Probably the question I get asked most often about social media (besides the "How do you find the time?" question) is "How do you manage all the information coming at you?". It's true, I have a lot of information flowing in. I subscribe to dozens of blogs and Google Alerts. I follow about 5,000 people on Twitter, have 700-ish Facebook Friends, and have already circled a little over 500 people on Google +. Top that off with about 100-150 emails a day and it's easy to feel overwhelmed.
But I'm not.
I might be considered more of a "power user" than some when it comes to social media. There's many of you who can't or won't even fathom having that much information flowing at you all the time. It's too stressful. I agree, it can be stressful when you think about all of that information at once. But the truth is, there's a way to manage the information tidal wave that social media can create. Here's how I do it.
The only way I really survive being bombarded by information is by filtering. The first thing I do is, I never worry about what I might miss because I'm filtering.
Let's start with email, which is a big pain point for most people. The average person who is overwhelmed by 12,000 unread emails in their inbox is not even going to attempt social media until that issue is taken care of. I use Gmail, which if you're not using I strongly recommend, simply because of its powerful filtering features. First of all, I direct all of my email (I have about 7 accounts total for my company, personal and school) through one email address and set Gmail so that I can reply from the email account I choose. Then I'm never in a position where I forget to check an email account. Beyond that, I filter into separate folders depending on the content of the email, using the "Skip the Inbox" feature. So, things like email newsletters, Twitter follows, and resumes people send me never see the light of day in my main inbox and I can just check those things when I have time. This significantly cuts down on the amount of email I have to see on a daily basis - and significantly cuts my stress too.
On the social media side, I use a similar approach. First, my 3rd party dashboard tool of choice is Hootsuite.com (though many love Tweetdeck or Seesmic too - they all work in similar ways). Following 5000+ people on Twitter, I simply wouldn't manage if I couldn't have the control that a dashboard tool gives me. I have my personal and business accounts set up (and a couple of client accounts that I monitor/manage), and then a whole pile of searches on keywords I'm interested in (things like "video production", "digital media", and "social media marketing"). I also have a private list, that contains about 200 people I interact with or sources that I want to see on a regular basis. I spend most of my Twitter time inside this list and inside my searches. Occasionally I'll opt-in to follow a hashtag for a particular event as well. And, Iike I said, I never worry about what I am missing. The truth is, the cream always rises to the top - so if there's a particularly good piece of content, eventually it will bubble up to the surface and find me.
It will take a bit of time to set up your filters just the way you like, and you'll probably want to tweak them once in a while. But I assure you, it will make your stream much easier to deal with. So put some time aside to get yourself set up, and then sit back and enjoy your new, controlled stream of information.
Let Google work for you.
Remember Ron Popeil? He is famous for his Ronco Rotisserie, where you just "..set it, and forget it!". Did you know that you can do the same thing with Google? Seriously, I think one of the most under-utilized features of Google is the fact that you can set it up to be searching for you at all times, and alerting you when something good comes along. Set up Google Alerts on various keywords that are of interest to you or your business. Set them to send the results to your Google Reader. You can also set them to send to email, but we all get too much email, right?
Rather than going out and searching all day and night, let Google do the hard work of searching and seeking out content that is relevant to you. Subscribe to that content so it's delivered to you, and you can then review it when you want. Set it....and forget it.
Reduce the noise.
There are plenty of noisy people on the Internet, and the average receiver of content (you) has varying levels of tolerance for that noise. It really all comes down to what you're interested in seeing and hearing. It's an intensely personal choice. You may think Robert Scoble and Chris Brogan are noisy (hint: they are). But it's your personal taste and choice whether you find some or most or all of their posts relevant to you. They are going to keep posting a lot, because that's what they do. You get to choose whether you filter them into a "noisy" list, an "insanely relevant" list, or shut them off altogether. It's just like TV - if you don't want to watch 27 episodes back to back of the "Pawn Stars" marathon, then you can change the channel or turn off the TV.
So, you get to decide what appears in your stream and what doesn't. You get to decide what is relevant to you. You don't have to follow someone just because they are popular (remember, their really good stuff always floats to the surface anyway - even if you're not hanging on their every word). Turn down the volume on the stuff you don't want to be bombarded with, and you won't be bombarded with it. It's really that simple.
In the end, remember that you get to choose every channel you see online. You get to pick what you subscribe to, who you follow and how often you look at it.
Stop worrying you're missing something.
Start focusing on how you're going to use the information you are getting to create value for your own network.
photo credit: futureatlas.com