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How to Deal with Information Overload Brought on by Social Media

Are you trying to figure out how to deal with influx of data arriving at your doorstep via social media tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and others?

So is Christopher Carfi, CEO & Co-Founder of Cerado,who submitted this blog post for members of Jamie Turner’s 60 Second Marketer community. It is now republished here, with Jamie’s kind permission.

Maybe it’s time to head for the hills, get off the grid, and smash the iPhone to bits.  Maybe it’s time to declare “email bankruptcy” and just delete those 1,000 unread messages, issue a public mea culpa and start over.  With an ever-increasing chorus of “overload,” it seems this social media stuff is irretrievably broken, right?

Here’s one quote from an article by Pam Pastor that sums up many people’s feelings:

“When I checked my Gmail inbox, I was shocked. I had about five pages’ worth of Facebook notifications. Swimming in so many e-mails from the social networking site, I missed a few important messages. My lame response to agitated e-mail writers? ‘Umm, I’m sorry, it was buried in Facebook crap.’” – Pam Pastor, “Dazed and Confused (on Facebook)

Although social media may be the new, hot thing, this kind of overload isn’t a new problem.  “Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time” wrote Alvin Toffler in his groundbreaking book Future Shock nearly 40 years(!) ago, and it’s still true.  In addition to email, voicemail and meetings, we’re now awash in social networking data.  We’re freaking out about how to deal with it at an individual level.  And now we want to bring this stuff into our businesses.  Are we nuts?

No, we’re not nuts. We simply don’t yet have the facilities to deal with this new flood.

How to deal with social media today

Right now, I think we’re at the primitive stone tools stage of dealing with social network data.  We’ve been given access to four kinds of things that were either obscured or simply not available in the past.  These things are:

  • Profiles – Summaries of online identities
  • Connections – Links between ourselves and others, or links between others in our “network”
  • Content – The words, photos and video we are all publishing online
  • Activities – The things we’re doing in these networks, brought to the surface for all to see

In the historical, “media-driven” world, the only one of those four we needed to deal with was the “content” pillar.  We developed strategies to deal with content-overload by reading “trusted” sources and, even in those sources, only reading the items that were relevant to us.  (For example, if you pick up a Sunday edition of the New York Times, do you read every word in it?  Or do you just read the sections and articles that you deem “relevant?”)

In dealing with the newly-surfaced items of profiles, connections and activities, we need to take a similar type of filtering approach.  One doesn’t need to react to everything.

How we’ll deal tomorrow

While we struggle to come up with new types of filters, personal-productivity processes like GTD (“Getting Things Done”) and other tricks and techniques to manage the social media deluge, we often overlook some very powerful tools that are already at our disposal, tools that are with us every day.

Our eyes and our brains.

A recent article in Current Biology magazine presents research that suggests the human retina can transmit visual input at about 10 million bits per second, about the speed of a wired Ethernet connection. But we don’t feel we have “visual overload” every time we open our eyes.  (Similarly, on the auditory side, we filter the cocktail party conversations, only picking out the voices that are most relevant in our current conversation while still keeping tabs on the conversations happening on the periphery.)  Our brains know how to do this instinctively.

A few individuals like Dave Gray and Dan Roam are starting to move business in this direction, and have shown that tapping more effectively into our visual centers simply makes good sense.  And makes good business.

Tying it together

So what does this mean?  Right now, visual thought leaders like Gray and Roam have shown how to use visuals to improve explanation of business concepts.  The next steps will be to apply these techniques to better interpretation of the profiles, connections, content and activities in our networks to understand how customers, vendors and their shared communities interact.  Watch for it.


– Christopher Carfi, CEO & Co-Founder of Cerado

Please share your thoughts and add your questions to the comments below. I’ll try to provide as many answers as possible in my future online videos, seminars, workshops, masterclasses and blog posts.

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