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Social Media Engagement: 9 Reasons Why Less is More

In the time-crunched, information-overloaded, do-more-with-less world we work in, maintaining the right level of social media engagement is a daunting proposition. For individuals and organizations just getting started, it can be completely overwhelming – there’s so much to do! This post strives to reduce some of the barriers to social media engagement by illustrating the importance of the “less is more” principle. It may also offer an opportunity for those with higher levels of activity to reconsider and refine their own engagement.

Since at least 2009, both individual professionals and organizations have felt growing pressure to increase their social media engagement. Organizations are exhorted to set up blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, YouTube and SlideShare channels, etc. – often under the threat of obsolescence if they don’t. And in addition to being invited to connect with organizations via all these channels, individuals are told that effective social media engagement is critical to their professional success and career management.

In spite of the pressure, threats, and exhortations, many professionals and organizations with low (or no) social media engagement continue to be very successful. But that doesn’t mean they should dismiss these platforms as irrelevant. The risks of not leveraging available communication channels to pursue one’s goals and objectives (aka the cost of inaction) are real, and they will continue to rise over time. Simply put, increasing social media engagement lowers risks by enhancing the ability to pursue opportunities and manage threats.

That doesn’t mean, however, that later adopters have to participate in social media in the same way and to the same degree that early adopters and enthusiasts do. In fact, many of the practices employed to date by some of social media’s biggest advocates and users have become examples of what not to do. Unbridled enthusiasm and an “anything goes” mentality are classic hallmarks of early adoption, but as things continue to mature it becomes increasingly clear that the mania isn’t sustainable. We need to strive for a better balance between quantity and quality – and for many that boils down to the principle of less is more.

This principle should certainly lower the barriers and make it easier for later adopters to increase their social media engagement, but it’s also worthy of consideration by individuals and organizations that are already actively engaged. Especially for those who are trying to extend their reach to people who are just starting to explore and experiment, it may be time to dial things back a few notches…

Why Less Social Media Engagement is More

Not every platform makes sense. New social media platforms emerge regularly, and there’s usually a strong bandwagon effect after each launch. And of course early adopters and enthusiasts are always singing the praises of their personal favorites, exhorting others to join as well. But neither individuals nor organizations should join a social media platform just because someone says you should, or because it seems like “all the cool kids are doing it.”

It’s not all about you. For both individuals and organizations, it’s important to show your value and highlight your offerings, but too much self-focused content is another big turn-off. For individuals, it can come across as desperate, egotistical, and/or narcissistic. And organizations can sound like carnival barkers, Crazy Eddie the electronics sales guy – or worse!

Your social media engagement should be driven by your goals and objectives, as well as by the nature of the individuals/organizations with whom you want to interact.

You can cannibalize your own activity. It’s tempting to try to put a fine point on your social media engagement by having multiple Twitter handles, and/or a variety of LinkedIn groups/sub-groups, Facebook pages, Google+ pages/communities, YouTube channels, etc. Slicing engagement too finely can be very confusing to the people you’re trying to engage, however. And since many of them will pick only one of the options, they will end up concentrated in one property and/or too spread out, which impairs your effectiveness.

Trying to do too much is a recipe for failure. Both individuals and organizations who try to engage on too many platforms will find that it’s almost impossible to maintain that engagement without increased and/or dedicated resources. If they don’t increase their resource commitments, they are very likely to end up with abandoned digital properties and other digital detritus.

Develop a clear sense of what you’re going to share on each platform, as well as how often and when – and make sure your social media engagement plan can be easily maintained given available resources.

You don’t want to be part of the signal/noise problem. Many early adopters and enthusiasts (over)share – A LOT – on all kinds of platforms. The sad irony for many of them is that even though they presumably have so much to say, the more they talk the more they decrease the likelihood that people will want to listen to them (particularly when they come across as narcissistic, post banalities and old news, and/or engage in what I call cluster posting (i.e., posting several items in quick succession on a single platform)). I have digitally tuned out hundreds of people on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook who talk too much and say too little – and I’m sure many others have done the same.

You look like you don’t have enough work to do. A hazard for individuals in particular is that high levels of social media engagement can be perceived as low levels of actual work engagement (even when social media engagement is part of your job).

Don’t feel pressured to be a big talker on any social media platform. Say enough to be heard, but focus more on saying things people want to listen to.

It’s not true that “anything goes.” Each platform has its own language, customs, and normative expectations. Individuals and organizations who participate without learning what sound social media engagement practices look like run a serious risk of undermining their own credibility – not just with respect to social media, but in general.

A high volume of activity isn’t acceptable on all platforms. There’s a much higher tolerance for a high volume of shares on a fast-moving platform like Twitter (up to 10 per day for most individuals and organizations). The acceptable volume of status and sharing activity on Facebook and Google+ is probably no more than half of what’s acceptable on Twitter – and on LinkedIn one individual status or company update per day is probably plenty.

Too much cross-posting can seem spammy. On the one hand, because you likely have a different network/followership on each platform, you need to cross-post to ensure your content reaches the maximum possible audience. On the other hand, if people see the same content several times in a short period of time, it’s more likely to be off-putting than enticing.

Learn and adhere to social media engagement best practices by platform. Don’t assume a one-size-fits-all approach is appropriate.

More Social Media Engagement Thoughts

If you have other ideas about how less social media engagement is more, I’d love to hear them!

In a future post I’ll provide more specific recommendations for effective social media engagement. If you have specific questions you’d like me to address either here or in that post, please add a comment.

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Robert Scott Rambo Jr

Great article, Courtney. It is very easy to get caught up in trying to be everywhere and do everything at once, only to find that you are not being effective.

The impact article Dave shared has a lot to offer, too. Except perhaps the times listed by platform. I know there is power in brevity but that’s a more complex question than can be addressed than a generic “Monday through Thursday, 10-6.”

I think one of the main keys to posting enough at times that won’t get lost is knowing your audience. Be where they are and watch your analytics. You’ll know when your audience is engaging (rather than the generic audience) and what they’re responding to. And to repeat a point that came from both articles, always give quality content.

Courtney Shelton Hunt

Thanks for weighing in, Robert – great input!

I never understood the “best time to share” guidance, maybe because the people I engage with are spread throughout the globe. Whenever I hear something like “8 am is the best time to share,” I think “what time zone?” That said, I do tend to share earlier in the day, primarily because I know that maximizes the likelihood that the content could be seen in most of the world. And, as you note, I review our metrics so I know when our people are most likely to be paying attention.