Sunday, 30 June 2013

How much social media is too much?
Last week I posted a Facebook status in which I confessed to having a "social media problem." Which is a bit of an exaggeration, but not wholly untrue. I do have interests other than social media, including some which I consciously engage in on my own without any digital engagement with the outside world. Nevertheless, both my professional and social lives float on a sea of digital communication, and as anyone who reads this blog is doubtless aware, I have a deep abiding interest in social media and its influence on culture, human communication and psychology, as well as a knee-jerk desire to be 'ahead of the curve' with the stuff. In other words, I'm capable of dispensing with it but it seems I have to work at it.

Those of you familiar with my blog and what I do for a living might be surprised to find out I was not an early adopter of social media. I didn't even join Facebook until 2010, having resisted the dreaded F-word for many years. For the longest time I dismissed social media as communication for people too lazy to write an email or pick up the phone, as well as a sordid incubator for bad writing. I finally broke down, and in a sort of online Damascene conversion I took up social media with a vengeance. Today I'm subscribed to no less than nine social media platforms, and (to varying degrees) manage four Twitter accounts and three Facebook pages. In all, 14 accounts.

When I say I'm subscribed to nine different platforms, that's not to say I use them all on a regular basis. In fact some I simply signed up with to test-drive them, including for my post last week on new social media trends to watch for. But even at that it's a hell of a lot of digital media. (Come to think of it I should probably unsubscribe to some of this stuff, as it's still my name floating out there in cyberspace.) And much of the time I find that when I open my laptop and click on the browser, I instinctively go straight for Twitter or Facebook rather than something interesting to read, and thanks to the smartphone, it's easy to get into the habit of obsessively tapping on those SM apps. They're just so....there!

So how much social media is too much? There's really no straightforward answer to this. Evidently if you're regularly up until 4:30 in the morning arguing on Facebook over an obscure grammar point or 1980s film quotes, or regularly spending six consecutive hours on Twitter in any context other than post-tsunami crisis communications, you might have a social media problem. Most of us don't take it to such extremes, but at the same time it's worth taking the following realities to heart:

1) Unless you're on the clock, you don't have to be on social media.

A love of social media coupled with a gung-ho disposition and a lack of time management is a surefire recipe for burnout. Social media monitoring, especially for a major company or organization, is really a 24-7 job, which means that no single human being could ever possibly be expected to do it single-handedly. If your organization doesn't have the money or the inclination to hire more than one person to do the job, that's not your problem. And if your day job is social media coordinator, it's all the more important that your day include down time from the stuff.

2) It's OK to quit a tool that isn't working for you.

All too many SM nuts seem to take the mountaineer's adage "Because it's there" to heart when it comes to social media. But unlike Everest and Annapurna, social media is a capricious, constantly shifting landscape with only a nebulous concept of 'there'. When it comes to Pheed, Path or whatever other Flayvr of the month, by all means visit Base Camp but if the climb is proving more arduous than beneficial, nobody cares if you head back to Kathmandu.

3) Being an 'early adopter' isn't itself an accomplishment.

Many of us (myself included) have succumbed to the (imagined) pressure to be an early adopter of social media. And while there's nothing wrong with the desire to be ahead of the curve with digital innovations, not all such innovations are worth taking on board with full aplomb. In fact some are downright bad. Again, see Point #2 about it being OK to just visit and then say, "Meh, not for me."

4) It's OK to be an expert.

In his book The Cult of the Amateur, author and tech entrepreneur Andrew Keen upbraids Web 2.0 for undermining the authority of learned experts and the work of professionals by creating a culture of dilettantism. While I have my disagreements with his assertions, it is true that our current obsession with being on trend with every single online innovation is anathema to developing expertise. In a recent social media conference I attended, one SM 'guru' urged his audience to experiment, asserting "There's no shame in being a rookie." I agree, but I also believe there's a tremendous amount to be gained from being an expert at something, and this requires some focus.

5) It's OK to take a break from social media and blogging.

In February of this year I reached the end of my tether. I quit blogging for a couple of months and reduced my non-work-related social media output. And I'm glad I did. I'm now back at it, but without putting pressure on myself to produce X number of blog posts every month and whatnot. If for no other reason, social media without content to communicate is a complete waste of time (yours and other people's), and we all have a finite amount of content to disseminate before we need to step back and go into recharge mode, be that reading, making music or walking through the woods deep in thought. In the end you're only competing with yourself, so the best result you can ever expect is a draw.

6) Let your elves do their share of the work.

About a year ago I wrote a post on 'digital media rules as told by children's fables'. In this I referenced the tale of the poor shoemaker and the elves as an example of taking successful advantage of your networks, thereby relieving your own social media monitoring burden. If you've invested enough time building up your SM presence, it's hardly going to collapse in ruin if you take a week-long (or even a month-long) sabbatical. And if a question in left unanswered on a thread on your timeline, if you've got enough people you routinely engage with, someone else will fill in the blanks if you decide to call it a night.

On that note, I'm taking the rest of today off.

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