For well over a year now, social networking fatigue has been in the news, and it’s not hard to see why. After all, attempting to participate fully in multiple social networks–LinkedIn, Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, Spoke, and on and on–would get tiring. Add to that efforts to keep a blog, a podcast, and a website going, and it quickly becomes easy to see why some have opined that social networking fatigue is the next big hurdle facing these sites and services.
Meanwhile, AxisPortals has been, it seems, receiving more social networking invitations than ever. Well over a year after some of the earliest advocates of social networking started complaining of burnout, it seems that more and more professional adults are discovering these sites for the very first time, and just beginning to explore their business potential. How can relative newcomers to the social networking scene avoid fatigue?
Explore First: Before committing yourself fully to any social network, try playing around with several versions to see which of them best suits your style and your purpose. Keep in mind that what you may have heard about a given site is no substitute for experience, and that it can take some time to grow familiar with the functions and local expectations of that particular space. AxisPortals suggests using a screen name as you explore, and asking colleagues who are familiar with that space to add you to their friend lists so that you can get the best the possible feel for its possibilities. If you explore first, then when it comes time to pare down your social networking profiles, you’ll be making an informed decision.
Just Say No: Many sites and services offer new members the option of issuing invitations to everyone in their address books. Almost always, it is possible to turn off this option, and it’s a good idea to do so. Netiquette dictates that it’s in poor form to abuse your contact list that way. Meanwhile, if you are on the receiving end of of a mass invitation, please understand that it is not only okay to say no, but often wise to do so. If you don’t really know the one who is extending the invitation (and AxisPortals assumes that almost all of us have some fairly distant contacts in our address books), then you needn’t feel even a twinge of regret over simply deleting these things from your inbox. “Just say no,” after all, is one of those bits of advice that tends to deserve high ranking on most any list of suggestions for avoiding burnout.
Clarify Your Purpose and Your Audience: Exactly what do you want to accomplish with your social networking activities? If your goal is to stay connected to friends and family, and you intend to make your interactions fairly casual, then it may be that a Facebook account is perfectly suited to your needs. If you are looking mostly for professional connection, then concentrating your efforts on LinkedIn or Spoke might make the best sense. If your business demands that you be a leading source of breaking news in your area of specialty, then you might find that some combination of Twittering and blogging works best for you. On the other hand, do keep an open mind. You may think of Facebook, for instance, as strictly youth oriented and not at all relevant to the business world, but the over 30 population is actually the most rapidly growing demographic on the site. As usage increases across all age groups, corporate presence on social networking sites expands in kind. It seems natural for youth oriented Pepsi to have both a Facebook and a MySpace presence, for instance, but you’ll also find H&R Block and Hewlett-Packard on Facebook. Local businesses, too, have found that establishing social networking profiles can be an effective marketing strategy. So, explore a variety of sites, and know what you want to accomplish, but don’t automatically rule any site out.
Set Boundaries: AxisPortals suspects that boundary blur is one of the leading causes of social networking fatigue. Colleagues who are college professors, for instance, often note that they aren’t exactly sure how to approach friendship requests from students. Since the way that we interact with friends and family members is often quite different than the way we interact with our professional peers–or with students, teachers, employers, and employees–it makes sense to set some clear boundaries, and to guard them. No matter which of the sites you utlimately choose to make your social networking home, you might consider setting up one profile for your business or your professional persona, and a separate profile for your personal interactions. That way, you never have to worry that the casual tone and the personal details that are right in one setting will bleed uncomfortably into settings where they aren’t as appropriate. You might also spend some time thinking about how you want to address your privacy settings. It may be best for your personal details to be available only to close friends and family members, but for your business information to be readily available to all. Some online marketing experts would disagree with this approach, but AxisPortals is going with common sense and personal experience, here: I do want to hear which conferences my professional peers are attending, what kinds of projects they’re working on , and which books are influencing them at the moment, but really don’t care to know what they had for lunch, much less how much they’ve had to drink. From a rhetorical standpoint, it makes sense not to dilute your professional voice that way.
Have Realistic Expectations: Social networking is a rapidly evolving phenomenon. Setting up a LinkedIn profile or establishing a Facebook page won’t turn you into an instant millionaire, and a new blogging or microblogging account will take some time to establish in an already crowded marketplace. So, do keep your expectations realistic, and do understand that the time you devote to social networking is a long term investment. Even if it doesn’t pay off in immediate profit increases, it will pay off in deeper and subtler ways for a long time. Actively participating in the Web 2.0 revolution puts you in the enviable position of being able to make informed decisions about the role of technology in your personal and professional lives. An added bonus: social networking humor will make a whole lot more sense to you.
AxisPortals Aphorism: Don’t burnout, but do begin.