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When social media becomes overwhelming: how to cope

Social networking is here to stay, in form or another.  I think we all get it now; this stuff can no longer be considered a fad, but is now an integral part of our culture.  But that doesn’t mean that some forms or services won’t fall out of favor.  Or that you won’t throw up your hands in frustration over the influx of daily minutia you might be consuming.  At some point, you will likely feel the need to scale back, retool and/or disconnect from a service altogether. In this post I’d like to offer some guidelines about how to do that.

However, before doing anything, you need to ask yourself a couple of  questions and to be brutally honest with yourself:

  • What am I running from? If you’re considering  leaving a social media service entirely, you need to understand why.  Are you tired from trying to keep up with all of the stuff your friends/followers create?  Are there specific people you’re trying to avoid?  Is the service not what you thought it would be?  Before you leave and cancel an account, be sure there isn’t an alternative solution, such as dropping some friends/followers.  Remember, even if you haven’t been the most active person in that service, you’ve still built some credibility and some social capital by being there.  Consider carefully before you pull the plug.  Rebuilding social capital can be a long (and sometimes impossible) process.
  • Were my expectations in line with what is possible to get out of it? If you were expecting hundreds of friends/followers after several months, the answer to this question is likely “no.”  It’s not just a matter of time; if you rarely updated your Facebook status and never tweeted anything of interest that got re-tweeted or replied to by others, you weren’t putting in the work required to get all those friends and followers.  Social media is just that–social. If you’re not being social (constantly, yes!) then you flunked Social Media 101.  Be honest here–did you participate fully?  Do you plan to in the future?

So, now you’ve decided you need to do…something.  Here’s some first steps:

  • Take a hiatus*. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break from social media.  Simply announce to your friends/followers that you’re taking a break for a week or two, and not to worry if your feed goes quiet for a while.  Re-evaluate how you feel about things after you come back.
  • Scale back what you see. Everyone likely has Facebook friends that they friended well…just because.  Not because you necessarily wanted to know the intimate details of their lives.  Maybe you just didn’t want to offend them.  Did you know that you can actually hide people’s updates in your Facebook timeline?  Paring down what you actually see in FB can make a huge difference.   You can also do the same for Twitter.  Someone posting out of a conference every 2 minutes and you’ve had enough?  Put them on Twittersnooze.  These methods are low-to-no-guilt and give you a little peace.
  • Scale back your friends/followers.  This is a more drastic step, because you risk offending others and/or losing social capital**.  Unfriending people on Facebook is a tricky proposition.  Although the unfriended person gets no notifications, chances are that they are not stupid and are going to realize fairly soon what you’ve done.  If you’re planning to pare down Facebook friends, it might help to explain that you’re only keeping immediate family and close friends and not work acquaitances or some such, to minimize the backlash.  Many people have mixed both work and personal lives in Facebook; sometimes this can cause discomfort later. Separating out your lives is a valid reason for paring down.  That doesn’t mean you won’t offend anyone, unfortunately.  As for Twitter–it’s a little easier to stop following on Twitter.  Overall, Twitter followers are more ephemeral and less likely to have a close connection to you.  If you stop following someone on Twitter though, be aware that it is likely that they will return the favor.

Canceling a social media account is, undoubtedly, the last resort.  If it’s a personal account (for you, not your library), it’s probably better to just let it lie unused.  Everyone kind of lags on keeping up with things, and if you come back to it later and pick up the pace, people will understand.  Better to let it lie fallow than to burn the field.

If this is a library’s account, it’s not as simple.  If the only friends/followers you have are other libraries/librarians, the account wasn’t doing what it should have been doing anyway–reaching out to the public.   If you have patrons, then you have to decide if the account is worth reviving.  Could your library be doing more with this account?  The answer is almost always “certainly.”  But do you have the time to invest in it?  Social media is time-intensive.  To pretend otherwise is self-delusional.  If there isn’t staff time to maintain it, it might be best to let it go.

However, with a library account, under no circumstances (that I can think of) should it ever be canceled.  Why?  That namespace is priceless.  If you let that account be deleted, then someone else can come along and grab “XYZ Library.”  This is why I tell libraries to get social media accounts, even if they never use them.  Protect your library from brandjacking whenever possible.  If you don’t plan to maintain that account, post a message to that effect and give folks info about which social media services you are maintaining.


*Those of you who know me on Twitter and Facebook know that I attempted to take a social media hiatus a couple of weeks ago, before the whole Ohio library budget thing happened.  Then my life got eaten by social media.  Timing is everything.

**One of my next posts is going to be on social capital, I promise.  It’s an extremely important part of social media.  If you don’t have it, you’re just about dead in the water.