Holy cow, social media is overwhelming!

That’s probably the comment I hear the most from students and clients alike. The information stream has overflown its banks, and the flood is creeping up to our doorstep. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot we can do to stop it, either. As more and more people start to realize the benefits of publishing, and interacting, and creating communities, information is becoming relentless. It sometimes makes us feel like just shutting off the computer and the smart phone and forgetting the whole thing, because if we can’t see the flood, it can’t affect us, right? The problem with turning away from information is that when we do, the information keeps flowing, even in our absence, and suddenly we feel like we are missing out. It’s a tough challenge, to be sure.

What often happens when we get overwhelmed by social media is, we freeze. We don’t know where to start, so we don’t start. Days, weeks, months go by, and we’re no further ahead. We feel like the online world is passing us by, but we are afraid to jump into the stream, for fear the current will carry us away.

It doesn’t have to be like this. There’s a way to dip your toe in the water. And that’s to just pick one thing.

You don’t have to do it all at once. You can just pick one thing, and focus on that for a bit. You can get up to speed, get comfortable, and get your feet wet. You can decide if you like it, if you want to keep going, or if you want to try something else. Here three ideas you can try to start. Pick any one from the list below, and just do that for the next week or so. Then, when you’re comfortable, move on to something else.

Set Up Your Google Reader
I always recommend listening and subscribing as a first step. Subscribing delivers the information you’re interested in directly to you, so you no longer have to go wading around in the busy stream yourself. You can take in the information at your own pace, and to get used to the flow of the conversation. You can get some insight to who the players are in your area of interest, and stay on top of the latest news. Google Reader is the best way to start listening, because it automates the process for you. You can subscribe to blogs of interest. If you’re not sure what is of interest, you can search on keywords and subscribe right from within the tool. Check it out at www.google.com/reader (you only need to set up a free Google Account to get started).

Play with Twitter
Twitter seems to be the one that has the biggest learning curve for people, which is ironic, because essentially, it’s very simple in its premise. On Twitter, you talk about what you’re up to, and share what is of interest to you, and other people do the same. If you find someone who is posting interesting stuff, you can follow them and then you’ll see what they are talking about in your stream. If they find you interesting too, they can follow you back and you’ll show up in their stream. You can talk to each other if you want, or talk to other people. Twitter is a conversation.

The best way to get a handle on Twitter is to just try it. Start by doing some keyword searches at www.twitter.com/search (you don’t need an account for this). Click on profiles you find interesting, check them out. Once you’ve got the idea, sign up for a free account. Complete your profile (including posting a photo!) and search for some folks to follow. A great place to start is to search for and follow people in your city or town (you can do this by doing an “Advanced Search” and completing the “Places” field. Following someone on Twitter is like a handshake – when you follow someone, they get an email notification, so they can then click on your profile and check you out too, and follow you back if they wish.

Post a few updates on your Twitter page. It can be anything from an observation you have, a link to some interesting content, or just saying hello. Twitter is a process, so start small, and spend a bit of time every day following and reading and reply to people if you feel inclined. You’ll soon find that the conversations start to flow!

Start a Blog as a Playground
Seriously. Just go to www.wordpress.com and sign up for a blog (it’s free!). Get that first step out of the way, even if you’re not 100% sure what you’re going to say on your blog. Get your blog account, pick a nice template, and take a look around. Run through these help pages if it helps make you feel more comfortable. The point here is just to get familiar with the idea of having a blog. Then, post something. It can be a few thoughts (maybe your thoughts on your journey into social media!), some photos from your vacation, or a video. It will feel weird to do this, if you’re not used to publishing content. You’ll feel like nobody is going to read it or care. You’ll feel like you’re saying “look at me!”. All this is normal. When I published my first blog post in 2007, I re-read it after hitting “Publish” and promptly took it offline because I felt so silly. Then eventually I put it back. And I did more. And people started to leave comments once in a while. And I got into great conversations, and over time, I connected with new friends, new colleagues and new clients.

Start your own little small space, your little playground on the Web. Trust me, it’s worth it. Do it for yourself, and don’t worry about anyone else right at first. Look at it as a way to learn about the tool, and to learn about how you best express yourself. Don’t strive for perfection at first. And it’s okay to feel a bit silly about it all – that will pass, the more you do it.

There you have it – three different places you can start with social media. Just pick one from the list, and this week, explore that one thing. Dip your toe into the stream. Take it a bit at a time.

And most importantly, have fun!

[photo by: andres.thor]