8 steps for managing social media overload

Don’t start dropping useful sites—or begin signing up for useless ones—instead follow the author’s example and use social media to save you time.

A lot of hype accompanied the launch of Unthink.

Most major news outlets carried the story of this decently funded social network that ensured your data was always your own. Unthink not only put Facebook in its sights, but Google+, too.

I asked around and found few people who have bothered signing up. Heather Vana told me she signed up, tried to find some easy-to-follow written instructions, couldn’t, and left. Then there’s Jason Hodgert who, when I asked if this was one social network too many, replied, “One?”

A report published today notes that 100,000 people have signed up since the social network went live last Tuesday. That was more than the company expected in its first 90 days, according to COO Racheal Vicari.

Normally I would have been one of them, signing in to take a look and see if it was worthwhile. So far, though, I haven’t found a compelling reason to do even that.

I don’t need to be “emancipated” from Facebook and Twitter.

The privacy policies don’t bother me; my goal is to be visible. I’m able to manage who sees what just fine.

Targeted advertising works for me, too. I’ve actually gone to concerts I’ve learned about via Facebook ads (whereas I would never have bought a new Audi had that been the one-size-fits-all ad displayed on my page).

I just can’t think of a single problem Unthink solves for me.

But that doesn’t mean it’s one network too many, which conceptually is a flawed idea. If my home repair toolkit has a hammer, a wrench, a screwdriver and a drill, is adding a saw one tool too many?

A lot of people see the introduction of new channels as a capacity issue. We’ve been warned of the coming attention crash for years. How, I’m asked, do I possibly manage all the channels and resources I use?

The answer is simple. I use them like I’d use a hammer, a screwdriver, a wrench…

That is, each of my social channels provides me with something I don’t get elsewhere, and I use it based on my need for that content, that information, those resources. They save me time.

If you treat each social channel you join as just another social network that requires your full attention, each one just additive, then you’re doing it wrong.

To fix the problem, try these steps:

1. List all the social channels you use.

2.
For each channel, note what value you get out of it. This could be anything from business intelligence to cat photos that make you laugh.

3.
Identify the best, most frictionless way to get the valuable bits out of each network. This could be email updates, adding a column to Tweetdeck, or making a quick daily visit to the right part of the site.

4.
Get a second monitor for Tweetdeck (and, presumably, other social content that needs to be on-screen all the time).

5.
Set up your Tweetdeck columns so you have at-a-glance access to the people and resources you rely on most often.

6.
Set up Paper.li papers so you can check daily on the links people have shared.

7.
Write down a daily schedule to try out that lists when you’ll check your Google+ circles, when you’ll read your Paper.li dailies and the like.

8.
Plan to use other tools on an as-needed basis. After all, you wouldn’t go spend time with your hammer when you didn’t need to pound a nail into something, would you?

Multiple social media channels needn’t hamper your productivity. Used well, it should make you more productive.

Here’s my recipe for multiple social channels without experiencing overload.

Aggregate

Tweetdeck is one of the main reasons I don’t get overwhelmed by the different sources I contribute to and monitor.

It brings me tweets, which I can separate into those that mention me (which often are directed at me), direct messages, and a collection of people whose insights I don’t want to miss whom I’ve labeled “Top Follows.”

I also have a column feeding me LinkedIn updates, another for Facebook updates, and another for Google Buzz.

It’s one-stop shopping. A quick glance every now and then—not more than four or five seconds—keeps me up to speed on who’s saying what to whom. I keep Tweetdeck up all day on a second monitor, so I’m never switching back and forth between my work and my networks.

Still, that’s not enough of an aggregation effort to ensure I don’t miss the good stuff. While I don’t need to see every tweet—even from my top follows—I’m not willing to miss the links people share. Paper.li takes care of that.

Once a day I check my Paper.li daily, which collects all the links that have been tweeted by people I follow. I’m also in the process of setting up some Paper.li dailies based on Twitter lists of people who specialize in areas of interest to me, like employee communications.

The right tool for the job

Not every service I use can (or should) be pulled into a Tweetdeck column. Even if they could, it would send me over the width limit of my screen, so now I’d have to scroll left and right to see all the updates, which defeats the purpose of being able to see what’s new in just a quick glance.

Quora, for instance. I don’t go to Quora unless I’m looking for information that I’m reasonably confident I’ll find there or if I want to ask a question. While I’m there, I’ll take a look at new questions I might answer. But I simply don’t bother with it unless I need it.

I’ll take the same approach to ChimeIn should it prove useful during my early tests. Based on the idea that Chime.in is about topics instead of people, I’ve set up a community to discuss social media training, since developing training programs for my client’s employees is something I find I’m doing more frequently these days.

So far, it’s not gaining any traction, and if it doesn’t pick up after I put some effort into it, and I don’t find another good use that serves a genuine need, I’ll drop it.

Google+ has become a tool to use when I need it. For quick answers to questions, I find it’s far more effective than other channels, even those designed for answers. I have no need to follow the stream; instead, I have a couple circles populated by a limited number of people, and I check those once or twice a day.

I’ll also visit Google+ to join or run a hangout, to promote my blog posts and podcast, and for a couple other very specific tasks.

But it’s important to understand that these reduce hassle and make life easier, not the other way around. It’s not a matter of having to go check Google+. Instead, if a project or process can be improved by getting six people in a video conference, then Google+ is the least-friction-inducing option for getting it done.

The same is true for Facebook. If I want to post something to one of the groups I’m active in, I’ll make the quick trip to do it. I’m accomplishing something rather than making time to go to Facebook just for the sake of visiting Facebook.

As for updates others publish to groups, I get those by email and it takes next to no time to determine whether it’s something I want to click through and read. Email updates also keep me apprised of activity in my LinkedIn groups, so I only visit the actual site when I want to reply or contribute.

I use Delicious from the bookmarklet when I want to bookmark a page; I use the site when I need to find something I’ve bookmarked. It takes no more time than using the bookmarks feature of a browser.

I maintain my Tumblog for my shared links (no longer available as a Google Reader feature) by clicking the icon added to my browser when I installed the Chrome Tumblr extension. I visit the actual blog once a week to find the stories I’ll report on my podcast.

In other words, each of these resources provides specific value-value I can get only from that particular service-and I’ve set up processes that allow me to extract that value without hassle. What are your tricks for managing multiple social channels?

Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology. He blogs at a shel of my former self, where a version of this story first appeared.

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