Get Productive with Social Media (and Stay Sane)

Editor: We asked self-described social media junkie Steve Rubel for his tips on how to participate in online social sites like Twitter and FriendFeed without losing your entire workday. Here’s what he said.
Social media is the equivalent of digital food. It’s nourishing, tasty and, for many of us, necessary. However, consume too much and you can get sidetracked and create larger consequences. The good news is you can participate in social media in a way that adds value to your life. You just need to know how to manage it so so that it does not devour your attention—the most valuable commodity of the digital age. Here are three simple steps I take.

Step 1. Set a North Star

The first step is to ask yourself a really hard question: Where does social media fit in my life? What need does it truly serve? For many it meets a combination of business, personal and/or spiritual needs. However, for some, it’s just a way to kill time. So keep it real and be honest. No answer is wrong.

In my case, social media is integrated into my work. At Edelman Digital I track technology and social trends and advise our team and blue-chips on how these will impact marketing. In addition, I share insights that support our agency’s thought leadership efforts by participating in different venues.

Now that I know what I want to get out of the social sphere, I can make sure I devote the right amount of time in a focused way. Set a North Star that keeps you moving toward a destination and view the social web as an essential part of the journey.

Step 2. Apply the Pareto Principle

For me, social media follows the Pareto Principle: 80% of the value comes from 20% of the content. Weed out the noise, home in on the signal and have systems that archive information so it’s easy to find later. Tools will hopefully evolve to make this more seamless in the future. However, for now you’re on your own.

One way I zero in on high value information is to use FriendFeed. This might seem contradictory given it can be a fire hose. Still, if you use its powerful imaginary friend, hiding and search features and follow only a small number of people who use their streams to provide information that move you closer to your North Star, it can be very effective. I am looking at integrating this with AideRSS.

Another system I have takes full advantage of Google Reader’s search and tagging capabilities. I subscribe to hundreds of feeds. Many of these are archived just for search. Others, like the ones in my “Faves” folder, I make sure I read daily to stay ahead.

Step 3: Schedule Time to be Social

There’s a time to keep your head down and focused and there’s a time for being social. Keep these separate and sacred and aligned with your priorities and peak productivity times.

One way I focus my time is to avoid running desktop applications like Twhirl or a desktop RSS reader that constantly pulls down new content. They’re terrific apps, but they’re not for me.

In addition, I have two calendars set up in Google Calendar: one for budgeting my time and another that I use to log it to ensure I stay on track. Using these two in tandem, I know how much time each week I can to devote to social media and just when I will do so. In addition, I can easily see if I fell off the wagon. There are also a number of services that can automate this for you. I use Firefox’s powerful Smart Bookmarks feature.

I keep tweaking my system, but these are three life hacks that are working quite well for me right now.

Steve Rubel is SVP, Director of Insights for Edelman Digital, a division of Edelman—the world’s largest independent PR firm. He explores the impact of digital trends on business, culture, media and marketing at Micro Persuasion.

How do you participate in social sites and still stay sane and productive? Let us know what your methods are in the comments.

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