Other Relevant Posts in This Series

  1. Replication 102 - Making Email Work for You
  2. Replication 101 - Why to Appear to Be Everywhere at Once

615960_email.jpgYahoo! Groups and many social networking sites offer the capability to receive email notifications of new messages to the group, as well as of private messages and other events of interests to you from the site. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen say that they were going to turn it off because they were getting too many emails.

Big mistake!

See, here’s a fundamental lesson of replication (and, by the way, one of the basic principles of David Allen’s Getting Things Done):

Consolidate your inboxes.

Almost every time I see someone move to web-only participation, guess what happens? They eventually trickle off to almost no participation. Sure, some stay engaged, but they’re doing so horribly inefficiently.

582774_circles_forever_2.jpgSee, it takes time to switch tasks. If you want to maintain some kind of presence in, say, 100 or more different groups (not sites, groups), you can’t be hopping around between them on the web. Logging into the different sites, going through your list of groups that you’re a member of, entering the group, scanning the topics, trying to determine stuff that’s interesting from stuff that’s a waste of your time — that’s all incredibly time-consuming.

What I’m going to do is show you how to consolidate everything into TWO inboxes: one for email and one for RSS. This week we’ll look at email and next week at RSS.

Step 1 – Turn ON all your email notifications. Yup, you read it right – turn everything on. New messages, friend requests, private messages, etc. – you want it all. You’re going to learn how to process it hyper-efficiently, so don’t sweat it.

Step 2 – Set up ONE folder for all your bulk mail and group notifications. Some people make the mistake of trying to create folders for each site, in the illusion that this somehow makes it more organized. Remember, we’re trying to consolidate inboxes here — creating separate folders isn’t consolidation — it’s just more fragmentation, more inefficiency.

Step 3 – Create an email rule to route all of the mail from your discussion groups and social networking into that folder. Now this may seem to violate the rule about not having more than one inbox, but there’s a difference here. See, you want to break things down into handling buckets, and you are going to process these messages differently than you do the rest of your email. You don’t want all of those discussion messages, most of which you’re going to delete, getting in the way of essential business correspondence. If you don’t know how to set up an email rule, find a tutorial online.

Step 4 – Separate the signal from the noise. Once, maybe twice, a day, you’re going to process these group messages. First, sort the folder by subject. Click on the first message and then scroll down using your scrollbar (not the arrow keys) until you find the first message with a subject line that sounds interesting to you. Press the shift key and click on the message just above the one you want to read, and then press Delete. See, it doesn’t take any longer to delete 100 messages than it does to delete just one or two, and it only takes a fraction of a second longer than it takes to scan through them. Do this all the way down the list. You should delete at least 85% of them on the first pass.

Step 5 – Read and select. Now you’re down to a much more manageable reading list. If there are several messages under the same subject, read the first message. Is it interesting and relevant? If not, then delete ALL the other messages with the same subject. Don’t read them — just delete them. If it’s interesting, now scan through the replies — is there someone you respect who has replied? Read their response. Is it still interesting? Did they thoroughly answer the question, such that no additional information is needed, or has it turned into an open-ended discussion. If you don’t have value to add, delete the rest of the discussion and move on. This process should delete about 80% of what was left after the first pass.

Step 6 – Read and reply. At this point you should only have a handful of discussion threads — maybe a dozen or so per day — that are interesting, relevant and open-ended, i.e., appropriate and valuable for you to reply to. NOW, read the whole thread — read what everybody had to so. There’s no point repeating what someone else has already said, and you want to be able to respond to multiple points in a single post, not make multiple individual replies (see 5 Ways to Act Like an Expert in Online Communities).

Using this approach, you should be able to write 8-10 posts a day in a fairly small amount of time — maybe an hour, tops. And just because of the nature of the system, you will end up spreading your presence around in proportion to the amount of value you have to contribute, i.e., places where your participation isn’t worthwhile won’t make it through the filtering process.

You don’t have to be engaged in a daily basis in a group in order to be thought of as an active member. It’s far more important that when you do participate, you create value, and preferably within the context of your expertise and your business.

Next week we’ll look at how to apply the same techniques using RSS and blogs.

Scott Allen helps people turn virtual relationships into real business. He is coauthor of The Virtual Handshake: Opening Doors and Closing Deals Online, an A-list blogger as the Entrepreneurs Guide for About.com, and a monthly columnist for FastCompany.com. He runs his latest project, Revenue River, on the BLOG i360 New Media Marketing system.

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