clearing all the inboxes

First day back at work, trying to handle all the messages that have come my way since Christmas. I spent the day working my way through two email inboxes, a series of Feedly feeds, tweets, Facebook messages and wall posts, and a series of other sites to check.

Working in social media is becoming more and more noisy. One conference presentation I heard last year highlighted the way that everyone is jumping on the same bandwagon – the same calendar events are being flooded by brand pages. “Happy Christmas”, they say. “Happy New Year”, they say.

Where once facebook was an occasion to see photos of family members and updates from friends, it has become increasingly crowded with different kinds of noise. Advertising, targeted in increasingly creepy ways, shared news stories (now with additional, tailored recommendations), meme images (think cat pictures with captions), inspirational quotes on unrelated photo backgrounds, viral videos and other content from sites that are deliberately writing their headlines to maximise clicks.

It’s not possible for a massive, multinational, publicly listed company to retain a lounge room feeling. People accept that. The challenge with running a brand or company page, or one for an organisation, is to keep the content engaging with your audience, distinct from the rest of the content that they’re seeing, and adding value for them in some way.

People are spending time on facebook partly to feel connected with the people in their lives, partly to hear from brands or causes they’re interested in, partly out of a fear of missing out on the latest information, and partly out of a compulsion that facebook itself works hard to make irresistible.

For myself, I fight with a desire to keep all my inboxes clear. The constant facebook updates are the toughest inbox to keep clear – every connection adds more updates to try and process, and the signal to noise ratio gets lower and lower. Occasionally I see a post where I have the urge to correct something I know is incorrect – this is rarely a worthwhile exercise. Sometimes I’ll have a conversation with someone that would not have happened without facebook facilitating the connection: this is why I put up with the rest of the intrusions in my facebook “inbox”.

I suspect a time is coming where that value equation will tip, and it will be easier to go elsewhere than facebook for these kinds of interactions. I already use instagram for photo updates and photo sharing in a way I never used facebook.

In a simplified view, if all my online interactions can be thought of as a giant inbox, it’s my goal to work through everything in that inbox and get back to zero. If there’s a source of content that is too much noise and not enough value, then I have to unsubscribe.

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