Social media use no doubt differs depending on why you're in it. The global conversation is always there: ambient noise, a constant buzz in the background. What differs between us is when we shift our focus to concentrate on that buzz.
Casual users can dip in and out as they see fit – as has been suggested there is no pressure to be involved beyond chatting with your new found 'friends' and even then there may not be the expectation for us to invest quality time in these online relationships.
Bloggers and early adopters, on the other hand, have more of a self inflicted need to be involved, to stay current and to keep their profile visible – especially those who cover aspects of the social web. If you are trying to build your exposure levels then time away from the streams is not considered an option.
My recent 3 weeks out lost me about 200 RSS subscribers according to Feedburner and, despite recent regular posts, those figures have not yet recovered. Add to this that social media is inherently addictive and you have quite a heady mix.
If we are keen to make an impact then we put pressure upon ourselves to participate, to post, to gain more subscribers or followers – not doing so feels like failure.
As I said in a comment yesterday, investing time in conversations is akin to reading a really good book - you want to know what happens on the next page, in the next chapter, at the end of the story. It is not human nature to just walk away from something we don't consider to be finished. While we can and, probably should, put the book down we feel compelled not to as we want to see things through to their conclusion.
Drinking from the fire hose
It has often been said that social media addicts do not want to miss anything; they are glued to the services they use 24/7 as they feel they must have their finger on the pulse and be involved in everything and all conversations. This will obviously have an impact on the way the services and other resources are utilised compared to the more casual user.
Steve Spalding has a great illustration in his post “The death throes of feed subscriptions”. He argues that the rise of social media and content sharing services means that we no longer need to subscribe to the RSS feed of a blog as we will be able to find the interesting content collected in those social environments with the added bonus that they are filtered and annotated by our peers.
This scenario leaves us in a quandary when you consider the desire to keep abreast of the flow. On the one hand, consuming our content via RSS means that we can peruse it at our leisure but by doing this we are ensuring that we do not miss anything. Alternatively, using social media to find our content means that we are just skimming the surface of the items available but reacting to them in real time while we are connected.
If the very reason we subscribe to RSS feeds is so that we do not miss anything then to achieve the same result via social media would require us to be always on, always connected – undesirable and unachievable. We must therefore aim to achieve a happy medium.
How much is too much? If you are not a professional blogger (or maybe even if you are) where do you draw the line and say enough? What is the best way for the addict to emulate the casual user and only dip their toe in the water?
There is no need to continually dive in up to our necks so, as well as our social responsibility with social media, we must address our personal responsibility and not become overloaded. We must become our own social media role model.