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Summary:

Once the heady, bowl-you-over wave of a fad like social networking sweeps us up, carries us along for a while, then breaks, we can find ourselves awash with the realities of that fad, our heads barely above water. Here are some tips for avoiding burnout.

It’s not trending on Twitter just yet, but I’ve noticed recently that a number of individuals I follow are taking breaks from it and other social networks. Some have announced their intentions; others have just gone quiet — and it seems that social network burnout is to blame.

Even those of us who aren’t using social networks simply to vent or share jokes with friends run the risk of burnout. Once the heady, bowl-you-over wave of a fad like social networking sweeps us up, carries us along for a while, then breaks, we can find ourselves awash with the realities of that fad, our heads barely above water.

The comments of some of my break-taking contacts reveal what this means in the world of social networking. “I’m on Twitter hiatus until I have something awesome to report,” says one. Another explained that people seemed to update their statuses too often, and talked about themselves too much. A friend added that less was indeed more on social networks. All three had once been avid users of social networks.

Some of us, though no more endeared by social networks than any other tool, believe we need to stick with them for professional purposes. If we’re going to follow the social marketing mantra and stay committed to an ongoing plan of consistent action, we need to avoid social network burnout. Here are my tips for enduring the social media marathon.

1. Be realistic.

Many social network users initially see them as a kind of silver bullet — a means to promote themselves, engage with others, build a following, gain insight and have fun, all at the same time. While social networks can deliver all these advantages, they also have other, less endearing qualities.

To avoid disappointment, as well as burnout, it’s important to be realistic about what social networks are, what they take and what they deliver. Building a following takes time and hard work. You won’t be intrigued, amused or educated by everything you see on the networks you use.

I think it’s also important to be clear about why you’re engaging with social media, so that when things are looking less than rosy you can still see the opportunities and upsides. Otherwise, instead of altering your approach to better suit your needs, you may simply start asking “What’s the point?” — and risk disengaging from a medium that can deliver valuable benefits.

2. Be choosy.

Between the few major and countless boutique social networks, it’s no wonder many media consumers are suffering social saturation. The fact that a social network exists and targets you doesn’t mean you have to join it. Be choosy about the plethora of options. Weigh up the pros and cons of each, and try to get an idea of which ones will give you the greatest return for your time and energy.

Similarly, be choosy about how you engage, and who you engage with. If you’re unimpressed by the updates of a given contact, break the link with them — life’s too short to be frustrated or bored by contacts on a social network. Constantly reassess your contact lists and the content you’re seeing — avoid connect-to-everyone-who-connects-to-me syndrome, and you’ll be less likely to suffer burnout.

3. Pace your participation.

Inundation leads to exhaustion. The secret to longevity is to pace yourself. Take a long-term perspective to your social media involvement, and on that basis, assess what you’re capable of each day or week. Perhaps you’ll make decisions about the topics you’ll focus on, or the way you’ll use the social network, as a means to ensure that social networks don’t become the main focus of your day (unless, of course, they’re your business).

For the majority of us, social networks are just one of multiple tools we use, yet many claim that social media “takes up too much time.” Pace your participation to suit your level of interest, schedule, social media objectives and life context, and you’ll be better placed to maintain the regular communication that your followers appreciate — and avoid burnout.

4. Keep control.

Over time, I’ve watched as various contacts succumbed to peer pressure to engage with social media in a range of innovative, unprecedented ways…and then become saturated, burnt out and disenchanted with the social networks they used.

We’ve all seen public figures undermined as they’ve gone all-out to please their social media following and beat “competitors” in the social media popularity contest — and slipped up.

Maintaining control over the way you engage with the social networks you use, and the influences you’ll allow to impact that engagement, is an important component in a lasting social network presence.

5. Don’t let it dominate.

When you start to think about every activity you undertake as an opportunity for engaging with social media, you know you’re in trouble. Feeling guilty because you didn’t tweet today, or taking photos of an event specifically so you can upload them to Facebook can engender a lasting cynicism about social networking. “I’m doing all this stuff,” you may find yourself thinking, “but I’m getting nothing back.”

We all have plenty of other things to do besides update our statuses on the social networks we use. Make sure you engage with those other activities fully, and wholeheartedly, rather than seeing them simply as more Facebook fodder.

Decide for yourself where social networks fit within your professional and personal life, and you’ll likely find your participation with those networks more enjoyable and beneficial than if you allow them to take over.

So far, these tips have helped me avoid social media burnout. What are your secrets?

Image by stock.xchng user patita_rds.

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Can Enterprise Privacy Survive Social Networking?

  1. Pacing yourself is very important. It’s kind of like eating or anything else really because if you indulge too much too fast then that likely won’t be sustainable over the long term.

    Enjoy the journey not the destination because in social networking there never is a destination.

    Great post Georgina, very relevant for today’s busy professionals.

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  2. My business remains one on one and most of my clients aren’t into social networking (not sure if that is good or bad) but I work through the personal stuff and try not to let it be overwhelming. I continue to evaluate Twitter to determine the true benefit but mostly retweet valuable information.

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  3. Nice insights you’ve got here. I’d say that being a social media strategist has its cons and one of them is burn out. Sometimes, you feel too tired of watching all those updates and stuff. My remedy? I just shutdown my pc and take a break, get social in the real world.

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  4. This is excellent advice. I have taken breaks from blogging and technology at large and it is always the result of needing to examine my priorities and restore balance. Yet, as a marketer I also know all too well that consistency is required. I explore new shiny things so that I can properly advise clients but am judicious about how and where I spend my time. Going into social media, we do need a realistic plan of not only what we can start but what we can sustain.

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  5. For twitter one can use tweetstats.com to monitor the # of tweets…useful because sometimes we get so caught up we fail to notice the increased activity. once the #s are measured its easier to realize the need for a break

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  6. I’m so glad to see this article. I have been burnt out since Oct 2009 and am just starting to come back from it. It takes a long time to come back, don’t let burnout happen.

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  7. I first joined Facebook responding to an invitation from a colleague and friend, and soon became disenchanted with it and have taken a break. I really don’t fancy reading about what people had for dinner or breakfast or what movie they have seen or book they have read.

    I then discovered Twitter and – for now at least – am sticking with it. Mostly I tweet, if possible on a daily basis, news or links related to my profession (I am a certified translator of English and Spanish), and retweet info on that field or web technology, or an interesting quotable quote.

    My secret to avoid burnout is being, and remaining, choosy. When I find followers that I really am not interested in following professionally, I thank them nicely for their following and move on. Otherwise, it’s a deluge. And I have associated my Twitter account with my Facebook account, so that my tweets show up automatically on Facebook, and my “friends” don’t labor under the impression that I have given up on them completely.
    My advice is, don’t forget there’s a life out there, in the real world. So use the social media to network, but avoid becoming addicted. Not healthy, at all.

    Great post, Georgina. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. [...] How to Avoid Social Network Burnout Web Life [...]

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  9. A-ha! I knew it.

    Welcome, rest of the world, to the feeling that the geeks of Generation Y have become all too familiar with. I posted my own “burnout” story about six months ago.

    Of course, my burnout wasn’t an abandonment so much as a relaxation. I’d say I picked up on those five points fairly quickly.

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  10. [...] Je tiefer man in die Social Media Landschaft eintaucht, umso einfacher wird man von ihr vollkommen vereinnahmt. Noch ist es zwar die Ausnahme, aber immer wieder gibt es auch Aussteiger bei Twitter, Facebook & Co., weil sie sich einfach ausgebrannt fühlen. Bei WebWorkerDaily gibt es einige interssante Tipps zur Vermeidung des Social Media Burnouts. [...]

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