Tips for Managing Social Media Information Overload

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.


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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