There have been hundreds of great articles teaching us how to deal with social media marketing and staying sane at the same time.  Being overwhelmed is a universal condition among marketers who open up the fire hose of information, communication channels, and networking that is social media.

Across the board among the marketers I have coached I hear the same type of question:  “How do you keep up with everything?”  Other complaints address problems like worrying about what to pay attention to and what’s ok to put on the back burner.  If you don’t know what to pay attention to, and you’re just starting out, everything can look important in your social streams.

Are you addicted to a productivity killer?

It’s been a long time since I had that hopeless, overwhelmed feeling after plugging into social media and, basically, getting what I was hoping for.  I was suddenly connected with a growing follower, friend, and fan base and there was information, links, shares, and Tweets coming at me from every direction.

The realization that I also still had a business to run, after several hours of interacting on social media, was a cold splash of water in the face.  How was I going to do this social thing and keep the rest of my responsibilities up?

I came to the Zen approach to social media soon afterwards.  Here’s the deal – social media connects you to a world of people and information you cannot possibly consume.  Don’t try.  One person cannot stay on top of everything that is shared with them, nor should you want to.

When I get on G+, Facebook or Twitter, the only social sites I visit regularly, I treat it just like when I merge onto the highway at rush hour.  I want to get over to the fast lane but I have to have patience and wait for spots to open.  Until then I just go with the flow.  “Ahhh!”  or maybe, “Ohm,” are good thoughts in this situation.

There’s nothing you can do about the sheer magnitude of things you could do or information you can react to when you’re plugged in.  It is what it is.  You have to sleep.  You have to take care of visitors and customers.  You have to feed the dog.  The information never stops.

This isn’t something to get stressed about.  It is something to embrace. 

Back in Web 1.0 days, when we didn’t have such ready access to our target markets, we’d sit around thinking up new ways to get just 30 more visitors through search engine marketing.  And improvements in rankings would take weeks, even months to see.

Image by cadd48 via Flickr

The web back then was like Mayberry compared to now.  A quiet little country town where everyone noticed a tourist or newcomer the minute they showed up at the one stop sign.  Back then, we dreamed of a web like we have today.  Or at least one site we could visit and direct our energy toward a large segment of our target visitors, customers, clients, or ad clickers.

Once we got what we asked for, we all started stressing out about everything that being plugged in entails.  Yes, there’s lots of activity and ways to get in front of your best customers.  But it’s also a constant barrage of 24/7 activity.  And you can get swept up in it without really noticing.  Hours can go by before you realize that you haven’t gotten things done that were on your list for the day.  Did you kick some butt on your social marketing though?  Maybe, but you still have a business to run too.

The Social Media Zen Approach

The best way I know to deal with social media marketing overload is to schedule times throughout the day to plug in and set a time after which you will unplug and get other things done.  It takes discipline.  And it takes a Zen-like attitude of “I’ll plug in, see what’s going on, see who’s on, do some interaction and sharing that specifically helps my business, and I’ll clock out until the next session on my schedule.”

Image via Wikipedia

I don’t worry about whatever I might be missing in between sessions.  Everyone will still be there yacking away when I get back to it.  The world will still be turning and news will still be happening.  I just plug in, answer people who address me, share some cool stuff to keep my followers interested and satisfied, and maybe run some traffic to one of my latest posts.  Then I move on to other things.

Don’t keep windows open and keep checking your streams every 30 minutes.  Let it be.  It will be there when you get back.  And the interruptions really screw up your flow if you’re writing a blog post or doing something else that shouldn’t be interrupted.

Social networking is now a complete embarrassment of riches.

We’re finally connected to people directly and can move crowds in different directions to help our businesses in many different ways.  But it cannot be allowed to consume you for obvious reasons.

So simply breathe and let the information and links flow during times you set aside for that purpose.  Your followers aren’t going anywhere.  They are reading and clicking other things when you’re not around.  They’ll be there waiting for you when you come back.

Finally, be happy, not stressed about all the opportunities we have to connect with our readers and customers these days.  Believe me, you don’t want to go back to Mayberry web!  Having too few sources of traffic is far worse than having too many.