A post on Brian Solice titled 9 Ways to Improve the Signal to Noise Ratio on Twitter – which I received via tweeted by Vitamin T  – brought this important information to my attention. Even with 250 million Twitter tweets per day, the human cost of social connectivity – information overload – can be avoided (see The Fallacy of Information Overload) by simply reducing the noise.

This post will provide the following information:

  1. Identify the problems of information overload.
  2. Provide a framework for directing attention to Social Media.
  3. Introduce 2 tactics to use Social Media intelligently.
  4. Provide research on 9 ways to Improve the Signal to Noise ratio in Social Media.

Is Social Networking Impairing Learning?

Stanford study suggests that social networking is impairing our ability to learn. However, like it or not, we are becoming a more virtually social society in which our appetite for information has passed the point of no return – what brian calls the  Attention Rubicon. In other words,  since the volume of information available to us through new technology that is pervasive and portable can only be expected to continue to grow exponentially, we are always on, and cannot turn back.  So instead, we need to seek solutions that balance our need for information with endless data delivery.

Why FB Enhances Intelligence but Twitter Diminishes It

To begin to understand how this works, let’s first look at new research Brian cites conducted by psychologist Dr. Tracy Alloway at the University of Stirling in Scotland. Here research suggests that whether we are enhancing intelligence or diminishing it depends on the networks in which we participate. Dr. Alloway’s findings, as explained in this Telegraph interview, are that engaging in Facebook strengthens working memory in the same way that strategy games such as Sudoku do, while instant, rapid-fire services such as Twitter weaken it.

  • In Facebook, users map next steps and future actions from past activity, which exercises working memory.
  • Twitter, YouTube, texting, and other real-time activity streams and networks impede working memory, hindering the ability to retain relevant insight and knowledge

Dr. Alloway puts it this way: “On Twitter you receive an endless stream of information, but it’s also very succinct. You don’t have to process that information…Your attention span is being reduced and you’re not engaging your brain and improving nerve connections.”

Multi Tasking or Continuous Partial Attention?

How can we find innovative solutions to effectively process and parsedata to turn it into an investment in our ability to learn, share, and contribute?  Linda Stone’s solution is Continuous Partial Attention:

Continuous partial attention…is different from multi-tasking. The two are differentiated by the impulse that motivates them.

  • When we multi-task, we are motivated by a desire to be more productive and more efficient. We’re often doing things that are automatic, that require very little cognitive processing. We give the same priority to much of what we do when we multi-task — we file and copy papers, talk on the phone, eat lunch — we get as many things done at one time as we possibly can in order to make more time for ourselves and in order to be more efficient and more productive.
  • To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention — CONTINUOUSLY motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network.

Using Social Media Intelligently

Clay Shirky obeserved that “There’s no such thing as information overload — only filter failure.”

Purpose and parameters: First, we need to determine to what extent we compelled to plug in and participate, how often, for for what duration, and at what depth.  Our participation requires have purpose and parameters. To do so,  consider why you tweet or update your status, and apply filters to what you read and write. For instance, since I blog about financial marketing, I look for information that is specific to both financial services and marketing. I filter out information that is too granular and specific, as well as that which is too broad and dilute.

Look for What’s Most Valuable: Research by Carnegie Mellon University, MIT and Georgia Tech finds that people on Twitter said that only one-third of Tweets in their streams are worthwhile. Initial findings are that the most valued tweets:

  • Included questions,
  • Featured curated/relevant information with added personality, and
  • Included links to original content.

9 Ways to Improve the Signal to Noise Ratio in Social Networks

The research  documented nine best practices to use as an editorial guideline of sorts, based on insights on Twitter. We can apply these parameters to better structure our Social Media experience:

1. Real Time Information: Followers quickly get bored of even relatively fresh links seen multiple times – unless they’re repackaged through a different lens of context or perspective.

2. Add Perspective: Opinions in social media should facilitate a dialogue. Add an opinion, a pertinent fact or move the conversation forward. Consider the MT (modified Tweet) if you will to express your views.

3. K.I.S.S. (Keep It Significant and Shareable): Studies show that followers appreciate conciseness with baked-in shareability .

4. Don’t #geekout with @’s and #Syntax LOL: Overusing Twitter syntax such as #hashtags, @mentions, code, and abbreviations make tweets harder to read, interpret, and are unshareable, according to the Science of Retweets. Syntax can be helpful when context is inherent in the Tweet. For example, if posing a question, adding a hashtag that explains the nature of or the inspiration for the Tweet helps everyone follow along, which also lends to reactions.

5. Strengthen Your Inner Voice: Tweets about pedestrian or personal details were disliked. Services such as Qwitter can help tell you what people dislike in your tweets.

6. Context is King: The context, intention, or tone must be easy to discern. The study found that by simply linking to a blog or photo, without providing a reason to click on it was “lame.” Think about each Tweet or update as contributing to an experience or image that you want others to see of you or of your perspective.

7. If You Don’t Have Anything Good to Say…:  Studies show that negative sentiments and complaints were disliked, and this is true on Facebook as well.

8. Introduce Brain Teasers: Savvy marketers, producers, and editors build anticipation to create an appetite before an official release. As professional advertisers do, add a compelling hook to intrigue your followers without giving away all of the news in the Tweet itself.

9. Brands are People Too:  The study found that individuals or businesses with a public persona should pay particular attention to how their status updates lend to the brand they wish to portray. The report states, “People often follow you to read professional insights and can be put off by personal gossip or everyday details.”

Using these parameters, can serve 2 purposes: 1) It can better inform us of how we should use Social Media to share; and 2) It can help us define parameters to guide us in our own reading. In this way, we can apply Linda Stone’s strategy of Continuous Partial Attention to better structure our Social Media experience.

Snap! principle of Social Media noise:

If we are just adding to the noise, it’s likely that we ourselves are distracted. Either way, we need to develop and apply specific parameters.