The Zen of Social Media


Is social media pure chaos to you? Do you feel stressed out just thinking about engaging in social media channels almost as much — or more than — actually doing it? If so, what can you do about it? How can you better understand and utilize social media-powered communications tools and tactics?

I’ve been exploring, writing and podcasting about how our lives and our work have become inundated with technology, information and connectivity, and trying to figure out what this means to us holistically — that is physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually. I call this project The Zen of Being Digital.

Social media is merely an extension of the things that many of us have already learned about via online communications, connections and communities:

  • People want to communicate with other people.
  • People want to connect with like-minded people and form communities.
  • People want to access information that is useful to them in some way.
  • People want to share information with others and to be recognized by others.

Let’s face it: We’re human. We will create, gravitate toward, and use the technologies that help us get closer to other people in some way — even if it is merely virtual.

How Can We Use Social Media to Complement Human Nature?

I’d like to share a framework for thinking about social media engagement and interactions based on the premise that social media is merely an extension of what we already know about interacting with others online:

  1. Who has reached out to you? Someone reaching out to you is an effort that should be honored, so pay attention to your direct messages on Twitter and the messages in your Facebook Inbox and respond if people are making a connection with you.
  2. Who is trying to reach you? Not everyone can reach you directly in social media so pay attention to overtures, such as @ messages on Twitter and comments on your Facebook Page, and respond.
  3. Who are you trying to reach? The beauty of social tools is that you, too, can reach out to make connections with others through a myriad of tools and features. So choose your connections wisely and rather than always casting wide nets, find ways to zero in on making fewer, more meaningful connections.
  4. What do you have to share? The more you connect with others via friend, fan, and follower-type connecting tools, be thoughtful about how and what you share and why you share it, keeping in mind that you can strengthen your connections with value and sever them by being thoughtless.

A fifth piece of this framework is something companies look to do, and while I’d argue it is time consuming, it can be an effective way of reaching others: “How can you support a forum where others can connect?” Or put in another way, how can you build and nurture a community to help others connect with like-minded people and with the company who is hosting the community platform?

If all of us approach social media tools with a basic notion of how to frame our activities on our blogs, via microblogs, in social networks, and on other sites that facilitate connecting and sharing, we begin to pave a path for more purposeful and less chaotic interactions. We’ll make more meaningful connections. We will feel less stress and strain.

Reframing How You Think About Social Media

We are overloaded. There are always going to be new things that attract our attention or seem to demand our time. Just remember that technology is neither good or bad. Social media isn’t the greatest thing to happen to our world or the worst thing. How we use social media, however, can be the difference between enhancing our communications and spiral into an endless time suck.

To truly “master” social media — or any technology for that matter — try applying these principles to the way you adapt and adopt new things:

  • Attention. Pay close attention to the handful of quality tools that can help you reach the people you want to reach and achieve the objectives you want to achieve. Don’t let yourself get distracted by the “next big thing” but find your focus and direction and give it the attention it deserves.
  • Intention. Get to the heart of what you are trying to achieve using social media tools. Be honest about it not just to others but to yourself as well. A negative intention can repel others as much as a positive intention can attract.
  • Discipline. Only you can truly manage your time and attention. Be more diligent about how you spend your time online. Only you can make the difference between frivolous time-wasting and gleaning real benefits from social networking.
  • Awareness. As you adopt new technologies and add new communications methods to your daily routine, be intensely aware of its affects on you and on those around you. Modify your behavior if your choices are causing unnecessary stress and strain.
  • Openness. Social media tools are not “hard to use,” or “frustrating” or “time-consuming.” We tend to cause our own frustration or feelings of being overwhelmed by clinging to the notion that “the way we’ve always done it” is the right or only way or that a new way is too hard. Open up, loosen up, relax.

How are you approaching social media to create more meaning and less stress?

Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Social Media in the Enterprise


Promod Sharma | @mActuary

Thanks for this post, Aliza. You’ve made social media easy to understand: tools to help people do stuff that people want to do.

A simple way to learn how to use something new online is to observe what others are doing, get comfortable and then get started. It’s easier than riding a bicycle — and you can’t scrape up your knees.


Some nice takeaways here and anything which helps people cut through the noise to the signal is welcomed.

Thought you’d be interested in a book we wrote at the end of last year (which is now FREE to read online) – Zen And The Heart Of Social Media – offering clear and awakening insights into online practices and strategies :

A mix of zen principles and our social media experience/ways… hope you enjoy. :-)

Sarah Barbee

This was great. Neatly laid out and explained thoroughly. Anyone that offers clear concise tips is on my fave list. Looking forward to reading more blogs from you.

Jeff SanGeorge

Good article. Adding structure and clarity to social media is so important. For most people social networking can consume up huge chunks of our day with no clear purpose or objectives. Setting out goals and timeframes is crucial, but then the real hard part comes in sticking to them!

Aliza Sherman

My editor will tell you that getting me to add structure and clarity to this post was a challenge! Bringing Zen precepts to bear for something as ever-changing and all-encompassing as “social media” is quite challenging. I like how Brian puts it – Zen-Chaos! Isn’t that the truth.

Jody Pellerin

Shama (Hyder) Kabani has a book out with a title similar to your post:

The Zen of Social Media Marketing c2010
subtitle: An Easier Way to Build Credibility, Generate Buzz, and Increase Revenue.

I bet you two would have lots to talk about. I think your subjects mesh well.

Aliza Sherman

I’ve met and interviewed Shama, and we did have a lot in common including our interest in Zen precepts. My interest stems from an affinity toward Zen Buddhism over the last 20 years. I haven’t read her book but should pick up a copy!

I’m sure her philosophies are in line with mine although my own book will be less focused on social media per se and more focused on being a human in a vastly digital world. For my social media column, I enjoyed the challenge of focusing my views on the larger issues we face being online to the more specific issues we are all facing with increasingly new media and tech tools to adopt and manage.

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