Is Social Media Like Reality TV for Everyman? How Much Information is Too Much?

I am still trying to figure out how to make the best use of Twitter and Facebook for both my personal and business use. I am amazed at how adeptly some folks navigate these social networking tools and how oddly others use them. Have you ever heard that saying, “Better to be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt?” – that was one of my dad’s favorite things to say to us when we were kids. That and, “Don’t tell everything you know.” Dad’s not a really chatty guy but, then again, he never says stupid things in public or documents things that could put his reputation at risk.

If you think about it, social media takes those truisms and tosses them out the window. We live in a day and age where technology has made all of us voyeurs to varying degrees and social media is a way for us to express our every thought, feeling, and experience with legions of observers. If you have access to someone’s Twitter, Linked In, and Facebook pages and that person updates his/her social media pages frequently (not to mention MySpace) it can be like watching a reality TV show. You can read about their thoughts and feelings, see their personal photos and videos, know where they are going to hang out, who their friends are, who they voted for, and where they work. That is a lot of information if you ask me and sometimes too much familiarity breeds contempt – as you can see anytime you watch a reality TV show. When a camera follows reality show stars around 24 hours a day none of them look too impressive on TV.

There are clearly some individuals who use social media to adroitly advance their careers without embarrassing themselves. Guy Kawasaki is one such example.

When speaking at PubCon South 2009, Guy Kawasaki described his approach to using Twitter as the blending of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and QVC television channels. He posits that if PBS only broadcast documentaries on one channel and its fund-raising telethons on different station that no one would donate to PBS’s documentary channel and neither channel would obtain funding. By combining the two types of Twitters, Guy Kawasaki’s 80,000+ Twitter followers allow him to promote his business to them as long as he shares other interesting information.

Kawasaki seems to be able to walk the line between promoting his business, AllTop, and sharing ancillary information that isn’t too personal. On the other hand I am baffled by Penelope Trunk’s following. She has 9,700 followers on Twitter and a very successful blog, Brazen Careerist. What shocks me about Ms. Trunk is the level of personal information she is willing to share in order to draw attention to her site. She talks, at times, in graphic detail about her divorce, personal relationships, and sex life. None of which has anything to do with career advice although she does make an attempt to link those topics.

Obviously Ms. Trunk’s technique works for her but I could never get that personal on the internet. For one thing I wouldn’t want to hurt or embarrass anyone that I care about but for another, it just isn’t my personal style to share extremely intimate details of my life with anyone other than my closest friends. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article I was trained not to tell everything I know. But maybe I am not managing social media as well as I could? Maybe in order to sell your services you need to share more about yourself? I just don’t want to be uncomfortable with the level of detail I share about my personal life online nor do I want to be one of those annoying people who sends out Tweets every 5 minutes about every little thing they are doing.

The other thing I am trying to figure out is how people decide who to “follow” on Twitter. When you “follow” someone you get to see every single update he/she writes in Twitter. Every single one. So if you follow a lot of people the sheer volume of information you sort through can be unbelievable. I only follow about 50 people and I know most of them or have another compelling reason for caring about their updates. On the other hand, there are several people who follow my updates whom I have never met and have no idea why they care what I am doing. It makes me kind of “camera shy” about what I post on Twitter.

I am not sure that perfect strangers need to know my thoughts on random issues or who I am meeting for lunch. Consequently I update Twitter much less frequently than the social media experts say I should and I am probably not getting as much out of it professionally as I could be. I Twitter links to each new blog post I do but beyond that I am always careful about what I put out there. Not to be paranoid or anything but couldn’t a stalker figure out your Twitter handle and literally follow you around town to lunch or your errands or wherever you announced you would be?

Facebook is more intuitive to me because you have to request and accept friendships so, presumably, you are only connecting with actual friends. When I type status updates into Facebook I am more inclined and comfortable in writing about what I am actually doing, where I am going, and who I am socializing with because I am communicating to actual friends with whom there is some level of interest and trust. But Twitter updates are different because anyone can “follow” you and find out what you are up to and I am just not sure I see how that is beneficial to me and my business.

I would love to hear from anyone who has figured out how much information is too much to share on Twitter or Facebook. As for me, I am still trying to figure out what works best for me as I slowly wade into the social media world and try to avoid becoming a one-woman social media reality show.

Original post: Liz Handlin