Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Debriefing After That
Drink From the New Media Fire Hose

Alright, I admit: that was a lot of material to cover in a week’s time. I hope I didn’t blow you away. (Perhaps it was a good thing we had that unexpected hiatus in the middle, with my Internet server going down twice!)

When it comes to talking about Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest and all the rest of the social media scene, I realize each of those topics deserves a week of its own. There are so many possibilities out there! And so many ways to connect with like-minded others checking out the same genealogical research paths we are pursuing.

Just see each of these social media outlets as magnets, drawing in fellow researchers and distant cousins.

After writing all those posts, I found there was a corollary to reading all that material: the overwhelming sense of drowning in all the possibilities.

If that was how the series left you feeling, my profuse apologies—and an offer to amend that viewpoint. Look at it not as a To Do list, but an inventory of all the tools on the genealogy factory shelf.

And may I add that, as with any set of tools, it is important to adopt a plan with which to manage the use of those tools. You will find that some of those tools have batteries that need to be recharged periodically. Other tools require upkeep or replacement—like drill bits changed out on the drill, or sandpaper replaced for the sander. And no tool does its best if left on, twenty four hours a day, whether it’s being used or not.

New media tools are the same way: they work better if used, based on a concise plan.

If you’ve ever gotten sucked up into frittering away an afternoon on Pinterest, you’ll quickly see my point. You’ll need an escape plan to quickly exit each medium, once you’ve used it for the purpose you’ve planned. Use. Clean. Put away.

Not that I’m wanting to pick on Pinterest. Facebook can be as great an offender, when it comes to The Great Time Suck.

With all the time required to do genealogy research—and face it, genealogical research is never done!—a time management plan for social media use is a must.

For a social media outlet like Twitter, there are a host of tools tailor-made for that medium alone. Like HootSuite, for instance. This—and other such devices—allow the busy multi-tasker to plan posts in advance, merrily calendaring “tweets” across the time zones so no Twitter follower goes through a day uninterrupted by his virtual wisdom.

Somehow, in my mind, that initial sensation of “wow” rapidly fades to the realization that, if we all used such methods to computerize our “connections,” we’d be left with nothing more than one machine talking to another machine. A universe of pre-scheduled tweets seems hardly the way for someone to join in the conversation

If it’s all about relationships—and, frankly, that’s the way some of these social media represent it—we can’t do that without actually connecting. However, in what those computer geek types like to call “asynchronous,” social media let us carry on conversations with people as far-flung as Australia and New England. We don’t have to talk at the same time—just keep the volley up when we can squeeze in a moment to respond.

So, how do you manage that new flood of information—or get it started, if no one’s talking to you yet? Whatever you do, you need to go into social media with a firm idea of what you want to get out of it.
·        Do you want to spread the word about your research on your Kelly family from the Lakes of Killarney? Or your descent from Palatine immigrants to Pennsylvania?
·        Do you want to connect with board members from other local genealogical societies?
·        Do you dream of writing a book on your family history and want to share observations and recommendations with others in the same process?
·        Do you want an additional outlet to share information on your blog posts?
·        Do you want to explore newer approaches to genealogy research, including online resources?

These are all ideas on how you can focus on your goals while branching out in these many and varied social media tools. Keeping a firm grasp on your “media plan” will help you avoid wasting time and effort as you navigate the jungles of these new resources.

If you are particularly plagued with the “Oooh, shiny” syndrome, you may even want to write up and post your own Social Media Constitution where you can refer to it on a regular basis. Whatever helps hone your focus to help you achieve your online goals.

After all, no matter how powerful these social media tools may be, they will be of no use to you if you don’t pursue the skills required to become adept at their employment.

Don’t play any blame game with yourself—“I shoulda done that”—when it comes to exploring the wild world of social media. There’s no benefit in beating yourself up over it.

The bottom line to all this is: if you can achieve your family history research goals through one or more of the new media options, and do it within a well-defined, reasonably-contained regular segment of time, then by all means, have at it. Get scheduled, get in, get focused, get working, and get out! Do it for brief periods of time. Set a timer, if you must. Review your results, your connections, your discoveries on a regular basis to re-evaluate your participation.

Above all, don’t let this all wash over you like a flood. If it’s overwhelming, it isn’t helpful.

On the other hand, if you can take it in small doses—and those doses prove beneficial—then by all means, continue to engage in what allows you to successfully meet your research or relationship goals.

Remember, each of these social media outlets are tools. Just tools.

Don’t let those hammers get you down. Don’t let that saw make you feel guilty. And don’t let your social media tools bum you out, either.

Just put them to work.


  1. I happen to have a special interest in the Palatine immigrants to Pennsylvania. I am one of those descendents of them - and didn't know it until I did my mother's DAR research... and to top it off, I live right in the area they immigrated to...

    1. Fascinating, Iggy! And that proximity will come in handy for research projects :)

      My husband's FLOWERS line most likely also descended from some of those immigrants. Another project I've yet to tackle...

  2. Did you write this for me? I admit, I've been feeling really out of step lately. However, I followed your advice and joined some FB groups, a couple of which have been quite useful. I follow a number of Twitter people, but I never feel I have anything tweet-worthy to contribute. AND I revisited Genforum and Rootsweb and picked up a tip on one of my lines - I linked back to your blogpost in my blogpost for July 15.

  3. Yes, managing this flood of possibilities is the key. A thimbleful at a time. Or maybe a cup. For me, I take a step at a time, and if I've heard of a social media tool that can help me in that step, that's when I try to learn it.

    Each blog for me is "one step," for example, and to write it I might want to quote an article someone posted on Twitter. Researching my family also occurs in steps, and I might need to learn a new database someone has described.

    Robert Frost said that for him, each poem he wrote was to carve out "a little bit of order" in a chaotic universe. I like that. That's a do-able goal.

    It's all about relationships, and it's all about accumulating little bits of order.


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