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Social Networking_Rethinking Productivity


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                    Social Networking: Rethinking
                    November 23rd, 2009 by Steve Pavlina

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                    Is online social networking largely a waste of time? Is it a form of idle entertainment
                    that distracts you from more important things in life? Does it make any sense from a
                    productivity standpoint to spend time on social networking sites, or is this just another
                    form of online addiction?

                    I began considering these questions in the summer of 2008 when I first started using
                    Twitter and Facebook. Presently I have more than 10,000 Twitter followers, and I’m
                    maxed out at 5,000 Facebook friends with a waiting list of 600 more friend requests I
                    can’t approve until some people drop off. I’m active on both sites and usually post
                    multiple status updates each day. Some people have commented that my Facebook
                    page is like a discussion forum because there are so many comments posted.

                    In this article I’ll share what I learned as I wrestled with the challenge of balancing
                    productivity and social networking.

                    Can social networking be productive?
                    This depends on how you define productivity. I’ve already written a fairly deep article
                    on defining productivity, so I’ll simply use that definition here: Productivity is value
                    divided by time. And you’re free to determine what value means to you.

                    Value is subjective. What’s valuable to me may not be the same for you. What’s
                    valuable in your professional life may not be the same as what you value in your
                    personal life.

                    As I got deeper into online social networking, I kept a fairly open mind about how I
                    would define value. I simply asked myself, “Is this pursuit making a positive difference

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                    in my life and in the lives of others?” If the answer was yes, then I had to consider
                    whether the value created was worth the time investment.

                    Sometimes I found it difficult to justify all the time I was spending on social networking.
                    But in truth I’d already been doing social networking for years, at least since 1994
                    when I started chatting with people on local computer bulletin boards. Using Twitter
                    and Facebook were simply the latest incarnations.

                    Upon reflection I can see that social networking has been incredibly valuable for me,
                    although the benefits have been more personal than professional.

                    Here are some of the results, both tangible and intangible that I can attribute to social
                    networking during the past year.

                    1. Scouting

                    Your extended social network can act as your online eyes and ears, making you aware
                    of new opportunities, information, and contacts that could benefit you. This works
                    especially well if you have a strong personality and people know what you’re looking
                    to experience. This alone can save you a tremendous amount of time and enhance your
                    life immeasurably. One good contact can send your life spiraling in a fantastic new

                    2. Sharing

                    This is a deeper level of mutual assistance than scouting. Friends you make through
                    social networking can actively share resources and advice with you. For example,
                    when I began writing about my recent separation from Erin, many friends I made from
                    social networking contacted me to offer advice and share stories about their own
                    relationships. This deepened my connections with certain people who shared a
                    common experience. Some of the advice was also very practical and useful.

                    3. Personal growth

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                    Social networking can greatly accelerate your personal growth if you apply it to that
                    purpose. It’s not that difficult to meet people with compatible goals and values, and
                    then you can stay in touch and help each other grow.

                    For example, I’ve connected with hundreds of raw foodists through social networking
                    sites. We’ve shared many recipes and health tips with each other. It’s nice having an
                    easy connection to so many people who share a common interest, so we can help each
                    other grow.

                    Some of the more interesting growth experiences come about when you turn online
                    relationships into offline ones. I’ve met lots of interesting people face-to-face that I
                    originally met online.

                    Recently a raw foodist friend (someone I originally met through a social networking
                    site) was at my house. We were making some raw food dishes together, and she
                    asked me where my composting bin was, so she could toss the produce scraps into it.
                    I told her I didn’t have one because I don’t compost. (I honestly didn’t know anything
                    about composting.) Then she said, “Alright, I’m gonna have to kick your ass for that!”
                    And she proceeded to give me a quick course on composting as she pulled veggie
                    scraps out of my trash and put together a makeshift composting bin right there on the
                    spot. Suffice it to say that now I’m actively composting thanks to her. She also helped
                    me plant some mixed greens, parsley, and cilantro in my garden.

                    There are lots of growth experiences like this that have enriched my life as a result of
                    connections made on social networking sites. Sometimes it’s easier to meet compatible
                    people online than it is to meet them locally.

                    With a large enough online social network, face-to-face meetings can happen often.
                    Almost every week someone from my network is visiting Las Vegas, so there are
                    abundant opportunities to get away from the computer.

                    4. Accountability

                    When you post about your goals publicly, other people in your social network can
                    hold you accountable. For example, I posted on my Twitter and Facebook accounts

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                    that I was writing a new article, so now I feel more accountable to finish it and get it
                    posted. Otherwise people will keep asking me, “When is the new article gonna be

                    You can also use social networking to hold your friends accountable to their
                    commitments. I recently used Twitter to challenge a friend to a public bet. If she
                    accepted the bet, she’d be publicly accountable for creating and posting an original
                    new article by the end of the month, and I’d be on the hook as well. She took the bet.
                    Obviously this takes some discretion since you could easily piss people off if you abuse
                    it, but when used honorably, it can be an effective way to help your friends enjoy a
                    little extra motivation. Knowing that the public eye is upon you can be very motivating.

                    When you commit to something publicly, you’re more likely to follow through,
                    especially if it’s a difficult task. Social networking makes it very easy to post a public
                    commitment. Try tweeting something like, “If I don’t have a new blog post up with 24
                    hours, I’ll post a tweet that I failed, and I’ll PayPal $20 to the first person after that
                    who responds.”

                    5. Getting better, faster answers

                    Social networking sites make it easy to take advantage of the wisdom of crowds to get
                    quick answers. Although each individual answer may not be that impressive (especially
                    when they’re limited to 140 characters on Twitter), the big picture that emerges from
                    dozens of replies can be quite illuminating.

                    For example, when I first got my Macbook Pro last month, I needed to acquire some
                    software for it, including an HTML editor and an FTP program. I asked for
                    suggestions on Twitter and Facebook, and within an hour I had lots of replies. I
                    checked out a few of the most popular suggestions and ended up going with Coda for
                    web editing and Transmit for FTP. Transmit is built into Coda though, so I can get by
                    with just Coda. Before I tweeted about it, I’d never even heard of these applications.
                    Being able to consult with my social network saved me a lot of time, and that same day
                    I was already using the new software productively.

                    Another time I asked my social network for a good raw pesto recipe, and again I

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                    received lots of replies within hours.

                    In many ways this works better than a search engine.

                    6. Emotional support

                    Social networking can create a lot of loose connections, but it can also lead to some
                    deeper connections that you may not even be aware of.

                    I’ve been particularly impressed by how much emotional support I receive from my
                    social network when I’m going through major life changes.

                    When Erin and I announced our separation last month, we both received a lot of
                    support from our online social networks. Despite the separation, I felt more socially
                    integrated than ever. I never went through a period of isolation or disconnection. There
                    were too many people in my life who would check in with me and offer advice and
                    encouragement. I’ve never experienced such a high volume of personal communication
                    as I did during the past month. I even bought a new Droid smartphone last week to
                    help me keep up with it. (I really love that phone by the way.)

                    In some cases the support I receive from my online friends is greater than what I
                    receive from my in-person friends who don’t connect with me online. My Twitter and
                    Facebook friends see my daily updates and have a good pulse on what I’m up to, but
                    my in-person friends can actually drift more out of touch if I don’t see them that often.
                    This has really shifted my understanding of relationships. In some ways I feel like
                    certain people I only know online are more like family to me than the family I grew up

                    7. Activity partners

                    Finding activity partners is fairly easy to do with social networking sites, especially a
                    site like meetup.com.

                    Pretty much anything I want to do now, I can use social networking to find at least a
                    few people who share that interest, so if there’s something that interests me, I know I
                    don’t have to do it alone.

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                    In Las Vegas I often go to raw food potlucks. I went to one last weekend that had a
                    Hawaiian theme. A year ago these potlucks were held once a month and would draw
                    15-20 people. Now they’re having such potlucks almost every week, and 25-40
                    people are showing up to each one. Everything is coordinated online through

                    I think it’s especially great to meet people through social networking who offer to
                    teach me new things that I’ve always wanted to learn. It can be a lot faster to learn
                    from someone in person than to sign up for a formal class or read a book about it.

                    8. Meeting interesting people.

                    Sometimes it’s nice to meet interesting people through social networking. This adds
                    more variety and spice to life.

                    One day I got a postcard from a traveling couch surfer who was passing through
                    Vegas, and he wanted to meet up. We got in touch via Twitter after midnight one night,
                    and it turned out he was leaving Vegas early the next morning… in a matter of hours.
                    Since I normally get up early anyway, I invited him to stop by my house before he left
                    town. He came by just after 5am, and we talked for about 30 minutes. Then I gave
                    him some bananas for the road. It was a quick connection, but it was fun to hear about
                    some of the other cities he had visited and what he learned about them. And it was a
                    unique way to start the day.

                    9. Making money

                    Although it hasn’t been my focus, I have made some extra money as a result of social
                    networking. I did a few small business deals with people I met on social networking
                    sites, all of which were profitable. I’ve also done at least a dozen interviews for people
                    who found me through those sites, so I guess you could consider that free PR.

                    The total money that I can directly attribute to social networking contacts isn’t much…
                    maybe an extra $5-10K in the past year with ongoing residual income of $200-500
                    per month. I use those sites primarily for personal networking (i.e. making friends), not
                    to make money, so I regard these business deals as a side bonus. I’m sure I could do

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                    more in this area if I used those sites primarily for business reasons, but that doesn’t
                    interest me right now. I derive more satisfaction from a good friendship than I do from
                    a profitable business deal. This year my priority has been my social life, not my

                    I’m sure there has also been a boost in workshop registrations as a result of my
                    presence on social networking sites, but I have no way to quantify that. If I had to
                    guess, maybe it was an extra $5K or so for the first workshop (less than 10% of total

                    Your mileage here may vary. Obviously I didn’t have to start from scratch with social
                    networking. I was able to “cheat” by leveraging my blog to build sizable networks on
                    other sites. But I’m also in a nice situation where I don’t need to make any money at
                    all from social networking. It’s enough for me if all the value is on the personal side;
                    anything that happens on the professional side is gravy. That said, I think there’s
                    enough potential in social networking that if you really wanted to, you could probably
                    make a decent living from it.

                    Social networking isn’t all roses. Here are some drawbacks you may experience if you
                    get a little too involved.

                    1. Loss of privacy

                    When I first started blogging and my blog became popular fairly quickly, I was still
                    able to keep my private life separate from my public life. I had a certain degree of
                    online fame that was linked to my name, but in the offline world I was just Steve.

                    With each passing year, however, that line gets fuzzier. This shift noticeably
                    accelerated as I became more active in social networking circles.

                    There are many photos of me on my Facebook account, and other people have
                    posted photos with me on their blogs or Facebook accounts too. We recently added
                    avatars to our online forums, so my picture can also be found next to every message

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                    I’ve ever posted there. And my Twitter account shows my photo too. A lot of people
                    know me not just by name; they also know what I look like.

                    Consequently, I’m getting recognized in public more frequently. This doesn’t happen
                    when I’m just walking down the street, but it often happens when I’m at some kind of
                    group gathering. Chances are that someone will recognize me even if I don’t introduce
                    myself. In September when I was at Six Flags Magic Mountain (a theme park in
                    California), someone actually recognized me by the sound of my voice while I was
                    chatting with a friend in line for one of the rides, and we weren’t even talking about
                    anything related to my work.

                    This doesn’t bother me since I’m a very social, open person, and I’m very welcoming
                    of new connections. However, it does create consequences for my relationships with
                    other people. In some ways I think it makes it a bit harder for people to connect with
                    me because it’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to keep my public and private
                    lives separate, and some people would prefer to hang out with me without having to
                    worry that it might end up on someone’s blog or Facebook page the next day.

                    As a result I’ve had to establish some boundaries, especially with respect to what I’m
                    willing to share publicly and what I’ll keep offline. For example, if I have dinner with
                    someone, should I tweet about connecting with that person? Well, it depends. In some
                    cases no one would be bothered by it, and the people in our overlapping social
                    network may respond with something like, “Cool… nice to see that you two finally got
                    together in person.” But on the other hand, if people would interpret that dinner as a
                    romantic date, and it leads to online rumors to that effect, then it has a potentially
                    unwanted impact.

                    Unfortunately I’m not very good at making these distinctions yet. I tend to
                    underestimate how intuitive or observant other people are. But I can see that it would
                    be naive and unwise to subject various private situations to public feedback and hope
                    for the best. Nevertheless it’s still unclear how to best handle these situations, so I’m
                    always making decisions on a case by case basis. I don’t value my own privacy much,
                    but I do respect other people’s desire for privacy, so when in doubt I simply ask the
                    other person how s/he feels about it, and if there’s any doubt, I just keep quiet about

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                    That alone isn’t enough though. It’s one thing for me to keep certain details offline, but
                    the rest of the world doesn’t always cooperate. On some level I think there are really
                    no secrets and that privacy is a bit of a delusion. Quite often when I share something
                    private with a close friend, it turns out they already knew about it, either by intuition or
                    keen observation.

                    Interestingly though, this is an area where my social network has been of great help. By
                    sharing these challenges with select individuals who’ve been through something similar,
                    it helps me see the big picture and make more intelligent choices. So even though some
                    privacy may be lost, something else is gained.

                    Another side effect is that my loss of privacy becomes yet another area of compatibility
                    to explore with certain people. I feel a certain kinship with those who are in the same
                    boat as me, such as other bloggers who struggle with similar challenges. I’ve had some
                    pretty deep discussions about various ways to handle it, but there doesn’t seem to be
                    much of a consensus. My most promising approach seems to be to favor connections
                    with people who can accept and handle my situation and be as forgiving about it as
                    possible. People who are very private don’t make good matches for me because my
                    lifestyle isn’t compatible with high levels of privacy.

                    The point is to be aware that active social networking is going to reduce your privacy,
                    possibly in ways that surprise you. On balance I think the pros outweigh the cons, but
                    this comes down to individual preference. If you share a great deal of your life online,
                    realize that other people will begin to notice things about you that you thought were
                    private, and this degree of transparency may push you beyond your comfort zone. You
                    may feel more naked and vulnerable than usual. That takes some getting used to.

                    2. Social resistance to change

                    Active social networking opens you up to being heavily influenced by others. In a way
                    it subjects you to a new form of social conditioning. Once your network knows you a
                    certain way, it may resist some of your attempts to grow and change.

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                    When you announce to your network that you’re making a big change, you can expect
                    some resistance in response. When Erin and I announced our separation, some people
                    reacted as if we’d just destroyed their reality. A couple people unfriended me on
                    Facebook because they couldn’t handle my not being married anymore.

                    Fortunately social networks tend to be very adaptable. While you may lose some
                    friends who were only friends with you conditionally, you’ll gain new friends for similar
                    reasons. I seemed to have made some new divorced friends, for instance.

                    In the long run, I find that the closest friends in my social network become more
                    unconditional over time. My path of personal growth and exploration naturally weeds
                    out the conditional connections, i.e. the people who are only willing to have me in their
                    reality if I align with their particular prejudices.

                    Yesterday I was talking to one friend by phone, someone I initially met online more
                    than a year ago. We were talking about conditional vs. unconditional friendships, and
                    she said to me, “Steve, there’s nothing you could say or do that would make me want
                    to kick you out of my life.” I was really touched by that. I feel the same about her too.
                    It’s nice to have people in my life who can accept me completely as I am, regardless of
                    how I may grow and change over the years.

                    Even though dealing with social resistance can be difficult at first, the long-term benefit
                    is that the friends that can survive your ups and downs, your crazy experiments, and
                    your major life upheavals will likely be the greatest friends you could ever wish for.
                    They’ll be people who know you better than you know yourself.

                    3. Emotional dependency

                    Social networking can lead to some very deep connections. You can get pretty
                    wrapped up in other people’s lives and share a lot of intimacy with certain people. This
                    isn’t likely to come about merely by posting status updates, but it can happen as a
                    result of individual connections you build with people in your network.

                    I have made some pretty deep friendships with people I’ve met online. Many of these
                    have led to offline connections. We talk by phone and/or meet in person when

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                    possible. A lot of intimacy can be shared, especially if we have a great deal in
                    common. In general this is a wonderful thing to experience.

                    But sometimes I get so wrapped up in other people’s lives that I find it hard to
                    disconnect at the end of the day. Since their status updates keep me informed of what
                    they’re up to each day, I start to live vicariously through them. I have to remind myself
                    to let go, re-center myself, and get back to living my own life.

                    I know that some people have this with me as well. They become a bit too dependent
                    on what I’m up to. If I don’t post a status update for a while, they may contact me
                    directly to see what I’m up to.

                    Social networking can blur the boundaries between our lives and those of others. At
                    some point you may have to remind yourself that you’re still an individual, and you
                    need to live your own life. Let social networking enhance who you are, but don’t allow
                    it to define who you are.

                    How to use social networking productively
                    Here are some tips for using social networking productively.

                    1. Clarify what you want

                    What do you expect to gain from social networking? Why bother with it?

                    Social networking is very flexible. You can use it for a variety of different purposes.
                    It’s up to you to define what you want from it. There are no right or wrong answers

                    I decided to get into social networking primarily to build a bigger and deeper network
                    of highly compatible friends. The keyword for me is compatible. It’s easy enough to
                    meet people locally, but due to my unorthodox lifestyle, I tend to meet only partial
                    matches when I do that. I don’t do well finding compatible matches among the general
                    population — it’s mostly misses and near misses with too few hits. However, online
                    social networking makes it a lot easier to find people who can make great long-term

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                    From those initial casual friendships, I can also build some very deep intimate

                    Another reason I got into social networking was to provide more value to people. For
                    example, it only takes seconds for me to post a Twitter/Facebook status update that
                    offers some words of encouragement or that challenges people to reconsider some
                    part of their lives. Time-wise this is a high leverage investment. Some people have told
                    me they’ve started new businesses because of something I wrote about in a status
                    update, and those updates are only 140 characters max.

                    I’m not particularly interested in using online networking for business reasons, although
                    I know that many people are. I have all the business contacts I can handle, and I really
                    don’t need more of the same. But what sometimes happens is that I end up doing
                    business with a friend from my social network, so some professional benefits can be
                    gained without even trying.

                    Many people who use social networking primarily for business come across as too
                    fake and phony for my tastes. I can’t really get to know them as individuals because
                    most of their messages appear to be motivated by numbers (more sales, more
                    followers, PR, etc). At this point in my life, that isn’t the type of connection I want to

                    2. Figure out how to network in a way that will fulfill your desires

                    Once you’re clear on what you want, it’s time to come up with a basic social
                    networking strategy that meets your needs.

                    Here’s a simple rule of thumb: Whatever you want to get, give it.

                    If you want to make new friends, it helps to be a good friend to others. If you want to
                    drum up business, help other people succeed in business. If you want to experience
                    more growth, help other people grow.

                    Whatever you share frequently, you’re going to attract more of.

                    For example, I have hundreds of raw foodists in my social networks because I often

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                    share details of my life as a raw foodist. I also have thousands of personal growth
                    enthusiast in my networks because I love to share growth tips and advice.
                    Consequently, my social network makes it very easy for me to connect more closely
                    with raw foodists and growth seekers — exactly the types of people I most enjoy
                    having as friends. Facebook is particularly good for this because of the overlapping
                    nature of social networks.

                    Since I also like to have fun, I joke around and tease people from time to time. This
                    attracts similar people to my network. Now I have people in my life that are good at
                    identifying and pushing my buttons just as I do for others. I really hate those people

                    3. Stick to your strategy.

                    Stay focused on your reasons for social networking. Are you getting what you want
                    out of it? Or are you just wasting time?

                    Facebook, for example, is cluttered with lots of cutesy apps. Every day I receive
                    requests to install several of them, which I always ignore. Go ahead and play around
                    with them if that’s what you want. Send people virtual donuts for their birthdays. I
                    never bother with that stuff because I find it a waste of time. I didn’t join Facebook
                    just to spend more time on my computer.

                    Do what works for you, and forget the rest.

                    4. Create a communication funnel.

                    I can’t possibly maintain close friendships with thousands of people at the same time;
                    that would be untenable. But it’s also foolish to randomly select people to be close
                    friends with since then I won’t get very compatible matches.

                    One thing that helped me a lot was to create a communication funnel. It basically looks
                    like this:

                    Public status updates -> Private email or direct messaging -> Talking by phone ->
                    Meeting in-person -> Ongoing relationship

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                    When you find someone who seems compatible with you on some level, escalate them
                    to the next level in your funnel. Start connecting via private email for starters. If that
                    looks good, move to the phone and have an in-depth conversation. And if that looks
                    good, try to meet in person if you can. If that turns out well, you may be able to
                    establish a long-term friendship or business relationship, depending on what you’re
                    looking for. There are variations on how you can apply this, but overall this is a pretty
                    natural progression that many people use without thinking about it. I do think it helps to
                    be consciously aware of it though since then you can remember to invite a frequent
                    emailer to start connecting by phone, which makes it easier to build a deeper

                    In a typical week, I might connect via email with a few dozen new people, I might have
                    phone calls with a few new people, and I might meet someone face to face — all
                    people that came from my online social network.

                    Social networking has been working very well for me, and I’ve made some amazing
                    connections because of it. Consequently, I’m now putting the bulk of my attention on
                    the long-term friendship and intimacy side. I’m more focused on exploring and
                    deepening existing connections rather than trying to cultivate lots of new ones. I’m still
                    open to new connections, but I’m a bit more selective with them because I’m already
                    enjoying so much abundance in this area.


                    Overall I think social networking is a great outlet for building conscious relationships
                    with compatible people, especially if you have a lifestyle that’s far from social norms.
                    This pursuit has enhanced my life in so many ways during the past year that I can’t
                    even fathom calling it unproductive.

                    Read related articles:
                             How to Network With Busy People
                             30-Day Facebook Fast
                             Facebook and Twitter
                             How to Network With Busy People – Part 12
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                             Getting Back to Growth
                             How to Network With Busy People – Part 10
                             How to Network With Busy People – Part 3

                           Uncopyrighted by Pavlina LLC, www.StevePavlina.com. Feel free to share.

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