Alexandra Levit is a Wall Street Journal columnist and the author of They Don’t Teach Corporate in College, How’d You Score That Gig?, and Success for Hire. Read her blog or on Twitter @alevit.
As a career and workplace writer, I get asked all the time: “I feel like I’m on social network overload. I’m a member of so many different sites, and I’m not sure how I should differentiate my presence on each one. For example, should I be “friends” with the same colleagues on every network?”
It’s a great question. Figuring why you’re joining social networks and how best to use them is the first step in coping with social networking overload. Here is a four step plan for helping you figure out how to keep up with your social media universe and get over that overloaded feeling.
1. Ask Yourself Why
The first step is to ask yourself why you joined each site. Was it because everyone else was doing it? Was it because you heard about it on Mashable or from one of your social networking idols and felt compelled to have a presence? If you don’t have a genuine purpose for participating in the network, you might want to think about stopping your activity there. I learned the hard way that joining too many social networks means that you can’t concentrate properly on the ones that are truly important to you.
When you’re overloaded, people may try to engage with you, but you might ignore them simply because you can’t keep up from all the contact being generated by your diffuse presence. As my grandmother used to say, “the person who tries to please everyone pleases no one.”
2. Consider Your Purpose
Once you’ve narrowed down your top networks, consider what you value about each one. For instance, do you enjoy Facebook because it allows you to keep up with your niece and nephew who are growing up across the country? Do you like that you can use LinkedIn to research individuals working at the organizations with which you’d be most interested in working? Is Twitter the best way for you to communicate just-in-time information to your core audience?
In order to avoid duplicating your information on every network, think about your purpose for being on each one and limit your activity to that purpose.
3. Create Boundaries
A typical example is that many people I’ve chatted with recently have chosen to use Facebook for family and past and present friends, where they reserve LinkedIn for business contacts. Creating boundaries between social networks allows them to post personal information and photos without worrying that they’ve shared too much with managers or direct reports or even getting into trouble with HR (disclaimer: any information that you wouldn’t be comfortable showing your grandmother or religious officiant shouldn’t really be on any social network, because on most networks, you never truly know who might be able to gain access without your express knowledge). On the other hand, they can feel more comfortable promoting themselves and their achievements on LinkedIn and don’t have to be as concerned about coming across as a braggart to friends and family.
4. Communicate Your Plan
You don’t have to be “friends” with the world on every social network, and you don’t have to import status updates and news items to every network either. My recommendation is to simply make clear to your contacts what you are using the various networks for. If a colleague asks to be your Facebook friend but you are using Facebook exclusively to keep up with your college buddies, just tell her so politely and invite her to connect on LinkedIn.
Being honest upfront very well may save you from an awkward situation later. In terms of the networks you already have a widespread presence on, consider making good use of the privacy settings (Facebook and Twitter have fairly comprehensive offerings) so that you don’t accidentally overstep the boundaries you’ve worked so carefully to create.
More social media resources from Mashable:
- HOW TO: Make Firefox Your Productivity Machine
- 14 iPhone Apps With Push Notification for Productivity
- HOW TO: Live Inside Twitter and Still Stay Productive
- 7 Productivity Tips for Freelancers and Web Workers
- HOW TO: Simplify Your Social Media Routine
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, arekmalang
Reviews: Facebook, LinkedIn, Mashable, Twitter, iStockphoto
Tags: business, facebook, linkedin, social media, social networking, social networking overload, twitter