Social Media Burnout

    July 12, 2007

When the web was relatively new, I worked with a large insurance company to help them begin a monitoring program, this in the days before eWatch and other monitoring services. After the program was in place for a few weeks, the media relations manager got in touch with me to tell me how much time the effort was taking. A few months later, though, he reported that what initially was taking him several hours now got done in 15 to 20 minutes.

What happened? Something new and alien evolved into a routine.

Another recollection from the web’s early days: Psychologists, sociologists, and an army of other ologists lamented the collapse of civilization because huge huge segments of the population were spending all of their time huddled over their computers, surfing the web. “People will become isolated,” we were told; “they’ll forget how to socialize.” Business leaders wrung their hands over plummeting productivity as workers surfed instead of worked. (And companies like Websense took advantage of this business-wide case of FUD).

What happened? Everybody got accustomed to the web and it evolved down two separate paths, one a utility and the other a channel for socializing.

Today, the fear seems to be the sheer number of social media channels and how they will occupy all of our time, keep us from seeing the sun, shield us from face-to-face contact.

What will happen. Same as before: We’ll get used to it and figure out how to use it.

I’m sure you’ve heard and read this meme. First there were a few social networks, now it seems a new one crops up every day. (In just the last couple days I read about one designed to address racial stereotypes, a whole Clear Channel network linked to local radio stations, and one launched by Geico aimed at motorcyclists.) First there was Twitter, then we learned about Jaiku (and you can have them both on your screen at the same time with Twitku, and now there’s Pownce. You can’t turn around without witnessing the introduction of a new social tool that you just gotta try.

People are reacting to what seems to be a mass hysteria by shutting off completely for a day (or, in one case, a whole month. Lee Hopkins is scaling back his email to almost none. Email Lee and you get an autoresponder telling you he’d rather hear your voice over the phone. (Note to Lee: You’re in Australia, mate. That’s 16-1/2 hours ahead of me and one helluva toll call for most people. Answer my emails, Lee!)

My view on this is simple: It’s okay; everything’s going to be fine. The whole social media thing is still new and people are still adjusting to it. In a while, it will become routine. Here are five ways you can get a jumpstart on the inevitable integration of social media into our lives:

  1. Use each tool for its strengths—There are a lot of communications for which I won’t use email. That’s a concept someone should share with Radio Shack, which used email to lay off employees. Just as you would never do what Radio Shack did—use email for something email just isn’t good at—you should only use social media tools for what they’re good at.
  2. Use the parts of the tools that make life easier and that you enjoy—Most social networking tools do a lot of things. You should just use the ones that help you or that you enjoy. There’s a lot I don’t do on Facebook, but that news ticker is great at giving me a 10-second overview of what’s going on with people I care about.
  3. Set aside a specific time to check up on your personal social networks—I review three social networks, my email, and my RSS feeds as soon as I get into my office. After that, I check my email every couple hours and my feeds again about 3 p.m. I won’t look at the social networks again until the next day, unless an email notifies me that a personal message is waiting, in which case I get the message and leave. I have Twitter and Jaiku running (using Twitku) on my laptop, so it takes only a second to glance at it from time to time to see if anything interesting is going on.
  4. Limit your time—If I get to my office by 7 a.m. (my office is in my house so the commute isn’t bad), I will be done with the entire monitoring of my networks by 8 a.m. By constraining myself to that hour, I’ve learned to get what I need within the time I’ve allotted myself.
  5. Figure out social media’s place in your work—You’re not drowning in social media if your use of it is directly related to achieving work goals. All you’re doing is reallocating time you used to spend on less efficient means of getting the job done. I used to spent hours crafting a monthly email newsletter for my business. Now I blog. Blogging lets me publish now rather than collect articles to send out all at once. (I still have the email newsletter, but it’s just a collection of my blog posts. Some people haven’t made the leap to reading feeds yet.)

These are not coping strategies. These are just the ways we’ll ultimately grow into social media. They’re also just the first five that occurred to me. You have more. What are they?