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.

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