How to Avoid Social Media Overload

Keeping up with social media is now a 24/7 pursuit. How do you fit social media into your schedule, and what are your strategies for avoiding social media overload?
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The advent of Web 2.0 has made keeping up with your industry a 24/7 pursuit. Reporters are constantly tweeting new stories, your colleagues and competitors are blogging and now, you're expected to join the fray as a "content producer" -- on top of your regular job. How do you make time for it all?

1) Don't be an early adopter. You could spend your entire life test-driving new technologies. Unless you're billing yourself as an online strategist or are dying to headline an O'Reilly tech conference, sit back and let others do the hard work for you. Remember Second Life? The fad-du-jour of the mid-aughts featured a "virtual world" in which people could create cartoon avatars that interacted with other participants in a variety of activities, from buying and selling virtual goods to conducting online love affairs. Second Life even played host to corporate recruiting events for prestigious companies such as Bain & Co. and Verizon Communications. At the Bain event, the Wall Street Journal reported, "a partner's avatar slumped over by accident and looked as if it were asleep." Save yourself the trouble: don't bother adopting technologies before they're ready for prime time -- as evidenced by the fact that Second Life has now been eclipsed by trendier technologies.

2) Sample widely. Most executives don't need to become social media mavens -- but they do need to know what they're talking about (you don't want to be the only one in the room who doesn't know what a hashtag is). In general, you're fine if you're comfortable using and talking about the social media technologies that have penetrated public consciousness -- namely Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, podcasts, and blogs. If you're not a regular user, open an account and block off an hour or two on your schedule to fiddle around. If needed, with the assistance of a tech-savvy minion who can show you the highlights. To keep up, make a point of picking up Wired magazine at the airport and visiting the SmartBlog on Social Media every week or so.

3) Focus narrowly. Once you're familiar with the highlights of social media, you can determine whether you're ready to create your own content -- a process that will take time and strategic effort, but can pay off by drawing prospects to you (see my Harvard Business Review blog post on How to Become a Thought Leader in Six Steps.) Fortunately, you don't have to master every medium. Gary Vaynerchuk -- a regular Jersey guy who was put in charge of "doing something online" to promote his family's liquor store -- supercharged revenues (and built a well-regarded social media and speaking career in the process) by focusing on his strengths. He knew he wasn't much of a writer, he recounts in his bestselling book Crush It, which he dictated. So, instead of traditional blogging, he created a daily "video blog" called Wine Library TV, which quickly gained a large following. If you're a man (or woman) of few words, Twitter may be your best bet. Have you always kept a journal? Take it online and create your own blog. Are you always complimented on your sonorous voice? Podcasting can spread it far and wide. Take your pick and focus on it.

4) Schedule the time. The "live stream" of tools like Facebook and Twitter can have an addictive quality. Many executives facing this tidal wave go in one of two directions: complete obsession (checking the Twitter feed when you wake up in the middle of the night) or panicked paralysis (avoiding all social media like the plague). Try to find the golden mean. Schedule your social media time and stick to it so it gets done but doesn't take over your life. Thirty minutes a day, split between following others and your own "content creation," should be just fine. Over time, you can find the amount that works for you and the best time of day to fit it in. The first step is recognizing that you'll never be able to keep up with all the information that comes across your transom - so don't even try. (See Tim Ferriss' interesting discussion of the "low-information diet.") But with a strategy and focus, you'll at least be in the game.

How do you fit social media into your schedule, and what are your strategies for avoiding social media overload?

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, and you can receive her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook.

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