How do you push yourself out of your social media cage?

Where I live in East Tennessee black bears are a real fact of life.  Actually, that’s one of the reasons I’ve remained here. In 45 minutes, I can be hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where bears (and fresh air) are plentiful.

I heard this story about a bear cub that was rescued after her mother had been hit by a car. The cub was put in a temporary 12 x 12 cage by a wildlife rescue habitat until they could decide what to do with her. Day after day the cub just paced back and forth — from one end of the cage to the other — pining for her mother.

As the bear grew, they finally had a chance to transfer her to a more spacious structure. But the strangest thing happened.  No matter where the little bear was placed in the cage, she would still go exactly 12 feet and turn around, 12 feet and turn around.

Sometimes I feel like that cub.  I’m conditioned to the size of my “cage.”  Although my business environment is expanding day by day, I still pace those 12 steps, back and forth.

I’ll give you an example. Have you ever really tried to follow the technology news on Mashable?  I give these folks a lot of credit. They’ve built an excellent, comprehensive and entertaining news stream. Only problem is — it’s just too much. You could sit and read Mashable all day long.  So I stick my toe in, get discouraged, and return to my little cage.

Another example is the excellent Base One B2B purchasing study I wrote about last week.  It mentioned that purchasing professionals now spend about 30 minutes a week on industry-related social networks. It would probably be a good idea for me to branch out and explore some of those networks but after I read such a report, I generally turn to the next news item or blog post to discover what else I’m missing out on!

One of those news items might be the great changes being made to Tweetdeck. I’m a Seesmic kind of guy and can’t even bring myself to check out another platform because of the time it would take.

I know part of this is a matter of human bandwidth. We can only psychologically commit to so many technological platforms. But I’m afraid I’m limiting myself and perhaps falling behind on that all-important business and life skill of adaptability. How do you cope with this?

How do you sift and sort and figure out where to spend your time exploring innovations?

How do you maintain technological relevance, even in your narrow professional space?

How do you unleash your “bear?”


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  • Good topic… About every week I read another blog “20 Social Media Tools You Need To Know About”… and it’s always different tools. This morning it was I was left thinking, “do I need to go check these out?” How many tools, programs, sites, blogs, etc can I (we) track?

    The question might be, do you need to unleash your bear? Maybe there is a reason for your self-imposed 12 foot limitation — perhaps you contribute more and are more effective by staying within your area of expertise. If not, you’d probably end up like Bilbo Baggins when he said he felt like “butter scraped over too much bread.”

    I do think you are right, though, in questioning how to stay abreast of new technologies, how to stay relevant in the field, without becoming overwhelmed. I don’t have an answer to that… but if you try to do it all, you’ll probably end up doing nothing.

  • I wish I had an answer, Mark… but thank goodness you asked the question. I talked about this very topic in my March 26 blog on TechFatigue, where I didn’t come up with any answers either, but outlined a few strategies I’ve employed to keep myself sane over the past few months, namely: deleting email wholesale (it hurt more in the beginning than it does now); auto-filing to folders (and out of my inbox) a slew of ezines and blogs that I can later scan all at once, every 10 days or so; visiting Twitter purposefully, but less obsessively, with an eye to finding out “the big news of the day”; scanning NYTimes headlines, unfriending Facebook “friends” by the hundreds, until only family and personal friends remain; using my cell phone for talking and never for email; and blogging weekly, instead of daily. I’m going to buy an iPad soon, too, so that I can laze on the couch and browse after a hard day (which will get me away from this rigid, upright position in front of my monitor). As for “staying current,” I’m trying to refocus on critical thinking and project management and less on “tricks and tools.” Finally, I agree with everything Mike said. 🙂

  • While I wish I had an answer to the broader question (how to do more with the time we have and for that to be “better” more and not just “more” more), I use a couple of day-to-day tactics to help me identify what new information can / will get my attention.

    1) Automate blog searching. I have dozens of google blog searches set up on very specific topics that pertain to my niche of marketing, as well as to broader topics. Those brief synopses have helped me find some specific articles that are relevant to what I do, as well as turn me on to some blogs I otherwise wouldn’t have heard about, and in the process have pointed me toward relevant technology to follow.

    2) Make it part of your schedule. I try to keep 2-3 hours a week set aside on my schedule for checking out new tools or researching a topic about which I wish I knew more. Yes, it’s difficult to not get distracted, but by treating this as a task on par with the others I have to do, it’s kept it a priority.

    3) Set specific goals. Just like with any marketing initiative (or really any other endeavor), I find that if I set myself goals, I tend to stick to them. Something like, “find a tool that could save me x hours on this task I do repetitively” or “explore y network in hopes of finding 2-3 people who have insights I find valuable or to whom I might provide valuable insights.” Without a goal, it’s next to impossible to not get swept away in all of the tools, gadgets, and innovative ideas out there.

    I also wear two sets of glasses while exploring. One, my own, to see how the information could benefit my own workflow, curiosity, etc. The other, that of my clients, to understand how the information / gadget / tool could help their businesses succeed.

    It isn’t always easy to get the time, and if I just CAN’T get to this each week, I try to not beat myself up. Otherwise, it gets really difficult to get started again.

    I’d love to hear other folks’ strategies on this topic, as well. Thanks for bringing it up!

  • Mark

    Mike — Thanks for the enlightening and beautifully-written contribution. A day is always better with Hobbits. I kind of subscribe to the “stick to your knitting” school of strategy too but in the case of technology I have this constant sinking feeling thatI missing out!

    Nancy –Sounds like you have it going on and are attacking aggressively!

    Michelle — Great ideas. I intend to steal them post haste. I amd especially under-utilizing the Google searches. Here ia link to some really excellent tech-time saving advice from {grow} community memeber Jody Pirello :

    Jody did a great job with this post!

  • This is a tough one, especially as there is SO much noise out there.

    Most of my input comes from using Netnewswire to subscribe to RSS feeds. I have a limit of 100 feeds. Every time I want to add a new feed, I have to zap an old one. It means I regularly kick out a feed. Most days, probably. But the size of the stream I follow never gets bigger.

    I use Twitter for real-time notifications and it’s a great source of new rss feeds and current info. It can be distracting at times, but I use Tweetie most of the time (on a Mac) and find it less noisy than TweetDeck and Seesmic.

  • Mark

    @Jon — Do you use Tweetie to alert for a search on certain topics or just general new tweets coming through? If you search, what would be an example of how you use it?

  • I look at this question from another perspective. Recently, I’ve been staying inside my 12x/12 square inside of the big 3 (Twitter, LinkedIn, & Facebook). I’ve gotten stagnate looking for new followers and engaging current followers. I’m in these three HUGE structures, but at times I’m complacent, lazy, or afraid to explore the surroundings. Instead of looking for another structure, I feel I need to better utilize the ones that I’m in.

  • We’re all in this position of sensory overload, Mark, and even more so for bloggers who must engage new information and retell it.

    As for me, I suggest a back-to-the-basics approach.

    Those of use trying to remain ahead of the curve (I can’t even read Mashable b/c like you it’s overwhelming) need to remember that leaders need to do a gut check with the followers.

    In this case, it’s my clients. I know for a fact my clients are not 80% on board with social media innovations. So, return to traditional public relations roots and bring people along in baby steps to ensure comfort — much like the baby cub story.

  • Mark

    @Mike — Really good, practical advice. You could spend hours a day exploring the supporting apps for Twitter alone!

    @Jayme — Another solid approach. I like the idea of being sensitive to what your customer can handle. And you’re right — in most cases it will be just the basics.

  • Mark, I’m relieved to know it’s not just me who finds all the social media options to be overwhelming.

    Like Mike Campbell, I keep myself to the Big Three (using Tweetdeck and/or Lists), but instead of stagnating, I’ve been actively experimenting with new ways to engage followers while creatively spreading the word about what it is we actually do at New England Multimedia. It’s fun to try different things and see what works.

    I need to take a day and go through my Twitter followers’ profiles, though, so I can list those who fall into the categories I want to keep an eye on. I’ve fallen behind.

    I just started using LinkedIn, and find the groups where our target market are to be spammy. I need to find some new groups, or start my own, and try to attract valuable people.

    I’ve never ascribed to the “blog every day” commandment, except for SEO purposes, because of the way I read blogs myself. I follow about 20 writers, and simply don’t have time to read every one of them every day, in the midst of all my other social media conversations. The people who blog daily get lost in the crowd, while those who blog every now and then with excellent content always get my attention. When I see their name pop up in my feed with a new post, I click right away.

    Like Jon Buscall, I subscribe to the “one blog added, one must go” philosophy of keeping my life at least somewhat clutter-free, and I follow less than 20 blogs! I don’t know how he can read 100. Most of the blog posts I read outside of the 20 come to my attention by way of Twitter, when people share them.

    Michelle Quillin for New England Multimedia & Q Web Consulting

  • @Mark
    I use Tweetie to follow the steam of tweets and then if I want to dip in for certain keyword searches I do so. You can “favourite” searches so then it’s easier to dip back into them.

    I find it a lot less intrusive than Seesmic and TweetDeck.

  • Mark

    @Michelle — Some good strategies there. I agree with you on LinkedIn, too. It’s changed a lot in the past year … for the worse, I’m afraid. The Groups are too large and spammy, although some smaller, more exclusive groups have emerged, too.

    @Jon — Thanks for the follow-up and guidance!

  • Mark, It makes me feel a little better about my own learning limitations to see I’m not alone. The problem certainly isn’t a lack of useful information, it’s the difficulty in digesting it all.

    My approach probably wouldn’t be very helpful to others because it is barely working for me.

    All I can really add to this discussion are some words of encouragement that is probably just stating the obvioous:

    Too much useful information is a great problem to have.

    I’ll add two more mottos I find useful in this situation and somewhat relevant to the little bear’s self-imposed 12’X 12′ cage.

    1) Never let yourself become a prisoner of your own routine

    2) Never quit learning

    It’s the best time ever to be in the business of marketing and communications and although it’s exhausting it’s equally exciting.

  • Mark

    @Billy — I couldn’t agree more. Not only are there so many things to learn, it is available in so many news ways. Perhaps information synthesis is the next big business opportunity. When a thousand companies have an “easier way” but no way to effectively connect to the right opportunities and precise people, it’s not easy at all.

  • During the last few days or so, I have found myself in the situation where I am simply overwhelmed by social media. I am working on a strategy (and on my routines) to keep it working.

    Yes, it is a challenge to leave the cage, since twitter for eg. can take up a lot of time and be very distracting. A good sustainable way to deal with the pressure might be to follow Jon’s or Michelle’s example – Set limits! I will actually try to follow their example now 🙂

    Personally, I try to actually use what I already have to extend my network and social media community. I depend on my twitter followers to find new interesting followers and links.

    @Mark – Btw! Mashbable is a perfect example and I do find myself in the same position. For a while, I thought the thing was that I was too young for Mashable to follow to 110% but it seems like you guys are in the same position 🙂

  • Mark

    @GT Relying on Twitter is a great strategy to keep learning and growing. But one risk is that it also leads you down the rabbit hole — links lead to links and soon hours have gone by!

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