The Bonsai Method of Social Media Management

by Kat French |

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.

About the Author

Kat French

Kat French is the Client Services and Content Manager at SME Digital. An exceptional writer, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in content strategy, copywriting, community management and social media marketing. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, CafePress and more.