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Everyone is giving advice about social media, and it’s a topic I get asked about a lot. I’ve shared some information before, in this post and this post. Certainly you can ask 10 different people questions about social media, and get 10 different answers. I don’t think the rules have become entirely apparent yet. But here are some thoughts on participating in social media without it becoming a complete time sink.

For purposes of this post, when I talk about  social media, I am referring mainly to Twitter and Facebook, but certainly the principles apply to the others as well, such as LinkedIn and MySpace. My take on these four is that LinkedIn is basically an online résumé, and MySpace is more relevant for creatives like artists and musicians. Facebook seems to be a social tool for most people, but increasingly a mix of both business and personal for entrepreneurs and business owners. Twitter and Facebook are growing more similar, although Twitter (thankfully) doesn’t have all the games and other distractions. It’s just people communicating with each other.

A lot of people ask me about Twitter versus Facebook. My opinion is that there is much more useful information being shared on Twitter than on Facebook. On Facebook, there are still many people sharing what they had for breakfast, and giving me their score in Mafia Wars, and telling me which Desperate Housewife they are most like. And, all of the Facebook games and applications make for many distractions.

I’ve connected with more old friends from my past on Facebook than on Twitter, which has been fun. But I’ve made more new friends and gained more exposure for my business on Twitter, so there are pros and cons to both. I have a presence on Facebook and I check it periodically, but my Twitter stream seems much more relevant to my life and my business. Facebook is nice for keeping up with friends and family. When I send an update, I often use so it posts to both Twitter and Facebook, but that’s because I’m connected with mostly different people on each.

I have two analogies that help me relate social media to newbies. Both of these were created out of conversation with my friend CJ Romberger. The first is that you can think of these social media platforms as a crystal-clear, flowing stream on a hot day. The water is fantastic but you have to accept that you will never touch every drop. You’ll jump in, swim around a bit, and then get out and the water will continue to flow by without you. And that’s ok.

The second analogy is that Twitter and Facebook, for instance, are kind of like great parties, where lots of interesting people are discussing lots of interesting things, all the time. The party is fabulous but sometimes you have to be ok with leaving and doing other things for a while.

Tomorrow I’ll add information about things to consider when evaluating social media, and how to interact with it productively and efficiently.  Please check back and you are welcome to follow me on Twitter @mnthomas, where I try to post useful productivity information. Thanks for reading!