have on your attention span, it’s also about its ability to hijack your attention for longer and longer periods of time. I think all of us have experienced moments of “I’m just going to check this app real quick” and then realizing we’ve spent the last hour scrolling. Which, you may think, “Well, what’s the big deal about that?” but to me, it’s a HUGE deal, because you didn’t intentionally choose to spend your time that way.

What else could you have done with that time? And what creeps me out even more is that the apps are designed to keep you on them all day long. There have been many, many former tech employees who have come forward to say that their main goal is to keep us glued to their platform, and that they use our own brains against us to make it happen. That’s why we have likes and why your feed never, never ends no matter how much you scroll.

Former Google product manager Tristan Harris calls smartphones “slot machines” because they are designed to keep you coming back for more. Basically, social media companies are using us all as guinea pigs to learn what keeps our attention for longer and what drives our actions – which again - creepy! And the purpose of stealing our attention is purely from a capitalist standpoint – the more they keep our attention, the more they can advertise to us and learn more about us so they can sell us more stuff.

So if you’re just talking about our attention alone – meaning our ability to focus – social media is attacking it from at least two angles: (1) Making us more susceptible to distraction – and that includes when we’re coaching clients and (2) Keeping our attention on social media for longer than we intended – keeping us from doing other kinds of activities that are more aligned with our values.

Next, let’s touch on memory. As a coach who has worked with many clients over long-term periods – 6 months and sometimes more – memory is incredibly important when it comes to your skills as a coach. Just think of the impact of remembering a specific thought your client had two months ago and being able to make new connections for them during a session. It’s priceless, and aside from counseling or therapy, super rare outside of a coaching relationship. 

Unfortunately, there have been studies that social media use is correlated with more memory failures. In a study by Sharifian and Zahodne, there was evidence that “on days when social media use was high, individuals reported more memory failures.” And even a previous day’s social media use had a negative impact on memory the next day. 

And something that can be missed in some of our conversations around social media is the socialization that happens on these apps and its impact in the real world. And this is especially true for our mental health – which I believe is incredibly important for us to care for as coaches. I cover this link to mental health in my episode about the 6 reasons to quit social media, but as a quick run-down, social media use has been linked to: depression, perceived social isolation, anxiety, low self-esteem, and even FOMO-driven compulsive phone checking.

I think it’s safe to assume here that it’s weird that the average American checks their phone 96 times a day and spends 53 days a YEAR on them. When you take a step back, it’s just unnatural and bizarre behavior that has somehow been made socially acceptable. 

And finally, something a bit weird to touch on, but I’m going to do it:

There was a big meta-analytic review in the Psychology of Popular Media Culture in 2018, which found that there is a correlation between grandiose narcissism and four different activities: “(a) time spent on social media, (b) frequency of status updates/tweets on social media, (c) number of friends/followers on social media, and (d) frequency of posting pictures of self or selfies on social media.” And a quick definition here: Grandiose narcissism is an “unrealistic sense of superiority.”

And while I realize there’s some chicken and egg going on here – and I suspect that narcissists are drawn to social media because of their need to feed their narcissism, I want to point out a dark side to spending a ton of time marketing your business on social media: 

It feeds your ego, and sometimes not in a great way – it’s easy to become addicted to the likes, the comments, and the affirmation we can get when we use social media as coaches.

I’m going to go a bit further here: I think all of us who’ve been on social media long enough can name a coach who has an almost cult-like following, and who, if we’re being super honest, seems like they have the ego of Henry the 8th.

While self-esteem and belief in yourself are important attributes of a great coach, I also think that social media can sometimes cause us to lose our sense of beginner’s mind and to fall prey to the idea that our following or likes really mean something. 

I believe that 99% of coaches won’t take the dark path to cult-leader-like coach, but I also think it’s important that we remember that social media isn’t actually real life, but also that the people there ARE real people with real feelings. Regardless, I think it can be easy to accidentally fall into the trap of trying to become an influencer, when what you really want is to be a great coach.

And I haven’t even mentioned the emotional energy that can be required from forging and keeping connections on social media, and especially when you consider the number of inputs you’re receiving at any one time. 

I know I’ve talked about it before, but I think we all can become overwhelmed by how much space we hold for others when we jump on social media – from answering DMs to seeing or reading folks’ sometimes very personal stories. And while I’m not sure about how you’d research that, I know personally that it was really hard to restore myself when I had the social media apps on my phone.

Bottom line: If deep focus is the skill set required of a great coach, I worry that social media has the ability to slowly degrade that skill over time, and perhaps cause harm to our mental health and our sense of self in ways that we may not even be aware of when we’re so deeply entrenched in it all. 

A better approach to social media marketing for coaches

Finally, if the number one skill you need to cultivate as a coach is deep focus – is there an approach to social media marketing that can protect that skill?


When you're considering the tools you use to market your business, that tool's impact on your ability to focus should be the foundation of your decision. 


Cal Newport calls this the Craftsman's Approach to Tool Selection which "emphasizes that tools are ultimately aids to the larger goal of one's craft."


The Craftsman's Approach is different from what Newport calls the “any-benefit approach” in that it forces you to look past the surface level benefits to insure it's a good fit for the bottom line of your craft, which for coaching is: Being a really good coach. 

The better question to ask yourself when you’re deciding how to use social media marketing as a coach: Do the benefits outweigh the negatives? 

Taking from Cal's approach in Deep Work, consider your most important professional and personal goals first. Take time to reflect on your goals and write them down.

Then, go through the social media you use to market your business and ask whether using social media has a "substantially positive impact, substantially negative impact or little impact" on those goals. 

And remember this is about MORE than signing clients, it’s about making sure you are creating a life in alignment with all of your goals – personal and professional – and in a way that protects your craft – your abilities as a coach.

As you know if you’ve listened to enough of my podcasts: I don’t think you absolutely HAVE to give up social media in your business. However, I personally think that social media marketing should be a very, very small percentage of what you do in your business.

I’ve proven that it’s possible to take the apps off your phone, focus on what offers the highest ROI, and set parameters for yourself to make it easy to put social media in a box so that it doesn’t impact your life so much.

My best advice is to know your data – where are clients coming from, where are email leads coming from, and what has the biggest impact? And then think about whether you need to be doing so much on social media. 

Focus on what works. And remember that your peace is worth far more than your number of followers or likes. And if you want more ideas for how to market your business without social media – I have a whole podcast on it to listen to! 

I believe social media should be an afterthought in your business, not something that takes up hours of your time. In fact, I’ve been reading Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, and it’s really put into perspective the limited amount of time we all have on this earth – for most us, only 4,000 weeks.

And as Burkeman states, we all want more time, we want to do all the things, but none of us can. The possibilities are infinite. The argument Burkeman makes is that we have to accept that we don’t have enough time for everything, and once we have accepted that, we can better determine what is really worth our time. 

So I’d like to close with a quote from the book that I read as I was writing this episode, and that felt important to include here: 

“Yet because in reality, your time is finite, doing anything requires sacrifice – the sacrifice of all the other things you could have been doing with that stretch of time. If you never stop to ask yourself if the sacrifice is worth it, your days will automatically begin to fill not just with more things, but with more trivial or tedious things, because they’ve never had to clear the hurdle of being judged more important than something else.”

It’s not just that social media has a negative impact, it’s also that it takes us away from more important things we’d love to spend our time on. And it’s important to assess whether it’s worth the precious time spent.

In case you haven’t signed up already, I have two free resources for you today that can change your business and the way you rely on social media forever: 

First: You can head to to get access to all the best resources – like books, podcast episodes, articles, quotes, and more – on quitting social media, or at least drastically reducing your time on it. This is a working document that I keep updating as I find new resources.

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And finally, if you have a friend who needs to hear this, don’t forget to send it their way. Sharing the podcast is the absolute best way to support my work and, honestly, to make my day! 

Thanks so much for listening!