Filtering for Information: The Value in Streamlining Online Presence

We talk a lot about online identity and managing the way in which the world receives you. But what about the way that you receive the world? Establishing and fostering connections and relationships necessitates that channels of information and communication be open. Once you open the door a little, however, the information that once trickled through can quickly become a deluge.

The ideal online presence develops awareness and support for your organization.  You can communicate with people near and far, and hope to transfer your online relationships into strong real-world bonds.  You want a blog that incites conversation and commentary, a Twitter or Facebook following that generates real-life audience, and virtual relationships that are mutually beneficial, creatively stimulating, and further your organization's mission. While building a substantive online presence, however, you may accumulate a lot of clutter that impedes your efforts (and not even realize it). I was surprised to find myself in this position. Once invigorated, I was suddenly overwhelmed by my virtual life. Useful information was lost among irrelevant chatter, and I had unconsciously begun tuning out everything. I went from eager and active online to quiet and uninvolved; I unconsciously stopped acknowledging Twitter or RSS notifications on my cell phone, filed away more newsletters than I read, and was a member of myriad services and sites that I had tested out, found unhelpful or redundant, and abandoned--without cancelling membership.

If you find yourself growing sluggish and disenchanted with your organization's social networking and online communication presence, consider some of the elements that I used to structure my interaction overhaul.

Contacts: Whose input do you value? How do you know this person--virtually or personally, in a business context or as a friend? Do you receive regular updates from them, and are these updates useful? Do they receive regular updates from you, and if so, do they engage? It's ok to set some people free, but do use caution so as to avoid offending anyone.

Social Networking Accounts: Do you use only the accounts on which you are registered? Do you have profiles that are inactive that you should delete? Do you have multiple profiles on the same site (e.g. your organization's Twitter and your personal Twitter)? If so, do you make careful distinction between the two in your interactions, and do you separate your contacts accordingly? Do you remain engaged equally on each, or do you swing between letting your organization account fall silent as you become more chatty on your personal account, and vice versa? If you do not have separate profiles and accounts, are you losing important information among your friends' weekend updates and baby pictures?

Email and Reader: How much spam do you receive at the email account you use for your organization? How many "relevant" newsletters, updates, etc. do you receive but never read? Do you have folders for different subjects, contacts, organizations, and so forth? Do you have a "get-to-it-later" folder that you never get to? Does your reader have dozens of feeds in it, of which you actually read only a fraction? Is there a chance that you will miss something important by deleting some of these feeds? Where do you find your most useful information, and what is making that process most difficult?

It was a surprisingly difficult task, and one on which I am still working, but it has made me feel like my online activity is more streamlined and efficient, my attention is more focused, and the information I now receive through these channels is proportionately more relevant and applicable than before. It is worth remembering that your online activities are an extension of your offline activities, and just as valuable to manage and streamline.