I have a confession to make. I don’t love social media. At times, I loathe it.
This might seem ironic since I work at FullContact, but I’m mildly introverted and the concept of sharing my life (or hearing every minute detail of others’) bothers me. I use social media reluctantly because I know it’s where the winds of society are blowing. No sense burying my head in the sand.
That said, there can be great value in social media. I have smart friends and colleagues who read interesting articles, explore the world, and share valuable insights. For many friends who live far away, I would have no connection if it weren’t for social media. Furthermore, some people in my network employ Twitter and Facebook to great professional effect. My realtor and dentist both use social media to share useful information and stay relevant as service providers.
So, as a professional, how do you make good use of social media when you dislike it?
Here’s a quick and dirty (and completely optional) guide to finding value in social media without letting it take over your life. It won’t work for everyone, but it’s helped me save some time.
NOTE: If you’re a social media lover, STOP READING NOW. I’ll just anger you. Open up Twitter and see what’s trending.
“Ahhh, that’s better.”
1. Find a Good Reader
Before you can share content on social media, you need a good place to aggregate inbound content. Now that Google Reader is being axed, my personal favorites are Flipboard for iPad and Feedly for the web. There are plenty of options, so pick one that works for you. I like Feedly because it has a clean interface and integrates with Buffer (more on this below). A good reader will allow you to plow through your inbound content in dedicated blocks of time, like weekend mornings. I personally don’t like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn as my sole news feed, since it’s harder to categorize and segregate content, and you can’t avoid the annoying advertisements.
2. Identify Reliable Sources of Useful Content
Social media lovers, I thought I told you to stop reading. Seriously, you’re not going to like what is coming. Continue at your peril.
On a rainy day, take an hour and add key sources of professional content to your reader, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. For example, I follow 5-10 tech blogs that do a reliable job of creating valuable content, as well as various thought leaders. I also follow sources of interest to my personal network, such as my hometown sports page, the police and fire department, the local business journal, and other community institutions.
The test should be, “Do I find myself talking about this source in verbal conversation?” If so, try it out and see if the content is worth sharing. If you’re interested, similar people in your network will be too.
3. Time-Box Your Reading
You mean I have to read more than 140 characters?
Yes. It’s what you’re doing right now, and it’s a dying art.
I check social media on my iPad in the morning as I’m eating breakfast, which provides a convenient hard stop after 20 minutes. In that time, I can catch up on most activity from the day before. After that, I try to avoid checking during the day. On busy days, I might check my feeds after work, but I avoid doing so late at night due to the adverse effect of backlit screens on sleep. If you’re not careful, you can build up an addiction to checking social media. Just because it releases dopamine and makes you feel good, doesn’t mean it’s adding anything to your life.
4. Use an App to Schedule Your Sharing
Schedule my sharing? What?
Yes, that means social media lovers will have to do something productive during the day rather than tweet your every thought and Instagram your every meal.
There’s no reason to spend hours logging in to different social networks and posting content, especially when you want to post the same thing in several places. There are several apps out there that allow you to queue content in one place for future posting on multiple networks. For example, Buffer builds a queue of content and later posts it where you want, according to a schedule that you set ahead of time. I generally plow through all of my reading in a few sessions per week. As I’m reading, I add items to my Buffer queue. No manual posting necessary.
5. Pick Good Times To Post
You mean every second of the day isn’t a good time to post?
Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. Why are you still reading?
You might Tweet the most amazing thing your network has ever heard, but if you do it at 4 A.M., you’ve wasted a post. Much ink has been spilled on the most effective times to post on social media, so I won’t try to beat that analysis. You can use a service like RetweetLab that will tell you what the best times are for your particular account, as well as provide other useful stats.
6. Delete Phone Apps
This is where you social media lovers who didn’t heed my earlier warning will get really mad. I warned you not to read on. Run along now.
As in healthy eating, sometimes you just need to get the junk food out of the fridge. Do you really need to check Twitter while you’re sitting at a stoplight? How about stealing a glance at Facebook during dinner with friends? It just contributes to a short attention span and annoys your friends – and that’s before Facebook Home arrives. Even as a reluctant social media user, I found myself checking Twitter and Facebook for no good reason. Just because I was bored. So I ditched the phone apps entirely. Out of sight, out of mind. Plus, you’ll save data and battery life.
But don’t delete them from all your devices, which brings us to…
7. Segregate Your Devices
Like many people, I tend to use different devices for different purposes. I mostly use my laptop for work, since typing on a tablet is suboptimal. I use my phone for quick searches, GPS, and on-the-go activities. Lastly, I use my iPad for entertainment and reading. For that reason, I dedicated my iPad to entertainment, pleasure reading, and social media. All other apps got the boot. On the other hand, I removed every app from my laptop that didn’t relate to work. Same goes for my phone and truly on-the-go tasks.
The benefit here is that you won’t be tempted to check your Facebook or Twitter while you are working or on the go (say, at a traffic light). Your social media time will be limited to when you’re using the device that is dedicated to personal activities.
8. Slash and Burn
I’m not talking about the famous corporate raiders of the 1980’s. Rather, I’m talking about periodically curating your incoming content. If the people and sources you follow are not regularly adding value or making you laugh, unfollow or hide them. Would you keep talking to someone at a party if all they did was self-promote? Probably not.
You can also set an upper limit for number of people you follow, say 100 or 200. If you have less content in your feed, you’ll come closer to reading all your traffic in a short period of time, which gives you a feeling of accomplishment. You can’t possibly follow everything relevant that’s out there, so focus on sources that reliably deliver the goods.
FullContact (now in beta) can help you figure out where you can make cuts. By linking up your Twitter, Facebook, and other social accounts, you can see which networks have the most engaging friends on them. By taking a quick look at the numbers, you can determine which social network will help you get the most bang for your buck.
9. Re-Evaluate What Your Network Cares About
You mean my network doesn’t care about everything I have to say?
Wait, you’re still here?
You might find yourself wondering, “So I’m sharing all this content, but is anyone reading it?” There are ways to test. For example, you can create a Bit.ly account and link it to your Buffer account. Bit.ly shortens your links (giving you more room in your Tweets) and tracks how many people click on those links. That way, you can go back and look at your last month of posts and see what was useful for your network.
10. Take a Digital Sabbath
The crashing sound you just heard is the sound of all the social media lovers collectively passing out and hitting the floor.
One of our investors, Brad Feld, recently blogged about the value of a Digital Sabbath – basically, a day where you ditch all your electronic devices. His post resonated with me, so I’m starting my own sabbath this weekend. Before, when I’ve done this unintentionally, I’ve always found myself refreshed, focused, and energetic to dive back in afterward. Unless you turn it all off for a while and remind yourself that there’s a world out there beyond your inbox, newsfeeds, and the coffee machine at work, it’s easy to lose perspective.
Remember, it’s okay to be a social media hater, just as long as you don’t ignore the value hidden behind all those cat videos and Instagram pictures of trendy meals.
Good luck, and Godspeed out there in the Twitterverse.