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Summary:

Last week, I gave some tips for managing information overload, primarily with a focus on dealing with email overload. I wanted to follow up this week with a few more suggestions for dealing with the information overload that results from participation in social media.

Last week, I gave some tips for managing information overload, primarily with a focus on dealing with email overload. I wanted to follow up this week with a few more suggestions for dealing with the information overload that results from participation in social media.

Before I get into specific tips, let’s talk philosophy for a moment. It will help you maintain your sanity if you learn to think about social media as fundamentally different from more traditional forms of communication, like email and voicemail, both of which require attention and response. Social media is more like radio or television; you tune in when you have time and maybe you record a couple of favorite shows, but you don’t try to listen or watch everything. This is why I like to think of social media as more like a river that flows by: You enjoy dipping your toe into the water when you have time, but you don’t need to worry about the things that floated by when you were too busy to pay attention.

Start With Email

I don’t mean to keep coming back to email, but social media services generate a large amount of bacn: Those emails about new followers, requests, reminders, events and the like. In last week’s post, I talked about filtering, prioritization and time chunks, so consider this a friendly reminder that you should probably filter as many of those emails as you can to get them out of your inbox and into a folder where you can process them once a day or once a week, without having the constant distraction of so many unimportant messages popping into your inbox all day.

Pruning

When you get to a point where a service has too much noise and is no longer as useful as it once was, it is probably time to prune. Like pruning a tree to get rid of some extra branches, you occasionally need to cut a few friends or followers.  This is a hard one, but at some point you need to make hard choices that help you increase your productivity at the risk of annoying a few people. Like any gardener, I try to prune people regularly without waiting so long that the overgrowth is overwhelming, but I do sometimes need to go on a pruning spree when I haven’t been diligent about removing people regularly. The most common reason that people get pruned from my list is because they post too frequently for my taste. I also get rid of people because they no longer post about topics that I am interested in reading; sometimes this is because my (or their) interests have changed.

On the flip side of this, there are services that you can use to get notified when someone drops you; I stay far away from those services. People prune all the time for a variety of reason. That’s their choice; I don’t find it a productive use of my time to wonder why someone decided to prune me.

Use Groups and Lists

I said before that social media is like a river that you can dip into and out of when you have time without worrying about what has floated by when you weren’t paying attention; however, there are some exceptions to this rule. We all have a few people who matter more to us than most — trusted colleagues, dearest friends, family and son on — and we might actually want to read everything they say. I have a Twitter list for family and another one for people who post things that I usually want to read (a combination of friends and other really smart people). I make sure that I read these lists first; I only read the larger stream only if I have some extra time. I have a similar strategy on Facebook with friend lists set up for people who are important to me. I start by reading the lists, instead of my main news feed. When I have some extra time, I might read a little more from my main feed.

Think Mobile and Use Downtime

Take the time to install some social media applications on your phone, and have theme set up to be able to quickly and easily read posts in your high priority lists. I regularly use my phone to skim my social media streams when I have some downtime, while I’m on the bus or waiting for someone or something away from my computer. Social media is something that can be easily consumed in small bites, so using these short periods of time to process information can help to reduce overload later.

These are just a few of the many things you can do to reduce information overload from social media, but my biggest piece of advice is just to let it go. Don’t worry about missing something critical. If it’s that important, it will bubble up somewhere and catch your eye.

What are your tips for reducing information overload from social media?

Photo by Dean Meyers used under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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  1. I forgot to mention one tip.

    Pick and choose carefully when deciding where to spend your time on social media websites. You shouldn’t try to participate in everything. Pick the ones that you get the most value from, and this should match up with the time you have to spend on social media. This could be anywhere from zero if you don’t have any time up to dozens of websites if this is part of your job.

  2. Don’t think of social media in the same was as traditional information. Don’t “manage” it in the sense of “controlling” it. Manage it by being involved and engaged with it. Let the community do the managing. Let go a little of the control. It’s a slight but subtle shift.
    Find the right media (for example, Facebook for friends and family, LinkedIn for work, etc.) for the right type of engagement. Don’t try to be all in all the places.

  3. Interesting comments but I think success lies in getting things off email that are not specifically what you need. Unsubscribing to email newsletters, rss feeds and blogs that don’t deliver has to be a monthly process. I find there are a lot of new things to try and as many new sources of info are being created as there are sources going offline or changing direction. Using mobile for tasks is somewhat enfuriating on a small screen and leaves a long list of to-do emails in the bix for when I get home, which doesn’t really help anything.

    I seriously believe in limiting what you take on and try to keep up with to retain soome sanity and still get some sleep.

  4. rbrianforrester Friday, August 6, 2010

    This is something I still struggle with. Trying to find time to keep up with conversations on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc is an problem that most of us probably struggle with. I definitely agree that choosing not to receive as many notifications will cut down on email chatter. I think that using a service like HootSuite which aggregates multiple accounts can help. I was hoping Flipboard would help solve my problem too, but so far I’m underwhelmed. Today I signed up for a nutshell mail acct an I’m interested in seeing if this helps at all.

    Thanks for the post and happy managing!

  5. nexttolastblog Friday, August 6, 2010

    Nice post. Most young people stay in one place(Facebook). Businesses have a different problem; time.Not every SM platform makes sense for every business or individual. Stay focused and nimble. Basic time management rules apply even to Business SM. I have be recommending Nutshell mail to clients and they seem to be impressed with the synopsis and format of the service. Twitter lists are great if you stay on top of them. Like in the rest of life; you can not be everywhere all the time and run your business effectively.

  6. Tips for Managing Social Media Information Overload « Dave Saunders Friday, August 6, 2010

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  7. Allow me to suggest http://tarpipe.com/ as a tool that provides functionality that allows you to manage some of the problems with information overload.

    — MV

  8. Great post, yes the information overload. Ouch.
    I’ve started blogging about how to reduce the emails, I’ll keep adding sites as I do it. I’ve already covered LinkedIn and Twitter. Most people do not know they can switch off the twitter flood of emails, and ironically twitter does not email mentions, which I think most people would want to have sent them.
    http://simonhamer.wordpress.com

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