How Many Social Networks Are Enough?

socialmediaoverload

Today there are more than 500 social networking websites in operation around the world. According to studies, polls, and other polls, most people are active on two of them. It is not uncommon, however, to find people actively using five, ten, or more social networks at least once each month.

From the early days of the Internet, users created online communities to communicate, share, and socialize. Usenet, LISTSERV, and early bulletin board systems soon gave way to America Online, CompuServe, and Prodigy. The next wave of online communities like GeoCites and Tripod held their ground until replaced by the current generation of social networking websites, originally led by Friendster, Bebo, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Whether in the town square or local pub, at a conference center or town hall, or via the postal service or on the Internet, it’s human nature to interact and socialize with other people. The online social network is simply modern tool to fill the same business, personal, and political needs.

But how many social networks are enough?

There’s Facebook to keep in touch with family and friends. Twitter to follow breaking news and interesting people. LinkedIn to stay build and maintain your professional network. Pin a recipe for Key Lime pie on Pinterest. Check in your location with Foursquare. Share a selfie on Instagram. Review that new Thai restaurant on Yelp. And don’t forget App.net, Google+, Path, SoundCloud, Tumblr, Vine, and Write A Prisoner to become pen-pals with the incarcerated.

Tempted to try the latest social networking craze or migrate with a group of friends, if not paying close attention, it’s easy to find yourself with accounts on a dozen or more networks. For most people, the initial excitement and flurry of activity is quickly replaced by infrequent updates and a twinge of guilt for all but abandoning the site after six short weeks.

The fate of those of us who hang on to all of these networks, however, may be worse. To stay active on multiple networks can suck up considerable attention, money, and time. As a result, there is no shortage of articles and books offering advice and tips to handle the digital clutter, be more productive, and avoid burnout.

But each person is different and capable of successfully juggling profiles on many sites — or may prefer to join none at all. In my household, I currently stay active on three social networks (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Tumblr); my wife uses exactly zero.

My active use of three networking sites is down from a recent peak of seven. During the past few months I carefully considered which networks were consuming my attention as compared to the actual value I received. I found that Facebook, Google+, Instagram, and Vine did not provide the attention-to-value ratio I wanted. Other factors in my decisions included: the social networks’ privacy policy, my ability to keep up with the same people elsewhere, the necessity in my daily work, and my engagement with other users.

You will reach your own conclusions, but I recommend for everyone to consider where they spend their precious time online and why. Using your own set of criteria, review each social network and make a decision to use it or lose it. Adding one update to Google+ every three months is no reason to keep it around. Nor is uploading one photo of your cat to Flickr each year.

Besides, does anyone really need to know you’re watching Mad Men with a GetGlue notification re-posted to Twitter? Of course you’re watching Mad Men. What highly engaged social media network user isn’t?