Turning Social Media Into Sociable Media

sociableSometimes I wonder if it’s just me, but I think it’s fair to say that a widely-experienced byproduct of social media engagement is social media disengagement. I’ve encountered it in BBS’s, forums, message boards, with IM clients, on MySpace, Facebook, and now, most recently, on Twitter. I was exasperated with FriendFeed before I even gave it a proper try, though it looks like I’ll have a second chance now that Facebook’s acquired it and will probably be integrating some of its features. It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with any of the services themselves, it’s just that my attention span is fleeting and their novelty wears off quickly.

When the honeymoon is over, I’m left with a well-developed network of connections, but little desire to interact with said connections, or even to find out about updates and changes to features of the service in question. At some point, it’s probably a good idea to throw off the obligations of the old in favor of the new flavor of the month, but disengaging with a social media site before it’s the right time to put it out to pasture could result in hurt friendships, burnt bridges and missed opportunities.

To counter the effects of the social media blahs, I’ve decided to change my habits, instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Here’s a look at what I’m doing to keep things interesting.

Focus on Following, Not Followers

In the end, you have far more control over what you pay attention to on Twitter or Facebook than on who pays attention to you. It’s far better to embrace that fact then to try to grow your networks artificially in the hopes of building up your numbers. The bulk of the connections you make that way won’t be quality anyway, and will only serve to increase the static that leads, ultimately, to disengagement.

Some, like Robert Scoble, have employed the tactic of mass unfollowing everyone on Twitter (he used to practice 100 percent reciprocity via an auto-following tool) and starting again from scratch. My “following count” isn’t so high that such drastic measures are necessary, so instead I’ve been monitoring my Twitter stream and paring the number of people I follow down slowly as I come across tweets that don’t add value or are just downright obnoxious.

The result is that I’ve lost some followers, sure, but I means that I can actually read my Twitter feed, instead of just scanning through for the 15 or so tweets I actually care about amid a sea of hundreds. Just the fact that I don’t have to waste my time filtering a service designed to help me choose what information I follow in the first place has made Twitter that much more appealing once again.

Focus on Directed Conversation

We’ve probably all seen the Twitter parodies, and some of us may recall similar takes on Facebook’s status updates. The idea at the heart of all of these satirical takes is that it’s ridiculous to broadcast random observations and/or what you’re doing at any given moment into the ether.

We laugh at it and go about using the services, but parody is generally funny because it exaggerates what is essentially true. Broadcasting the mundane and the inane is ridiculous, and it gets old very fast.

Many people recommend you not use Twitter or Facebook like an IM client, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have conversations. In fact, lately I’ve been thinking of both social networks like a searchable, publicly available instant messaging application. Even when making plans to meet for a business lunch, I often use public replies instead of direct messages, because that way there’s always the chance that someone else can join in. Social media can become a proper conduit for social gatherings once again.

Keep it Light

It’s easy to get hung up on getting the most out of social media, since it seems like you can’t spend time online anymore without coming across someone proclaiming this or that service the key to continued business success. Realize, though, that there is such a thing as trying too hard, especially when it involves trying to play by the “rules” and looking for ways to maximize the revenue-generating power of your social media efforts. The fact is, these things weren’t designed first and foremost as business tools, and using them that way will only burn you out before your 140 characters are up.

How has your own social media usage change since you first started? Do you experience ennui or fatigue with networking tools?

Image from Flickr by luc legay

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