During one of my marathon walks in San Francisco, I stopped by Pier 39 to visit the sea lions. While I had been to the city before, I was unable to make it to Pier 39 then, so I made it one of my priorities for this trip.

When I initially approached the area where the sea lions congregated, I was met with quite a sight. And a smell. And a sound. While I’m not sure exactly how many sea lions were flopping about on the very limited pier space, one thing was for certain – there were a lot of them, and each one seemed to be hell bent on barking louder than all of the others. Which immediately reminded me of social media. (No, I’m not having a stoke – bear with me.)

Social media can be a great source of connection and motivation for people who have difficulty finding their tribes locally. It can also provide a great platform for sharing ideas and motivating one another. However (you knew it was coming, people!), social media use can sometimes devolve into a never-ending quest for the most likes, the most views, the best memes, and a desire to look busier than everyone else. Combine that with a Type A’s natural competitive tendencies, and you can easily wind up flopping, barking, and FOMOing yourself to death on the social media pier at the expense of the important work you’re doing in the real world.

So where do you find the balance with social media? Strategy and perspective, my friends.  

STRATEGY

Social media is a tool. Like most tools, it is effective for some things, but not everything. In order for you to use a tool effectively, you need to determine: (1) what you really want to achieve, and (2) whether/how that tool will get you there. If I want to hammer a nail into the wall, a wrench isn’t the ideal choice. (Side note: this is a pretty impressive metaphor from the woman who referred to Phillips-Head and flathead screwdrivers as “the plus one” and “the minus one” for a significant portion of her adult life.)

Knowing what you want to achieve…

If you are using social media for personal or professional development purposes (as opposed to purely social purposes), be selective in who you follow, what types of groups best align with your personal or professional development goals, and how much time you want to commit to engaging with those individuals and groups. Do you want to bounce ideas off of people? Do you want to find individuals with expertise in certain areas that are compatible with your area of expertise? Do you want to find your next job or recruit a new employee? Whatever your goals are, write them down and keep that list with you so you remain focused amidst the social media noise.

Figuring out whether that tool will get you there…

Once you’ve figured out exactly what you want to accomplish with social media, determine which platform will be most effective in meeting your goals. If your goal relates to recruiting clients, employees, or other contacts in a specific industry, do some background research on what platforms are most frequently used by people in that industry. If your goal is to create and share more robust content online, figure out which platform best supports longer posts/articles. Once you have worked with that platform for a while, re-evaluate whether it is helping you achieve your goals. If you have additional time to devote to social media, perhaps consider broadening your presence to more than one platform.

Regardless of the platform you choose, it is crucial that you spend time and energy actively engaging with that platform. In addition to posting your own content, you should be reviewing, liking, and commenting on the content of those you follow and those who follow you. You should also take notice of the topics/issues your social media connections are discussing (if there are any recurring topics/issues that fall within the area of your expertise, consider writing a post or article on those topics/issues to share on that platform).

PERSPECTIVE

Perspective is the antidote for the poison that is social media-induced FOMO.  (For those of you who are over 35 and not hip, “FOMO” is “Fear of Missing Out.”)

It is important to remember (especially if you are struggling, under stress, or unhappy) that almost every post you see on social media has passed through a less-than-objective lens. It is very difficult for people to write objectively about themselves and, therefore, things are frequently not as they appear on social media. Some people are very self-conscious, and would rather put a shiny veneer on their life than be honest about their struggles. Other people opt to share endless memes about success and “being a boss” in lieu of actually doing the work to make that happen. Some people only post their highlight reel (for example, they may post about giving a speech to a huge crowd or taking a great vacation, but may not post about all of late nights and weekends they spent working on that speech, or the creature comforts and evenings out they gave up in order to save money for that vacation).

Regardless of what anyone else is doing on social media, do not let it impact the important work you are doing. Use social media as a tool to connect with others in a positive and productive way instead of trying to bark louder than everyone else on the pier. Find your own pier away from the noise of those competing for attention, and bask in the sun unbothered (like my new friend below).