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Yesterday I gave some information about differences in social media platforms Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace, and gave a couple of analogies to help you to keep your use of them in perspective.

Something else to consider when evaluating social media is WHY are you thinking about it? Business? Pleasure? Some combination? Your goals will help dictate how much time you may want to devote to it. Also, what tools do you have available to access it?  Are you at a desk with a computer all the time?  (Convenient, but very easy to waste time.)  If you’re away from a computer much of the time throughout the day, do you have a handheld device where your interface is easily accessible, or will you have to spend evenings and weekends trying to stay active?  Evaluate whether this is an effective, and welcome, use of your “down” time.

Whether you’re using a computer or a handheld device to access your social media, I suggest that you use “clients” and “aggregators.”  A “client” is a 3rd party application that simplifies the data you receive so that you can review it more quickly, and an “aggregator” lets you send and receive information from several services at once ( which I mentioned yesterday is an aggregator for sending information.

Once you have a client, you can program it so that you see exactly what you want to see immediately, and let’s discuss what you’re likely to be looking for.  First, are there people you are following whose updates you don’t want to miss, such as prospects, competitors, experts in your industry, or good friends?  If so, dedicate a window or a column to each of those people.  Also, reading your “current” stream is helpful, which is the most recent page of updates from all the people you are connected with. Tweetdeck is client that makes it easy to do both of these simultaneously and there are several others.

What else should you care about?  Well, you definitely want to keep an eye on what’s called your “vanity stream.”  This means tracking anytime your name or your company or product name is mentioned anywhere on a social media platform.  Tweetie, for example, makes it easy to search for “at-replies” (@replies), meaning anytime someone addresses something to you or otherwise mentions you in a “Tweet” (update, or post).  The Facebook app for iPhone also alerts you to “notifications,” which is essentially the same thing, but on Facebook instead of Twitter.

The next thing that you want to check is private messages to you.  In Twitter these are called “DMs” (direct messages).  In most of the other platforms, these messages appear in your inbox in your account, such as in Facebook and LinkedIn.

One last thing you might be interested in, is what new people are now “following” you or “friending” or otherwise connecting with you (getting your updates or wanting your updates)?  And which of those do you want to reciprocate/allow/accept?

I know this seems like a lot, but honestly if you have the right tools, you can do it all in just a few minutes at a time.

One warning I will give you about Facebook if you are concerned about wasting time is to stay away from the games and the quizzes.  They just eat up too much time with nothing good received in return.  The one exception is the RippleTag FaceBook app created by my friend Steve Harper.  This is a great way to find connection points with people in your network.

Like all of the communication tools before them, these social media applications take some time to learn and to incorporate into your life, so that you can evaluate them for yourself.  It’s my belief that ignoring them for as long as you can is not the most efficient way of dealing with them.  You might as well jump in, especially now that you have some advance knowledge, and see what you think, because they are not going away anytime soon.  They will either be enjoyable and useful, or not.  And if they are not, that’s probably ok.

If you have other ideas, I’d love for you to share them in the comments.  Thanks for reading!