Information Overload: Your Frenemy for the New Year

As Abraham Lincoln said “I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.” Frenemy number one for many public relations and marketing professionals today is “information overload.” A recent survey (PDF file link) of 4,500 of PR professionals across 23 countries ranked “the speed and volume of information flow” as the most important issue in the field.

We all feel bombarded by information and the rapidity with which platforms change. It’s stressing us out. While information creation has always been our responsibility, as we grow and things change, we must embrace the role of information detective for our organization to be successful. We need to check out all potential sources of information, listen and put our energy against the hottest leads that are most likely to lead us to our targets.

The report from The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations noted that communication leaders “must increasingly be able to identify what is and what isn’t important in the torrent of global information flow. They must then translate, communicate and activate that information inside their organizations.” The report goes onto say that most organizations aren’t hiring new resources/people to help communicators with information overload; they are relying on existing staff to develop new skills, improve process and use new technologies to better manage information flow.

How can you embrace the enemy to become a better professional and leader? I’ve struggled with it myself over the years; here are a few things that have helped me better manage information:

  • Audit the decision-makers. In many organizations, the C-suite and other key decision makers often have a lack of information or poor information about how marketing and PR strategies impact the business. Take the time to understand what kind of information matters to them and then re-focus your data-seeking and data-reporting efforts there. If you don’t have direct access to the C-suite, quiz your boss or direct client about their directive. If you aren’t getting good direction, asking very strategically focused questions to force decisions can help set you on the right path to prioritize.
  •  Challenge yourself to test a new tool every month. The vast array of technology options to help you do your job better is mind blowing. It feels like there is a new list of “must have social media tools” every month — from centralizing monitoring to automating updates to better analyzing effectiveness. Fight the feeling of wanting to curl up in a ball on the floor. Tackle one thing at time. Go back to your audit – what kind of information will get the most attention? Or what is stressing you out that could be simplified? Start there. How do you decide what tools to test? They don’t have to be the newest tools on the market; just new to you. I usually look around at what some of the social/digital leaders are personally using and recommending and ask colleagues/peers for their opinions.

For example, my latest experiment has been with buffer. I like sharing interesting content via Twitter, but I was pretty sporadic in sharing a bundle of articles all at once when I caught up on reading, and then would go silent again until the next catch-up. I wanted to find a tool that would free me to spend more time listening vs. sending out updates when I’m on Twitter and to be more consistent. I looked at the accounts of a few people I admire and noticed that Jay Baer uses/invests in buffer, so that sold me. I’m a big fan of it now as well after trying it for the past month or so.

  • Create your own system with the end goal in mind. You can easily bury yourself in endless reports, analytics, news alerts and the like — and so can the rest of your team. If you haven’t yet, assign everyone on your team a specific role when it comes to processing/gathering information to eliminate duplication and agree on a reporting system that delivers meaningful data. If you’re not sure what kind of end data will stick with the “ultimate boss,” find an advocate who knows them well with whom you can test things; know that you’ll do more tweaking and improving with each subsequent report. Establishing a process and empowering others to help can alleviate a massive amount of stress. Want an example of how the big boys do it? You can read more here about how McDonald’s, one of the most talked about brands in the world, manages millions of social media mentions each month.

One of the key advantages you see in successful leaders is their ability to conquer information overload. They have a vision and are able to use it to prioritize what is most meaningful, and then ferret out the answers that will give them/their organizations the advantage.

How do you combat/embrace information overload?

Connect with Kellie:

Twitter: @kshe
Kellie Sheehan