How to create a social media strategy that’s not cringeworthy

Back in the mists of time, before we described memorable moments as ‘instagramable’, we called them something else: ‘kodak moments’. The kodak photography company did so well at associating its products with an action that they became synonymous, like hoovering, yo-yoing, and Facebooking. For a while, they must have seemed unbeatable to their competition, but in 2012 it filed for bankruptcy, and had to shed the camera business it was known for in order to continue.

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instagram photos

This precipitous fall came about because they didn’t innovate, and allowed themselves to fall behind market trends, always playing catch-up rather than blazing a trail. The same fate has befallen countless companies in many industries over the last 20 years, as the pace of change picks up, and digital business models render huge companies irrelevant seemingly overnight. In the media industry, huge players like the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph are in precarious financial circumstances, seeing their quality and reputations diminish, as outlets like Buzzfeed (once derided as a place to find pictures of cats) develop serious news muscle and gain important scoops.

In the face of this, it’s easy to panic, and hitch your wagon to the latest big thing, whether or not it’s actually right for your business. I’ve lost count of the number of times in recent years I’ve heard people say things like “we need a strategy for Vine” or “we need to do Snapchat” with a note of desperation in their voice, their only certainty a sense that they need to do something, anything to avoid being left behind.

And so the world is littered with abandoned Twitter accounts, cringeworthy corporate Instagrams (who can forget the Conservative party’s conference embarrassment?) and badly designed campaigns which go viral in all the wrong ways (the coke campaign where you could write your own name in springs to mind. Thousands of cans saying ‘share a coke with obesity’ were not the marketing department’s dream).

ShareaCokeWith2

How can this be avoided, without becoming so risk averse that you end up failing by default? The answer is to apply three principles to your communications: purpose, knowledge, and honesty.

Purpose: know why you’re doing this

As my mother would say, “if all your friends jumped off a cliff would you do the same thing?”. Replace cliff with Snapchat and you have a question that far too few companies are asking themselves. Why do you feel the need to be on Snapchat? Because your competition is on Snapchat? Because your children are on Snapchat? Keep a tangible goal in mind.

It doesn’t have to be anything lofty or complex, it could be as simple as ‘I would like to showcase my company’s products to potential clients’, or ‘I would like to make it easier for c-suite executives to connect with peers’. Your goal needs to be something you can discuss in meetings and circle back to if you get distracted, which means ‘I am panicking about not connecting with the youth’ is not a useful goal.

Remember that social media channels are just tools; different tools will suit different jobs. If your aim can’t be achieved by this channel, set it aside until you have a suitable goal. It may be that some channels just aren’t useful for your business, and that’s okay. It’s better to do a few things well than everything badly.

Knowledge: understand your market

To make sure you are utilising social media channels effectively, you need to have two things clear in your mind: who your customer is, and who uses the social channel. All the best communications are purposeful, as we discussed above, and specific. If your customer is “anyone who might be interested” you are not being specific enough. Learn more about them, understand what they want from you, and you will be able to understand how to offer it to them.

When you know who your customer is (for instance, journalists with an interest in architecture) you can think about how to connect with them. This requires knowledge of what different social media networks are used for, and their uses and limitations. I run the social media accounts for the architectural practice I work at, and I used Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn, because my research shows our audience are on these platforms, and interested in using them to connect with us. It is true that our audience are also on Facebook and Snapchat, but when using those platforms, they are not looking to connect with brands like ours, so investing in them would be a mistake.

I split my efforts 50:30:10:10 between Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn to ensure that we expend most of our time connecting with our audience where most of them are. Over time, we review this. We will probably increase our presence on LinkedIn over time as it has evolved as a platform.

If you don’t know much about a platform, learn. Don’t just assume you understand it because you’re young or that you don’t need to understand it because you’re not. This relates to the next point.

Honesty: are you being humble and realistic?

The third string on your bow should be honesty. Social media’s currency is authenticity, and if you aren’t honest with your customer base, you won’t have it. “OMG we love our jobs!” will not go over well if you are announcing around of redundancies on your website. JP Morgan’s #ASKJPMorgan hashtag on Twitter was a disaster, filled with people saying “you foreclosed on my house. Can I have it back?”. I am sure the people at JP Morgan aren’t stupid, but I would guess that there wasn’t a culture of free and frank discussion in the meetings where this was planned. A warts and all ask me anything might work for the lead singer of a cool band, or a niche brand aiming to deepen their relationships with loyal clients, but it’s a bad idea if you’re struggling with controversy.

ask jp morgan

Similarly, as discussed in the coke incident above, content designed to be shareable and to go viral can go viral far more easily for the wrong reason than the right one. You need to consider how your company appears to those who haven’t drunk the Kool-aid as well as those who have before heavily promoting it in the public arena. There are always trolls, but if you’re a professional organisation promoting a brand (rather than a controversial freelancer, charity on a campaign, or political party) you should be looking for at least 75-80% positive responses. If your figures are way below this, you might want to reconsider your strategy, and take a hard look at yourself.

Similarly, if you are new to this game, be honest and open internally. Just because you’re the brand CEO doesn’t mean you know how to thread tweets, or why this is important if you have a longer statement than is possible in one tweet. Just because you think a hashtag is a great idea because your mind is pure and innocent, doesn’t mean it is. If you’re suggesting an official hashtag, do a quick search on it first and make sure it doesn’t stand for something you don’t want it do (the GASH conference on Global Atlantic Shale I attended springs to mind here). If someone who is your junior but more technologically switched-on than you suggests that you might not be hashtagging your tweets right, listen to them. (it’s “having a great time at #StirlingPrize 2017 with @RIBAawards” not #having a #great #time at Stirling #prize with Riba”. There is a right and a wrong in these circumstances).

It’s not rocket science

The principles above might seem daunting if social media isn’t something you’re familiar with, but really they shouldn’t be seen as different from how you would use any other communications channel.

When I was starting out in PR, a boss of mine scrawled the following on a Post It note and stuck it to my computer:

Who

What

Where

Why

How

“Any decent press release,” he said, “Needs to answer those questions. If it doesn’t, it’s no good, and if it can’t, it’s not news.” It was great advice, and to be honest it’s helpful in all of life (making a plan with friends, explaining a story to someone, booking a holiday, fighting a war… the list is endless).

Focus on that. Who are you targeting? What are you saying to them? Where are you saying it? Why are you saying it? How are you saying it?

My final piece of advice would be: little and often. If you’re a busy professional who’s been given social media as an additional responsibility, try to spend half an hour three days a week on it to start with to see how it’s going. If you’re looking to build your personal brand, do the same. A burst of activity followed by a conspicuous silence isn’t a good look, but you don’t have to slave over it.

Good sources of information on social media users:

The Pew Research Centre Social Media Update 2016

Smart Insights Global Social Media Research Summary 2017

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Make do and mend: a September of sewing 

During the challenge I set myself of wearing a different outfit every day in August, I realised that one of the reasons I feel like I have no clothes is that too many of them are broken or missing a button or just slightly torn or the hem is coming down… basically, my wardrobe needed some TLC. 

And so, several times over the last few weeks I’ve sat down in front of some good old fashioned trashy TV and mended clothes and altered clothes. None of what I did was difficult (it didn’t require a sewing machine) or time consuming, but it made my wardrobe feel bigger, effectively for free. 

Here are some of the things I did: 

  • Cut the sleeves off shirts with uncomfortable long sleeves to make easy to wear short sleeved shirts with folded hems. 
  • Added poppers onto dresses and shirts where the buttons gaped. 
  • Re-hemmed trousers with gaping hems
  • Turned up too-long trousers 
  • Sewed up seams that had split 
  • Darned small holes
  • Reinforced wobbly buttons 
  • Sewed on missing buttons 
  • Added hooks and eyes to make low cut tops more modest and work appropriate 

Absolutely none of this stuff is rocket science and all of it can easily be learned from YouTube if you don’t know how. You can also use hemming tape to turn up hems if you can’t be bothered to sew. 

But it highlights an important fact; that a little bit of effort can have a real impact. Some of my new shortsleeved shirts have gone from unworn to favourite items. I don’t open the wardrobe and pull out a dress only to realise the hem is trailing down and have to put it back again. It’s made a genuine impact on my wardrobe. And it’s far less daunting and more doable than deciding to make lots of new clothes from scratch. 

Some of my altered clothes

What next for the outfit challenge? I think the time has come for the kill. The last few months have helped me to realise that I quite simply have too many clothes that I don’t like enough. Just because I’ve worn something a couple of times in the last year doesn’t mean I’m obligated to keep it and keep pretending to like wearing it. 

I’ve always given a lot of clothes away – to friends, to charity, to my little sister. Giving clothes to people I know lessens the blow of essentially watching all that money just thrown away. The fear and guilt of wasting money also leads me to avoid getting rid of things even after I’ve realised they don’t suit me. 

And so we come to my next challenge: the car boot sale. I’ve found one near me, and I’m going to try my luck there in a few weeks. I’m also going to use eBay to try and sell bulkier items, and I’m going to be more ruthless than I dare when I’m just imagining what I would give away. 

I’ll put the money aside and when I find a gap in my wardrobe, I’ll use it to buy something I really love and will treasure for the long term. I hope that this process will once and for all break the cycle of mindless consumption that it’s so easy to slip into. Wish me luck! 

The August Outfit Challenge: What I Learned 

Last month I read an interesting statistic: that most women wear 20% of their wardrobe 80% of the time. A quick mental assessment of my recent outfits showed me that was definitely true for me. So I set myself a challenge: wear a completely different outfit every day for a month – without going shopping and buying anything new. 

The idea was to hopefully wear a few more of the clothes that I don’t appeciate enough, and try and experiment and have a little fun with my wardrobe.  What I learned was both obvious and unexpected in equal measures. 

Days 1-8 of the challenge

I didn’t come close to running out of clothes 
Yup. By the end of the month I still had piles of t-shirts lying in my chest of drawers, and a dozen dresses hanging in the wardrobe, untouched. What I did run out of was things I wanted to wear. I wore my favourite black shirt dress on day 12 of the challenge and for the rest of the month I kept reaching for it and feeling annoyed when I didn’t have it to wear. A lot of the other things I didn’t wear were either to summery (for such a chilly August) or too wintery (because it was still August) and therefore impractical, or they were too short, too long, had buttons missing. That gave me a great idea for my next challenge. 

Days 9-16 of the challenge

I’ve got far too many average or ill-fitting clothes in my wardrobe 

On many of the days in the challenge, I found myself tugging at a skirt or hemline or trouser waistband or rebuttoning a shirt and thinking “if only this was an inch tighter/longer” or “if only this shirt fitted a little better” and feeling irritated. I have a terrible tendency to buy things that are “good enough” in the moment, or which seem good after a full day of shopping and finding nothing, but which actually I don’t like anywhere near enough. It’s the absolute opposite of the mindful consumption I’m trying to practice in every area of life. And when I look through at the outfits which are my favourites, they aren’t the ones bought in haste because of a desire to have something new – they’re the ones I thought long and hard about and which I carefully considered before buying. 

Days 17-24 of the challenge

I wear a lot of black 

Which I guess if I’d been paying attention I would already have realised. Maybe it’s working for an architect (stereotype alert!), maybe it’s a reaction against all the block colours and jewel tones I used to wear in my corporate life. In fact, almost every outfit I wore was either mostly black, an all-over pattern, or plain white. Apart from the green dress I wore to a wedding on day 19, I didn’t wear a single other plain colour. Is that interesting or meaningful? Maybe not to anyone other than me, but it’s definitely helped me to become more aware of what I am likely to actually wear – and to avoid buying things which don’t fit into these categories and are therefore unlikely to go with my existing clothes or be worn much. 

Days 25-31 of the challenge

I’m a creature of habit 

So many of my clothes are actually all very similar versions of each other: I wore 4 pairs of jeans in this experiment – all basically the same shade of blue. I wore 8 little black dresses, so many black patterned items, and only about 5 different pairs of shoes all month! I’ve also got several other black and white polka dot items… You could see this as problematic – that I keep buying the same things rather than branching out. But I’m quite pleased with it really. It makes me think that slowly downsizing my wardrobe to a capsule wardrobe is possible. 

I spend a lot of time in sportswear these days 

I didn’t photograph any of my sportswear because it’s ugly and boring. But as a side note because I know some people reading this will be aware I cycle to work, I wore my sportswear almost every day, and most of these outfits were partly chosen because they can withstand being squished into a rucksack! 

Looking forward to September 

Overall, although I felt like a bit of a prat taking a selfie every day, I felt like the outfit challenge was worth doing. Staying away from the shops and focusing on what I already owned was a good reminder of society’s constant pressure to buy new stuff just because it’s new, not because you need it or it’s better. 

Initially I was going to try and do another themed wardrobe challenge for September, but I decided not to after the August one because I didn’t think I would learn much new from it. 

Instead, my September challenge is to make sure that everything in my wardrobe is something I’m ready and able to wear. Mending all the broken things, giving away all the stuff I’m never going to wear, taking up hems, altering sleeves, doing everything I can to ensure that I’m putting what I already have to the best use possible. 

September is already nearly half gone, and I’m excited by the process I’ve made with this challenge. My mending pile is growing steadily smaller, and I’ve breathed new life into some of my clothes with some fun alterations. I’ll share my updates here soon, along with my final challenge, the October outfit challenge. 

It’s not over till it’s over

Today is A level results day, and newspapers the country over will be filled with images of jumping blonde girls with gleaming smiles, clutching envelopes filled with A grades. 

I was never one of those girls, and not just because at 18 I had short pinkish hair. I opened my A level results envelope with a churning stomach and felt the floor fall away from my feet when I saw I hadn’t got the results I needed. I wasn’t going to be accepted to university. My dream was over. 

The rest of the day was a blur. I didn’t speak to anyone, didn’t join the celebrations in the pub, couldn’t be comforted. People kept telling me about celebrities and the rich and famous who had gone a long way without great A levels, but I didn’t know anyone who could help me go a long way. And more to the point, I knew the long way I wanted to go: 220 miles straight up the A1m to Durham University. But I couldn’t do that without an A in English. 

Fortunately, there is a happy ending to this story. My English teacher flatly refused to believe that I could get AAAAAE in my six papers, and asked for a remark of the E. My university agreed that if I could get the result I needed by the end of the month I could take up my place. The remark was sent off and an anxious wait ensued. After a week, my mother was so unsure if I would ever smile again that she agreed to take me to the Ashford Designer Outlet and buy me anything I wanted. My mother, principled anti-consumerist that she was and remains, knew this was the only thing that might cheer me up. I agreed. 

We had just arrived in the car park when my phone rang. It was the exam board. There had indeed been a mistake. The examiner hadn’t marked one of the two essays on the paper. My mark went from an E to an A, and my overall grade shifted from B to A. I was back in to Durham. We didn’t even get out of the car, didn’t buy anything I wanted, just drove home and immediately called the university. It was solved. 

On my graduation day with Bill Bryson

I went to Durham, loved it, graduated, and had the time of my life. But since then I have had other experiences like this one, with the rug pulled from under my feet, and I am grateful for the lessons it taught me. 

One, that Baz Luhrmann was right in ‘Wear Sunscreen’. The things you need to be truly afraid of are the ones you are not expecting. So do not fret. It had never occurred to me that a mistake like this could happen, and once it happened, that it would be so easy to fix. 

Two, do not lose your head. I wanted to lie in bed and cry forever after this, and I think I may even have uttered the words “it just feels like I’ve died”. But my mum was practical. She could tell my result was unlikely, and underneath my hysteria I knew it too. Be practical, seek out solutions to small problems if the main one is too big to understand, and move forward one step at a time. Remember: you eat an elephant one bite at a time. 

Three, remember that this is not the end. Life is not a movie where the credits roll once everything is sorted, and if things aren’t sorted within two hours, they remain unsorted forever. Setbacks can seem like end points so easily in this mentality, but life is long. If I hadn’t got in to Durham that year, I would have gone somewhere else the next year, done something different. Since that time there have been setbacks of many kinds in my life; break ups, redundancies, financial woes. Sometimes you don’t get what you want. And learning to cope with that is an important part of life, and avoiding becoming bitter or spoiled. 

Two years after this moment, it happened again. I failed one of my second year finals. And this time there was no happy ending, no teachers or mum to solve my problems. I was an adult and I had to solve it myself. I was recently bereaved, grieving and drifting but that was no excuse. I applied to a retake, worked hard all summer, passed the exam, and continued on my course and graduated the next summer as planned. 

So if you, or someone you love, woke up this morning and felt your dreams crashing down around you, don’t lose heart. There is a solution to every problem, and a setback need not mean the end of your dreams. It’s a cliche, but a lot of life is in the journey. And what great journey isn’t beset with some mishaps along the way? 

August Outfit Challenge

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love fashion. I’ve always loved it. I used to throw tantrums when my mum tried to persuade me not to wear flowery dresses to climb trees, and embellished velvet skirts to infant school. I saved my pocket money for Camden market couture as a teenager, and still spend a good proportion of my wages on clothes today. I’ve written before about having a bit of a shopping problem, and I’ve even tried to give fashion advice from time to time! 


Previous attempts to buy fewer clothes have always ended in failure for me, I think in part because it felt too much like giving something up. Most of my beloved childhood clothes were second or even third hand, and I felt that stinging shame a long way into adult life. But recently I’ve been more and more aware of the social and environmental impact of my shopping habits. We all know that the people who make our clothes aren’t paid enough, but we choose to ignore it. I push that guilt aside with affirmations about my own virtue all the time. I recycle. I cycle to work. I’m a vegetarian. I live in a tiny flat in a dense urban neighbourhood. My carbon footprint is tiny! Maybe. But that doesn’t make it right to exploit people. 

As I get older I care more about living authentically. I don’t want to wear something once and toss it away because it doesn’t express what I was aiming to express that week. I want to have a personal style, one that’s settled down as I have, and reflects my own blend of adventurous contentment. 


But like I said, giving things up never seems to work for me. I’m too stubborn and rebellious. But I love a challenge. So for the next three months I’m going to be undertaking different outfit challenges to help me be more mindful about my fashion habits. 

The August fashion challenge is simple: I have to wear a different outfit from my existing wardrobe every day for the whole month. I can only wear shoes and sportswear multiple times. (And coats if the August weather doesn’t turn out quite how I’ve hoped!) 

I’ll be documenting my progress on my Instagram account @ohbelles with my outfits featuring in my daily story. At the end of the month I’ll write about how it went and move on to my next challenge. 

Take a walk on the quiet side 


Sometimes you get this feeling, like you just need to leave. To run away, pack a small bag and go anywhere. Out into the country or over the sea. Anywhere you’d see a different sunset, anywhere no one would know your name. Anywhere you could be someone new. 

And then you have one of those London days where cold clouds burn off too late and the evening is strangely sultry and everyone is looking around surprised like how did this come to be, and everyone has got in a park and all the restaurants have their fronts folded back and their windows open and people are sitting outside remembering romantic trips to the south of France. And you take a long back route walk home, see Georgian terraces turn into Victorian semi detached and then pre war semis. 

Somehow the evening light is blue and not that smog smudgy grey. Everywhere looks beautiful, peaceful. There are no cars in the back roads, and for a moment you are so perfectly alone you can stand in the middle of the road looking up at the evening light, and the aeroplane trails in the sky. 

Walking further, people begin to reappear. Couples leave the park, passing bottles of wine between them. A fitness group is drifting apart towards the stations or the bus stops. Every house that has a balcony has someone on it, and every flat roof has someone smoking a cigarette. 


For a while the houses are so big, they seem almost American, and yet they are perfect in this south London suburb. As the road begins to climb the hill, every house seems to have roses in the front garden, their colours deepening in the late July dusk. 

The music sings “how does it feel?” And it feels like rebirth. Like the summer light is washing away your cares, and each step of your tired leg is reminding you that you are not a rolling stone. You are not wandering through the world, these quiet streets are everything you’ve always known. This is your country, this is your sea. These simple curving roads where every house is different and new sit alongside old in a happy, relaxed jumble, just as beautiful as anything you’ve ever seen. As beautiful as the turreted mini mansions of the Washington DC streets leading up to National Cathedral, or the steeply winding back streets in the South of France. 


You fall in love softly, with every quiet step, as true dusk falls. As you reach your own road, the only light is from flickering TV screens, and street lights half obscured by trees. No one stirs as you turn your corner, except the three street cats; milkpaws, colonel fluffy, and fatty tangerine, who wind themselves around your legs, head butting your shins with their soft faces, welcoming you home like a grand committee sent from heaven because that’s exactly what you need. 


And then you are at home, leaning against the kitchen counter, waiting for the kettle to boil. Life is ordinary again, but the calm remains, born of a moment of quiet in the wild, a moment of wildness in the quiet streets. Solitude amongst a city of eight million, strangeness in a familiar land. 

The Extrovert’s Guide to Surviving Loneliness

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8 million people in this City and no one to have a drink with 😦

 

Loneliness is a funny thing. It can sneak up on you quite unannounced, a sudden realisation blooming from a nagging voice in the back of your head that perhaps things aren’t as wonderful as you thought they were.

And loneliness can take many forms. We’ve all heard about how lonely it can be to be in the middle of a crowded room and feel like there’s no one you can trust, or to feel like there’s no one you can pick up the phone to when you’re having a tough time. But there’s also the flipside to that. Sometimes, you know there are six people who’d drop everything if you called them in tears, but you don’t have anyone you can just get drunk with on a Friday night. And God, if it’s lonely being in the middle of the dancefloor sometimes, it’s far worse sitting alone in your house with one glass of wine (because more than one is tragic) listening to hundreds of people whooping and shrieking in the crowded bar that’s only over the road, and yet so far away.

I think society often perceives loneliness as something old people experience, or people who live in the country, but it can strike at any time, any age, and is probably affecting a lot of other people at the same time. Maybe you’ve started a new job and haven’t made any friends yet. Maybe you’re working a non 9-5 schedule and you always miss out on weekend hangouts, but find yourself constantly alone during the week. Maybe your best friend moved abroad. Maybe you’ve moved to a new city. Maybe you’ve just split up with your partner. Whatever the reason, it can be easy to get stuck into a rut, where feeling lonely becomes a recurring feature of your life. If you’re an extrovert, this can feel crushing, even like a physical pain as you wither from lack of social contact.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Simple steps can help you feel far less lonely, and even begin to enjoy your alone time. I hereby present the Extrovert’s Guide to Surviving Loneliness, written by a certified extrovert who once scored 95% in an extrovert/introvert study.

Reach out to people you already know

When you first realise that you’re feeling lonely, reach out to all those people who you keep meaning to meet up with but never do. Sure, it won’t give you anyone to hang out with right now, but if you keep feeling down because you always have to book time with friends a month in advance, book time with friends a month in advance! That way you know you have something to look forward to, and that your lonely situation is temporary.

Make the first move with new people

Even for extroverts making the first move with new people can be painful. I’ve just started a new job, and everyone has been really friendly. But I’ve still had to make the first move, introducing myself to people, asking about their projects, and finding out how the social structure of my new office works. Every time I do it I feel nervous and shivery and somehow too small and too big for my bones. But every time they smile and open up. Try and force yourself to introduce yourself to everyone you can, and you’ll be surprised how many people you can meet.

Start doing something that can help you meet people

It’s a cliché but it works. Try a team sport, volunteering opportunity or local campaigning group for a way to join in with something that provides more time for discussion and friendship than something like an exercise class. You don’t have to keep going if you hate it, but give it a real go. Something that locks you in to four sessions is good because it forces you to give it a proper try but doesn’t commit you long term.

Keep on the same timeline as others (as much as you can)

This is one for the freelancers and night shifters among us. It’s easy when you’re on a different schedule to end up sleeping in late in the morning, staying up late at night… and then never seeing anyone, even the people you live with. Forcing yourself to work a schedule as close to standard as you can means that if a socialising opportunity comes up last minute, you won’t have to miss it.

Fit people in to small times

Sometimes you can feel lonely for your friends even though you’re technically busy. Breakfasts before work with fellow early birds, business lunches with others working near by and Sunday night gym sessions can all be ways to fit socialising into your schedule and make sure you don’t end up missing each other.

Do something interesting on your own

It’s not the same as doing something with a friend, but try doing something that you want to do on your own with your alone time – seeing a movie your partner would hate, going to an exhibition at a gallery your friends would say is too far away. It won’t fill the friend shaped hole in your life, but it makes your alone time feel purposeful and gives you something interesting to say when you meet up with people. This was valuable advice for me when I was between jobs this summer – because people get nervous asking you how the job hunt’s going and having something else to talk about bridges the gap for both of you. If you can’t afford to go out, try making yourself a nice meal, downloading a film you’ve been meaning to watch and fixing a homemade cocktail. You’re not home alone under the duvet eating crisps and crying while watching Pitch Perfect for the third time, you’re a cinema connoisseur with a gourmet palate to match. Try watching the classics, then you can feel culturally well-educated next time you’re in company.

Make the effort

I’ve been saying I’m going to go to Leeds for about six months. Changing job and moving house threw me off course, which I know my friends will understand. But if I want them to stay understanding, now that I’m not crazy busy, it’s time to put in the effort. So go to your old colleague’s birthday – even if you won’t know anyone else. If you hate it you can claim a stomach ache or a family obligation tomorrow and leave. But you might love it, and if you don’t go, you won’t know.

Remember that others are probably often lonely too

It’s easy to think you’re the only one stuck at home with nothing to do on a Friday night or Sunday afternoon, but the chances are there are other friends out there who are feeling just the same way and who are nervous about contacting you because they think you’ll be too busy and dazzlingly sociable to want to hang out with them. Burst through that barrier and you’ll be surprised how many people are in the same boat.

Exercise

It’ll make you feel better and it’s good for you. Seriously, if you have time just do more exercise.