It’s Time to Cut Back on Social Media

I recently got back from the New Media Expo in Las Vegas. Scheduled before the massive annual CES gathering, it’s a powwow for bloggers and other social media enthusiasts, early adopters who are quick to jump on board the next great thing. So imagine my surprise when I realized one of the undercurrents of the event, burbling repeatedly to the surface, was a desire to cut back on social media efforts.

That doesn’t mean doing less overall or abandoning new media. But it does speak to a desire to prune and focus on the platforms that have the most impact. It’s hard to say no to the crush of social media demands. During a panel I moderated with well-known blogger and tech expert Robert Scoble, he said there was no alternative to constant, ubiquitous engagement and held up a spare battery he carried for his smartphone, so he’d never run out of juice. No time to respond to tweets? Do it while you’re walking down the hallway, he said. Plenty of people agree with him. One consultant friend recently chided me for not being on Pinterest or Instagram — and like her, many worry they’ll fall behind if they’re not hard-core super users, or if they don’t get in on the ground floor. Clearly there is a first mover advantage in some cases: Chris Brogan developed a passionate following as an early blogger, and Guy Kawasaki jumped on board Twitter and became a powerhouse there.

But as I advise my clients to do, I believe everyone needs to think about which platforms best speak to your strengths. At the New Media Expo, I also interviewed Nick Harris, head of digital marketing for Benjamin Moore. For such a visual product, literally differentiated by its color, Pinterest is a terrific platform. But for a consultant like me who traffics in ideas, blogging and tweeting make a lot more sense as investments.

In fact, we’re now reaching a point where having a scattered focus could truly be deleterious to your goals, because you’re only able to half-engage or create mediocre content. Marcy Massura of Weber Shandwick, who was on another panel with me, commented that “presence means nothing.” Indeed, if you have a Twitter profile with 35 followers, or a MySpace page that hasn’t been touched since 2007, it often looks worse than having nothing at all. (Personally, I just KO’d my Foursquare account.)

It’s become increasingly clear that with the proliferation of new platforms, no person or company can become the master of them all. Nor should they. The harder decision is figuring out which ones you should prioritize — or jettison. Establishing ROI has always been the holy grail of social media. We may still have a ways to go before we can quantify its objective, dollars-and-cents impact (if you read about something on Facebook, and then saw a tweet, and then went to the mall to buy it, does it count?). But even anecdotally, you probably have some good operating theories. For instance, if you target women, Pinterest is a great bet; if it’s males, Google+ is currently their stomping ground. And as I’ve written about here on HBR.org, blogging is the best way to demonstrate true content mastery and thought leadership.

The “best” platforms will be different for every person or brand. But in 2013, think hard about how you can cut back, so you can focus on what matters.

This post originally appeared on the Harvard Business Review website on January 23, 2013.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.