Have You Overdosed on Social Media?

Using the Internet used to be so easy. In the beginning, there were no massive social networks as we know them today, unless you counted AOL or GeoCities. Communities did exist, though, as early bloggers formed close relationships with one another, and forums were built for almost any interest or hobby. Eventually, however, social networking became a normal part of our everyday vocabulary and routine with the rise of MySpace, Facebook, and now dozens of other social platforms.

Some say we’re now overloaded and exhausted with social media. The New York Times referred to this syndrome as Social Network Fatigue in an article published in August of 2011. The New York Times refers to “plugged-in” social networkers who are now feeling overwhelmed by their connection to others on a plethora of social platforms and via email. Though many users of social networks like Facebook and Twitter have seen an increase in success and well being because of their involvement on social networks, these early adopters, according the New York Times, are new experiencing “social network fatigue.” There are just too many social networks, and not enough time to continue making good use from each and every one of them.

Chris Brogan describes this fatigue as also leveraging social networks but not seeing results, or reaching the point that maybe “we’ve shared all we can think of sharing, and we’re tired of rehashing the same old things over and over again.” In the New York Times’ article, “social media expert” Brian Solis notes that he is aware of some of his connections via social media networks suffering from this fatigue. In a related blog post on his personal site, Solis asks social media users to start using social media with a mission — to achieve something. He suggests using social media when inspired and to ask “Am I on the right path?” to help those overwhelmed with social media develop an effective strategy.

This is good advice for other social media experts in the same networks as Brogan and Solis, or who are aspiring to be equally prolific by building a personal brand. Others who leverage their Twitter account to find a job or as part of a small business should also and always consider the results they want from marketing — which social media is inherently part of when used as part of business. Leveraging social media for success as a brand can be time consuming, especially when you aren’t sure what social platforms will provide the greatest ROI. For example, when Google+ first launched, some social media managers panicked that there would not be enough time to manage yet another platform.

social media overwhelmed overdosed fatigueBut this advice is for a small minority of social media users. There are some individuals who are not “experts” or even social media marketers by professional who have accidentally stumbled into the rewards social media can provide, which include job opportunities, friendships, relationships, a place to live, or invites to exclusive events. It’s easy to quickly become overwhelmed and overdosed on social media as these opportunities land in your lap. For these social media users, following and friending other well-connected social users is critical, as well as engaging in discussions across multiple platforms. Joining every new social network, even if it is in beta, is crucial for making new connections and maintaining old ones. It’s easy to see how this might develop into a full-blown obsession — not only to new opportunities, but attention — that could quickly become overwhelming.

For the average person, however, social media is anything but overwhelming and is used as a welcome distraction or procrastination tool. (Just ask anyone who works in a cubicle.) The average Facebook user only has 130 friends, and most Twitter users follow less than 64 other Twitter users. In fact, out of 75 million accounts, only 12 million accounts follow more than 64 Twitter users, and only 1.5 million accounts on Twitter follow more than 512 other users. These users are the FarmVille addicts and would rather comment on photos and read the latest celebrity gossip on Twitter than constantly develop and execute a strategy to garner more friends and followers. Many average social media users welcome the opportunity to dabble in several social networks. For the average person, the purpose of each network varies; a short survey of my Twitter followers revealed that users like to stay in touch with friends on Facebook, colleagues on LinkedIn, and news and gossip on Twitter (and on Google+, too). Connections are limited on each network. Unlike people who might be suffering from fatigue (like me), they don’t follow and friend every brand, every person, and every celebrity they know on every social network. For the average person, social media networks are not a platform for popularity contests.

Are you overdosed on social media? Perhaps you should consider the advice of Brian Solis and identify a purpose for why you use social media. At the least, identify the purpose you have for using each of the social networks in which you participate. Why do you have so many friends on Facebook? Do you need them all? Do you really care about each of their updates? (Honestly, do you even read all their updates?) Consider how many people you follow on Twitter and whether you really care about their updates, either. Additionally, if you find yourself signing up for access to every beta of every new social network, only to stop returning after one or two visits, consider how much time and energy this is wasting (not to mention what privacy you are giving up in the process). Sure, you might miss being one of the first 500 to sign up for the next big thing, but if it really is the next big thing, you can sign up for it soon enough — and you’ll be assured of not wasting any time. If you can consume less social media, you will find yourself much less overwhelmed, and perhaps actually looking forward to using Facebook when you have spare time.

Have you overdosed on social media? Or are social networks like Twitter and Facebook still fun to use? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Article Written by

Kelly Clay, author of Blog Without Boundaries, is a freelance writer and lifestyle advisor.

  • http://about.me/trapolino Christina Trapolino

    Using social media for a purpose beyond documenting minutiae is incredibly important to me, and I’m glad to see that idea is spreading.  Google+ was the first network I joined where I thought the power to change the world might really be within our grasp.  That’s not to say I think Google+ is going to change the world, but rather that the use of social media seems to be (or I hope it is) evolving into the desire to have it all MEAN something.

    I’m reminded of an awesome TNG moment where Picard is on his way to having a cardiac replacement and says to Wesley Crusher that he should study philosophy, art, history, and the rest of the social sciences if he wants anything Starfleet is doing to mean anything.  I know that’s mega nerdy, but it applies here!

    Wonderful article, in any case, with some really thoughtful points and questions raised.  Thanks for sharing it!

  • Mackb

    Social media are great time wasters that can easily become a substitute for living a real life. For example, I quit my numerous forums about painting and writing, where I spent more time talking painting and writing than painting and writing. There is a safety in writing from the comfort of your den or man cave. Be brave and go out and experience the world and then you will have something to write about.


  • Anonymous

    On Twitter for the average person: “…and only 1.5 million accounts
    on Twitter follow more than 512 other users. These users are the
    FarmVille addicts and would rather comment on photos and read the latest
    celebrity gossip on Twitter than constantly develop and execute a
    strategy to garner more friends and followers.”

    Speak for yourself!  I follow nearly 1700 users. Some (I’d guess maybe 300 or so) are a follow-me/follow-you-back hangover from when I first signed up over two years ago, but the rest split into:

    UK, EU and US politicians, journos & bloggers;
    Arab Spring journos & bloggers;
    IT, Science and Technology journos & bloggers;
    Research Scientists and Academics;
    Lawyers and legal bloggers and commentators;
    General Newsfeeds (Reuters, BBC, The Guardian, NYT etc…);
    Comedians and Satirists

    as well as a small group of regular people (i.e. not in any media limelight) who I consider as friends.  I use twitter to follow the news, get ahead of mainstream media and read around their inherent biases, and get the background of stories and topics that interest me.  It’s also great to debate and discuss issues – all rather more healthier than playing what seemed to me to be a game with late 1980s/early-1990s style graphics that I thought we’d moved-on from years ago, like Farmville!

    As for needing a strategy to garner more friends and followers – well frankly, that suggestion is bunk. Many so-called social media experts may have 100k+ followers, but they are following 100k+ people as well – it’s more like a bizarre mutual appreciation society rather than a marketing strategy.  My strategy is to read, learn, discuss and engage – if that gets me followers, great, but it’s not the be-all and end-all. Current tally is a smidgen shy of 1200 followers, and yep, that means I follow more than follow me back, another supposed no-no.

    With regard to Facebook, hmmm… the fiddling with access privileges, changes to the T’s and C’s and the loss of ownership of stuff you post (especially photographs) disturbs me too much.  I’m on there, but only to keep in touch with people I know in real life and cross-post interesting stuff from my twitter stream.  On Google+ I’ve only dipped my toe in and am still waiting to see if it’s anything other than just a big blogging platform dominated by early tech adopters repeating what they’ve written elsewhere.  Again I have issues with G+ and content ownership – yeah, Google won’t be evil, but equally I don’t want to give them the chance.

    Strange how Linked-In hasn’t crossed either the original article or my comment.  At the moment I barely use it.  I think that says volumes!

  • Christian Arbec

    I think in today’s day and age it is near impossible to find a good balance between overdose and too little. It is not completely impossible, but I find it hard to keep up and able to get responses from my comments. A helpful tip that helped me is to have a time set aside for social media. 

  • Carmen Andoh

    Interesting article.  I have found in the past few months, without consciously doing so, I have shifted my strategy in how I engage with each platform, and while it still follows a similar pattern to the average user, it now has a more defined purpose, like Solis advises. (Also, since the advent of the “unsubscribe” option in the latest upgrade of FB, I could more efficiently weed out the pablum in my FB newsfeed without having to unfriend (I could do that, but childhood loyalties, family, and work politics keep me tethered).  As a result, I get updates only from about 10% of my friends list, which prevents the fatigue you talk about.   

    I especially like how social media provides instant access to what I call “dissertation advisors” on message boards, newsfeeds, etc. on the ideas I am most passionate about, as well as critics of these advisors and populists who take a broader, big picture view on topics. I don’t need to live in Boston or Silicone Valley to be part of an intellectually stimulating discussion.

    On a different but related subject, I think academics and academic institutions underestimate the overwhelming power of social networks as a learning tool for their students, something that’s not linear nor logical, but can be just as effective. The next phase of social network use will likely improve this, if what Solis is saying will happen.  I also make sure that my geek-needs are satiated.  

  • Anonymous

    I think the people on facebook and twitter and the likes are not just lonely, but stupid.

  • Anonymous

     Do you need permission? To be who you want to be?To think for yourself and not do what others say you should do?To do what brings you joy?To live as your heart says?To not take responsibility for other people’s feelings?To believe as you want and not what you have been taught? To question everything?To be “Just You” and not have to defend your behavior to anyone? As long as you surrender leadership of yourself to outside forces you will never be free to celebrate and taste the sweetness.

  • Gavin

    I think it is important to find the right balance. Social media is wonderful if your using the right amounts of it. Its socializing, interacting etc but when it has negative on other parts of your life then you need to cut back. For instance people checking it at work?? students using it instead of studying?? These are so easily helped with a good balance. I am a student and I use a program called StudyBuddy that i can use to block sites like facebook when I am trying to study so that I dont get distracted. It has really helped me find a healthy balance. 

  • http://twitter.com/paulkinet Peter Paul

    social medias like facebook are to exhausting – to manage ALL my data ALL the time is pretty frustrating but on twitter (only an example) it`s easy doing – i can join and decline conversations instantly – it´s not a trail to replace my life and social community, it`s more an extension of my community