Life is not like a box of chocolates, regardless of what Forrest Gump may tell you.

Life is like a bonsai tree.

Are there any other closet Karate Kid fans in the house?  Pipe up–there’s no shame here.

It’s easy to let social media participation grow like kudzu until it completely takes over your life.  Like any thing (even good things) you have to know your limits.

Brian Solis, of PR 2.0 recently posted about the Conversation Prism, and his post contained a number of diagrams and visuals sort of mapping out his social media footprint.   I’ve seen similar maps that look like some sort of out-of-control fungal growth under a microscope.

It’s very easy to let all those outward spiraling microrelationships and conversations consume all your time and energy and attention.  Even an online microrelationship takes time to maintain, and if you have a few thousand of them… well, I think you can do the math.

There’s a reason we use the word “pay” to describe what we do with “attention.” There’s a cost involved.

The cost of paying too much attention to your work, or one element of your work (if that’s what social media is for you), is that you don’t have enough left over for the other important facets of your life–hobbies, real world relationships, your spiritual life. The cost of maintaining a thousand or so microrelationships can be not enough time and energy left over for your core real-world relationships.

So when trimming your social media participation, whether that means trimming the feeds in your RSS reader or determining which community sites you will continue to participate in, or the level at which you will participate, consider the Japanese art of bonsai.

Limbs, branches and leaves must be trimmed, not because they’re bad, but because they just aren’t a part of the shape that the gardener has in his minds eye of what that bonsai will and should become. It’s not a personal judgment of worth to de-follow a person, or drop their feed, or opt-out of a community where you’ve previously been an active participant.

The tree is never complete. Pruning, wiring and nurturing it are always going to be an ongoing process. Some of those feeds and follows will eventually work their way back into your stream of consciousness.  Or you may find yourself repeating the process of shaping your social footprint every few months.  You’re a growing human being.  That’s natural.

At certain points, the tree may be downright ugly. It takes time and diligence to get it under control.  At times, your “system” for managing your social participation may seem like a chaotic mess.  It may in fact BE a chaotic mess.  Give yourself a little grace and keep plugging away at getting things into a manageable state without sending yourself on an all expenses paid guilt trip.

The shape is partly intentional design, and partly organic, natural and unexpected. In fact, a tree that is too perfect could be considered a failure.  Some feeds, or relationships, or whatever, will remain because you just know that they’re supposed to be there.  You can’t quantify the value.  You just know it belongs.

Always protect the roots and the trunk. If everything else dies, you can always bring it back if the roots and trunk are healthy.  Your “roots” are your values, the underlying foundation of everything you do.  Your “trunk” is your core relationships–your family.   If spending all your time and energy on the outer branches is harming either the trunk or the roots–it’s time to fall back and regroup, soldier.

Social media is an exciting field that can easily consume all your attention, and participating in online communities can be highly addictive.  When your social media footprint gets too big for you to capably manage, it’s time to pull out the clippers.

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About Kat French

Kat French

Kat French is the Digital Operations Manager at CafePress. An exceptional writer both on the web and in other genres, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in community management, SEO/PPC, social media strategy and program management. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, Optima Batteries and more.

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://danielhonigman.com Daniel

    Great analogy, Jason. Would it be ironic if I say I probably don't have time to tend to a bonsai tree?

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Kat wrote it, D. But yes it is. And yes, it would be ironic I suppose. Guess it all depends on how important and which bonsai tree is to you.

    • KatFrench

      It would be ironic if you meant it literally, because bonsai tending was one of your personal hobbies.

      If you mean it figuratively, then it's not ironic, grammatically speaking. It does however mean that you have not yet realized that you have to tend the metaphorical bonsai in order to recoup more time. Egg, meet chicken. Chicken, egg.

      When you can pluck the pebble from my hand, grasshopper…

  • http://danielhonigman.com Daniel

    Great analogy, Jason. Would it be ironic if I say I probably don't have time to tend to a bonsai tree?

  • http://danielhonigman.com Daniel

    Great analogy, Jason. Would it be ironic if I say I probably don't have time to tend to a bonsai tree?

  • http://danielhonigman.com Daniel

    Great analogy, Jason. Would it be ironic if I say I probably don't have time to tend to a bonsai tree?

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Kat wrote it, D. But yes it is. And yes, it would be ironic I suppose. Guess it all depends on how important and which bonsai tree is to you.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Kat wrote it, D. But yes it is. And yes, it would be ironic I suppose. Guess it all depends on how important and which bonsai tree is to you.

  • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

    Kat wrote it, D. But yes it is. And yes, it would be ironic I suppose. Guess it all depends on how important and which bonsai tree is to you.

  • KatFrench

    It would be ironic if you meant it literally, because bonsai tending was one of your personal hobbies.

    If you mean it figuratively, then it's not ironic, grammatically speaking. It does however mean that you have not yet realized that you have to tend the metaphorical bonsai in order to recoup more time. Egg, meet chicken. Chicken, egg.

    When you can pluck the pebble from my hand, grasshopper…

  • KatFrench

    It would be ironic if you meant it literally, because bonsai tending was one of your personal hobbies.

    If you mean it figuratively, then it's not ironic, grammatically speaking. It does however mean that you have not yet realized that you have to tend the metaphorical bonsai in order to recoup more time. Egg, meet chicken. Chicken, egg.

    When you can pluck the pebble from my hand, grasshopper…

  • KatFrench

    It would be ironic if you meant it literally, because bonsai tending was one of your personal hobbies.

    If you mean it figuratively, then it's not ironic, grammatically speaking. It does however mean that you have not yet realized that you have to tend the metaphorical bonsai in order to recoup more time. Egg, meet chicken. Chicken, egg.

    When you can pluck the pebble from my hand, grasshopper…

  • http://www.easybonsaigarden.com/bonsai-tree-care-tips/ Bonsai Masters

    Very Interesting post, Thank you for sharing all the points to discover the great way to maintain the Healthy Bonsai.

  • http://www.easybonsaigarden.com/bonsai-tree-care-tips/ Bonsai Masters

    Very Interesting post, Thank you for sharing all the points to discover the great way to maintain the Healthy Bonsai.

  • http://www.easybonsaigarden.com/bonsai-tree-care-tips/ Bonsai Masters

    Very Interesting post, Thank you for sharing all the points to discover the great way to maintain the Healthy Bonsai.

  • http://www.easybonsaigarden.com/bonsai-tree-care-tips/ Bonsai Masters

    Very Interesting post, Thank you for sharing all the points to discover the great way to maintain the Healthy Bonsai.

  • Erin McMahon

    Excellent analogy. Inspired by comments @ SMCLou. August meeting? [For non-attendees, I ask b/c of related comments/questions at the end of Jason's talk at the Social Media Club Louisville meeting on Monday.]

    You got-a pictcha? Good – now make-a like-a pictcha.

    <3 Karate Kid.

  • Erin McMahon

    Excellent analogy. Inspired by comments @ SMCLou. August meeting? [For non-attendees, I ask b/c of related comments/questions at the end of Jason's talk at the Social Media Club Louisville meeting on Monday.]

    You got-a pictcha? Good – now make-a like-a pictcha.

    <3 Karate Kid.

  • Erin McMahon

    Excellent analogy. Inspired by comments @ SMCLou. August meeting? [For non-attendees, I ask b/c of related comments/questions at the end of Jason's talk at the Social Media Club Louisville meeting on Monday.]

    You got-a pictcha? Good – now make-a like-a pictcha.

    <3 Karate Kid.

  • Erin McMahon

    Excellent analogy. Inspired by comments @ SMCLou. August meeting? [For non-attendees, I ask b/c of related comments/questions at the end of Jason's talk at the Social Media Club Louisville meeting on Monday.]

    You got-a pictcha? Good – now make-a like-a pictcha.

    <3 Karate Kid.

  • http://adamhcohen.com adamcohen

    Great analogy but it also points out that social media efforts can only scale the same way. A large scale effort would be like maintaining a forrest of Bansai. Not impossible but requires a lot of effort.

    Love Karate Kid. “Focus. Always look eye.”

  • http://adamhcohen.com adamcohen

    Great analogy but it also points out that social media efforts can only scale the same way. A large scale effort would be like maintaining a forrest of Bansai. Not impossible but requires a lot of effort.

    Love Karate Kid. “Focus. Always look eye.”

  • http://adamhcohen.com adamcohen

    Great analogy but it also points out that social media efforts can only scale the same way. A large scale effort would be like maintaining a forrest of Bansai. Not impossible but requires a lot of effort.

    Love Karate Kid. “Focus. Always look eye.”

  • http://adamhcohen.com adamcohen

    Great analogy but it also points out that social media efforts can only scale the same way. A large scale effort would be like maintaining a forrest of Bansai. Not impossible but requires a lot of effort.

    Love Karate Kid. “Focus. Always look eye.”

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  • Pete Austin

    Bonsai trees are about crushing something natural into a tiny space, like battery chickens.

    Experienced gardeners propagate from seeds or cuttings; they don't assume that the trunk will survive. That way, if your tree is killed by frost or whatever, you have alternatives to continue with.

    Obviously you don't want a forest of trees/relationships, but also you don't want just one.

  • Pete Austin

    Bonsai trees are about crushing something natural into a tiny space, like battery chickens.

    Experienced gardeners propagate from seeds or cuttings; they don't assume that the trunk will survive. That way, if your tree is killed by frost or whatever, you have alternatives to continue with.

    Obviously you don't want a forest of trees/relationships, but also you don't want just one.

  • Pete Austin

    Bonsai trees are about crushing something natural into a tiny space, like battery chickens.

    Experienced gardeners propagate from seeds or cuttings; they don't assume that the trunk will survive. That way, if your tree is killed by frost or whatever, you have alternatives to continue with.

    Obviously you don't want a forest of trees/relationships, but also you don't want just one.

  • Pete Austin

    Bonsai trees are about crushing something natural into a tiny space, like battery chickens.

    Experienced gardeners propagate from seeds or cuttings; they don't assume that the trunk will survive. That way, if your tree is killed by frost or whatever, you have alternatives to continue with.

    Obviously you don't want a forest of trees/relationships, but also you don't want just one.

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  • http://entreprenize.blogspot.com/ Sean Jagodzinski

    Excellent post and analogy. Recently I got a new thing going, and some just don't like it. I had to trim myself back, and concentrate more on my core audience, long with support from those closest to me.

  • http://entreprenize.blogspot.com/ Sean Jagodzinski

    Excellent post and analogy. Recently I got a new thing going, and some just don't like it. I had to trim myself back, and concentrate more on my core audience, long with support from those closest to me.

  • http://entreprenize.blogspot.com/ Sean Jagodzinski

    Excellent post and analogy. Recently I got a new thing going, and some just don't like it. I had to trim myself back, and concentrate more on my core audience, long with support from those closest to me.

  • http://entreprenize.blogspot.com/ Sean Jagodzinski

    Excellent post and analogy. Recently I got a new thing going, and some just don't like it. I had to trim myself back, and concentrate more on my core audience, long with support from those closest to me.

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  • http://twitter.com/jpbrady1 John

    An interesting concept that is for sure. Odd that I can relate to the ideas just a little better put this way than some of the others that I have read.

  • http://twitter.com/jpbrady1 John

    An interesting concept that is for sure. Odd that I can relate to the ideas just a little better put this way than some of the others that I have read.

  • http://twitter.com/jpbrady1 John

    An interesting concept that is for sure. Odd that I can relate to the ideas just a little better put this way than some of the others that I have read.

  • http://twitter.com/jpbrady1 John

    An interesting concept that is for sure. Odd that I can relate to the ideas just a little better put this way than some of the others that I have read.

  • http://healthcampus.net Health_Campus

    Very very interesting post..I like this one. gotta bookmark this one.

    Cheers,
    healthcampus.net

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