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Is Social Media a Distraction?

On Friday, I sat down with someone I work with who made a prediction that someday soon there will be a backlash from all the time spent using twitter.  His argument was that he doesn’t see the value of these interactions during office hours and that it seems like a distraction from the work at hand.  During our conversation I defended social media, especially twitter, but I have been thinking about it ever since.

I believe that interacting with people in your field is very helpful to accomplish daily goals related to work.  I also believe that interacting with people outside of your field can help give perspective to the same goals.  Here is where I am having trouble: is a constant stream of interactions from both groups at the same time helpful?  Especially when they are trying to feed you new articles and videos and enticing things to view.  Personally, I follow all the “cool” tweeple like @MackCollier and @guykawasaki, but I am not in PR and am not a full time entrepreneur.  I follow tech superstars too, but is my colleague right? Is all of this just a distraction from my day job?

With my MBTI training and my post on extroverts vs. introverts still fresh in mind, today I will defend social media as an outlet an extrovert needs to be successful at all times.  I am an extrovert and sitting in an office by myself or working at home can seem draining.  I need to know there are people out there talking.  I may tune them out. I may listen in here or there, but that chatter keeps my mind revved.  The little tweet notifications from TweetDeck don’t always drive me to see what’s going on, but it reminds me that I am not the only one connected.  I feed off of the 140 character bites that my friends give me and use that energy to deliver good work.  

Of course there are situations where I already have a lot of going on around me and my focus is being tested.  In those cases, I turn off TweetDeck and disconnect from the social media world, but I have a feeling I am not the only one to do this.  

So, is social media a distraction?  You tell me.  Do you find social media takes away your focus from work or do you feed off the buzz like I do?  Is your MBTI type preference for introversion or extroversion?  Do you think it makes a difference?

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6 Comments  comments 

6 Responses

  1. I think the answer is really it depends. Industry, position, personality, and age are all factors. Since I work in pr, which is essentially communication, then of course I need to be involved in social media to do my job. Since you work in emarketing, you need to keep up with the latest tech and what people are talking about. However, I fail to see why an ER doctor needs to be on Twitter or why a lab scientist needs to maintain more than a LinkedIn profile (unless he enjoys reading science blogs).

    I see social media as a way to find out what people are talking about. Most people just lurk and don’t contribute to the conversation (even if that’s what all the gurus say is the point). How many people just follow on Twitter and don’t tweet? How many people read blogs (without realizing they are blogs) and don’t comment? You can still be involved without responding to everything.

    If people are overwhelmed by what’s going on and don’t think they have the time, then why do they have the time to read the newspaper or read industy journals? Why do they read business books to learn the latest trends or improve their skills? Why do they have time to speak to their colleagues over coffee or try to overhear the competition’s chat at a conference?

    Additionally, the big names active in social media are for the most part thoughtleaders. You want to know what they are thinking. There is a crowd following them. You want to be able to converse with them. Stay ahead of the curve, instead of lagging woefully behind it.

    However, I think there is definitely a feeling that people are getting overwhelmed–which is why there are so many new tools to get people organized. I use digsby and check my professional social network profiles every couple of hours; I read my Google reader at night; and I don’t feel overwhelmed.

    Getting to the age issue–If companies think this is a waste of time, they are going to be in a shock when the recession is over and they are hiring Gen Y workers. I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t a computer in the house and I’m considered old by the teenagers that will be entering the workforce in 5 years because I have a Facebook page rather than a Bebo. You may not want them to be doing social media, but they don’t function without it.

    Finally, there needs to be some perspective. Most people hadn’t heard of Twitter until the past couple of months. And there will be something new in a year as what was new last year dissolves (anyone on Friendster?). There can be a tendency to jump on the next big thing before it’s proven. And 3 million people is not a lot. Occasionally, you have to get your head out of the web and see all the stuff off-line. There is more than one-way of connecting with people.

    Social media isn’t a waste of time unless you are doing it wrong. And the people who do it wrong are those who dismiss it without really understanding the point, fail to comprehend the different levels of involvement, and have a bad attitude in general. If you approach it with an open mind and a clear focus of purpose, you should find it rewarding.

  2. Is my response longer than your post?

  3. @Alice thank you for the great and detailed comment. I especially enjoyed your summation, “Social media isn’t a waste of time unless you are doing it wrong”. Also, I agree with you that SM is not a distraction and different goals warrant different activity levels.

    I hadn’t thought about what the workforce will be like in 5 years and am not sure what Gen Y’ers will expect or need, but I am sure many will expect the openness that social media affords. Still, I think there is a fine line before these interactions are deemed distracting. I know I am struggling to find the amount that is “just right” and bet the next generation will find it even harder.

  4. Dave

    Of course it’s a distraction, but a distraction from what? That’s probably just as good a question. What do I mean? Well, much of the work-a-day tasks performed by your typical knowledge worker have always semed to be of questionable value…reading email, creating reports in Excel, Presentations in Powerpoint, etc…Seems like a lot of sorting, arranging, designing, writing…I’m sure some is important, but obviously not all of it.
    Social Media has the potential to be something really important, a way for technology to augment and advance team, group, even societal activities. People used to think the printing press was a waste of time, as was the telephone, telegraph, television, and now internet.
    As with the alchemical/magical origins of true sciences like chemistry, we’re probably passing through that “messy creative, magical, imaginative” phase on our way to something a b it more refined and professional/personal/important/essential whatever…

  5. This is why I love social media!
    @Dave Thank you for pointing out that there is already a portion of all our days that is distracting us from the core of our day-to-day responsibilities, but that doesn’t mean the tools we use don’t serve great purposes.
    I couldn’t agree with you more, SM has huge potential and I am enjoying seeing it evolve!

  6. Flavio

    I remain a little skeptical about the benefits of over-communication. Maybe I’m too conservative or old fashioned. I find it hard to have good ideas while getting information at the speed of a machine-gun. Worse of all, this also makes me feel that I have to provide my own at comparable speed (like being on a road and driving at the speed of traffic).
    Maybe it’s because I’m definitely an extrovert that I enjoy my (few) moments of introversion the most.

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