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From {Young Minds}: Finding a Social Media Balance in a Professional World

September 21, 2009

LAF Note: This post was written by Tom O’Keefe and is a part of the Young Minds series.

When Lauren asked me to write a post for her Young Minds series, I really had no idea what to write about. I’ve never held a full-time public relations job, I don’t have my own social media or public relations blog, and I, like Katie Wall, frequently ask myself, “Why didn’t I think of that?”, when reading through my Twitter and RSS feeds full of posts from thought leaders in both the public relations and social media fields.

Then I read Dave Fleet’s post on Feeding the Social Media Beast and realized that I’ve been struggling lately with feeding that monster, but in a slightly different way. Instead of feeling like I need to force tweets, blog comments, and blog posts, I’ve been trying to find the time to be able to do those things. Mybalance_scale content well hasn’t run dry, it’s flooded!

See, recently, I began my first full-time job. It’s a yearlong commitment to teach high school as a part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. I’ve been quite busy since starting. In just my first three weeks, I’ve taught writing classes, substituted for other teachers, corrected papers, proctored computer time for the students, tutored math, helped with SAT Prep classes, and somehow become the de facto computer guy not trained in IT. On top of that, when I arrive home each night, I have an obligation (and desire) to socialize and interact with my community housemates (not to mention, we don’t have an Internet connection Unless we want to “borrow” a connection from “cheeseburger”).

As a young professional, I want to be able to put 110% into my new job, but I also want to continue tweeting, reading, and commenting on my favorite blogs, building relationships via social media, and chronicling my own experience on my own blog.

I know my job and living situation is somewhat unique, but I also know that many young professionals are beginning their own first full-time jobs.

So, I’m wondering: how do you balance your job and at-home obligations with keeping up on social media? How do you remain committed to your work as well as your professional development online while maintaining a social life?

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41 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2009 6:23 am

    Great post Tom! As someone else who has recently entered the wonderful world of working full-time, I’m still trying to figure out how to balance work/social/social media life as well. I’m lucky in that I can use social media in my job, so I kind of associate work life=social media. That said, once I leave work, I’ve noticed that I don’t twitter as much. I do still check Facebook because I use it to make plans, but I try to focus solely on my social/home life.

    As for keeping up with my personal blog, I’ve found it helps to plan what I’m going to write out ahead of time, as well as write during the weekends.

  2. September 21, 2009 6:53 am

    I try to keep what I’m doing to 9-5, even though that rarely applies to a standard workday now. At my 9-5 I’m not monitored at all, so luckily I can use twitter, facebook, gchat, etc during my time at work and stay in touch during the day.

    It always boggles my mind to find people that post loads of content during the day and always have a fresh take on whatever is the topic for the day whereas I feel that I can’t fit half of what I want to do into my daily life.

    Just find a balance that works for you. With my life, I balance my 9-5 with a slew of other part-time and full time gigs, as well as planning a wedding, having a dog, playing soccer, etc.

    The trick is to find a balance, and stick with it. Looking forward to everyone else’s thoughts, good post!

    • September 21, 2009 7:13 am


      Great advice: “Find a balance that works for you… and stick with it.” And mind-boggling is a good way to describe how some people are able to post so many great ideas so quickly during the day. Thanks for the comment!


  3. September 21, 2009 7:08 am

    Thanks Sheema!

    In the past, social media has been a part of work for me as well, but now, work is a totally different beast. I’ve been hanging onto my SM use, so far, by tweeting and posting in between classes or on off periods. I know, however, that as the year moves on, I’ll be busier and busier during those free times.

    Thanks again for the comment and advice, Sheema!


  4. September 21, 2009 7:12 am

    Great topic here, Tom.

    The answer is that you have to find a way that works for you.

    Here’s how I do it (and I’m by no means saying it’s the best way!):

    When you work in PR (or a related field), participate in social media and have a family, you are really in the midst of THREE 24-7 worlds. I’ve worked in PR since 2003 and I can only remember a handful of normal 9-5’s. It’s an industry that lives on deadlines, that thrives on early morning TV and honestly doesn’t sleep.

    Social media is a never-ending world, as well, with friends from around the world posting at all hours of the day and night.

    Family is something you can’t turn off, either (and since I’ve been married for a whole TWO WEEKS, I guess I’m an expert now hahaha!)

    I have a few strategies to multi-task:
    1) I bring my BlackBerry when I walk the dog in the morning to get caught up on e-mails and news.
    2) I do most of my pre-writing for my blog while I’m either making breakfast or on my way to the office.
    3) At family functions, dinners, etc, I do my best to be THERE, turning off all devices. (It’s a work in progress)
    4) Work and social media crossover for me, so I do a good bit of networking from the office.
    5) You have to draw lines. I would like to participate in all primetime PR chats, but I give up most of them to be with my family and friends.

    I’m all, it’s a delicate balancing act. Do the best you can with it. We all make mistakes in the overlap!

    • September 21, 2009 7:43 am


      I really like your multi-tasking strategies. I think it’s very important to be able to turn off your different devices when you’re around those who matter most and be able to draw lines. Good advice, be careful when you walk your dog and read the news on your Blackberry!

      Congrats on your recent marriage!

      Thanks for the great comment!


    • @dcradiodan permalink
      September 21, 2009 10:02 am

      It’s a great bonus when you are not monitored at work. Giving me access to gchat/aim/Twitter/fb makes my life so much easier, and being able to do that networking at that time let’s me AVOID doing it when walking the dog (I don’t have a dog, but in similar situations, i mean.) If we let ourselves be overtaken by social media, we’ll be social duds in public. Nothing worse than trying to have a conversation with someone who checks their blackberry every 3 minutes.

      So yeah, just like everyone else says, you have to find a balance. I remember before i had a cell phone, I had to (gasp!) find a payphone to find a ride or find out what’s for dinner. Occasionally I’ll make myself go without my iPhone for several hours as a nice respite, and then it’s a nice present full of messages to come back to.

      Thx to @mikeschaffer for tweetimg this link – great post.

      • September 21, 2009 10:55 am

        @dcradiodan- Great point about trying to have a conversation with someone checking their Blackberry so often. Balance is key!

  5. September 21, 2009 7:52 am

    Tom –

    This is a great post, and something many PR and working professionals struggle with. The thing is, in PR you have to be always on. You have that mentality from your internships, and with your new job, I wonder if you have the “teen” obstacles. What I mean: Teens aren’t on Twitter, and a lot of it is because they are so busy during the day at school. 🙂

    What I do: Pick and choose. I can’t do everything, so I make a list of whats important. To me, family and friends have always come first, then my job. I balance the two with social media. My phone is always on, but I try to keep it away when I’m hanging out with my friends, my guy and my family. My family understands how connected I am – my dad is the same way – so it’s a little different. It’s kind of like explaining what I do, some get it, others don’t.

    My toughest lesson: Learning that at the end of the day, its ok to put my work down.

    • September 21, 2009 8:43 am

      Yes, I think I may have those “teen” obstacles, haha. With PR, you’re right. On one hand you’re always on (and need to be), allowing one to stay connected, but on the other hand… you’re always “on” and feel obligated to stay connected. Realizing that you can’t do everything is an important idea to keep in mind. Combining what you say and what C says (“don’t stress”), it’s important to pick and choose and be able to take a step back knowing it’s OK if you couldn’t tweet or comment very much today.

      Thank you again for the opportunity to write for your blog! I always enjoy reading your thoughts and ideas.



      • September 21, 2009 8:50 am

        Haha, he’s going to love that he was mentioned on my blog by someone else besides me.

  6. September 21, 2009 8:35 am

    I’m not a PR pro, but I’m definitely a work/life/SM juggling pro so I’m happy to weigh in here! I work full time, have 2 kids (11 and 13) and a husband who would love nothing better than for me to spend every second of my non-working life sitting on the sofa next to him holding hands. Then add in some attempt at a social life, kid activities, volunteer stuff, working out, blogging, tweeting…there aren’t that many hours in the day!

    I second all Mike’s suggestions-especially the Blackberry part (but I have an iPhone). Especially for keeping up with Twitter and email, my iPhone is totally essential. I try to keep my inbox at as close to zero as possible, so I don’t get overwhelmed by email. I scroll through Twitter, starring favorites to come back to later when I have more time. When I have an idea for a blog post I quickly draft it and save it, then in the evenings I flesh posts out.

    Don’t get me wrong–my kids and husband see my laptop and phone as the sibling/rival they’d all love to see disappear forever. But like Mike says, I make it a point to stay away from the computer/phone during dinner and family time, and when I do go online in the evenings I try to limit the amount of time and get what I need to get done finished then turn it off for the rest of the evening. I also try to stay offline as much as possible over the weekend, and when on vacation.

    My best suggestion is prioritize: pick the things that are most important to you social media-wise in terms of your goals and devote your time accordingly. For me, blogging, keeping up with social media stuff and other blogs and staying connected on Twitter are most important to me, so I devote my time to those things. Facebook, on the other hand, doesn’t really fit in with my goals so I spend the least amount of time on there.

    Good luck!

    • September 21, 2009 8:50 am

      Maggie – You’re always welcome to comment here, because you have so much insight in social media issues. 🙂 Your thoughts make me stop and think – and you make some great points. I like your prioritize suggestion – I am going to start implementing.

    • September 21, 2009 11:02 am

      Maggie- Thanks for commenting! Prioritizing and setting your goals for social media use is a very important point and solid advice. Ask yourself, “Why am I using this service? How should I use it to reach my goals? What are my goals?” Thanks again!


  7. September 21, 2009 9:07 am

    This is a great post about a topic I often can relate to.

    I work with a great scholarship program from 8-12 every day. This does not include the outside of the office activities that we put on and/or need to be present at. On the clock, I only work 20 hours a week. However, off the clock – it is often more. From 1 pm to about 9 pm (depending the night), I am in graduate school. And then on the weekends, I tend to sleep as much as possible to get ready for the next week of challenges that lie ahead.

    Like many others who have commented, I multitask my social media experience and the rest of my life through my phone. When I wake up, I sift through e-mail and my twitter feed. I feel like taking care of my inbox every morning is my number one priority in managing the rest of the day.

    I am fortunate enough to be able to read through blog posts, read about the latest Internet trend and PR industry news, as well as utilize Facebook and Twitter while I am at work.

    It’s very much a balancing act, but one that’s well worth the effort. I’m not working in a full time PR position yet, but I know networking and building relationships (now) is pivotal to my future success in PR. As a bonus: I often find that the information I take in daily gives me a voice in class conversations, and also at work.

    Still, there are days when I do not care to open my laptop or pick up my phone. And that usually happens on Saturday and Sunday. That’s the time I take to sleep and be with my friends and family. I know once I move into a full time position, I’ll have to be connected at all times. And I’ll begin to manage that process when it’s time. But for now, I enjoy being disconnected every now and then.

    Again, great post Tom. You hit the nail on the head as far as being overwhelmed with the beast that is Social Media.

    • September 21, 2009 11:10 am

      Good point about needing to disconnect sometimes. I think that’s VERY important for keeping a healthy mind. Social media IS overwhelming at times, but I think it’s important to remember that, in most cases, social media is about what’s happening right now. It is important to review what has happened in the past day/week/month and be aware of it, but you cannot let it consume you. Thanks for commenting!

  8. September 21, 2009 9:28 am

    I’m like you! I have an internship that keeps me busy upwards of 50 hours each week, but I very much want to make sure I stay interactive online.

    Much of my work is billed to clients, so I personally try not to do much online during the day unless I want to take 10 or 15 minutes “off” during the day (like right now).

    One thing I’ve done, I’m not sure if this is the advice you’re looking for, but when I have free time after work and on the weekends, I read a ton of blogs and articles. Then I create Tweets and save them in a Word document. That way I feel as though I can still contribute valuable content throughout my work day without needing to take time off to do it! Also, I try to take 15 minutes at least once a day to reply to anyone who has @replied me on Twitter and to comment on blogs like this one.

    • September 21, 2009 11:13 am

      Rebecca- Thanks for commenting. I love your Word document tweeting idea and also noticed that you put together a blog post of your favorite articles/posts from the week in your DR. WHAW posts. So far, I’ve been able to find those 5-15 minutes between classes or on my off periods to tweet/comment, but I know that as the school year goes on, I’ll be even busier! Thanks again!


  9. September 21, 2009 9:29 am

    Great post, Tom! I agree with you…it’s hard to juggle work, life and social media!

    Luckily for me, my job is so intertwined with social media, that sometimes those two merge together. Granted, I can’t be on Twitter and blogging ALL day, but I can take a few minutes here and there to check my feeds and stay informed. In addition, it’s nice because my job is very flexible. I don’t really work the 9-5, but rather the 9-whenever the work is done. So basically as long as the work gets done, my boss is happy (sometimes the boyfriend is a little sad on days I have to work late tho lol). But I’m getting the hang of finding the balance 🙂

    • September 21, 2009 11:18 am

      Thanks, Nicole! I’m really jealous that your work involves social media and you can merge them together during work. The 9-whenever the work is done schedule definitely allows for quick social media checks, too. At my last internship, I had a similar situation and I was also assigned to explore and learn the social media landscape for potential implementation for clients. Keep on working on that balance! I think it’s something that’s continually changing.

      Thanks again,

  10. September 21, 2009 9:56 am

    Tom what a great post as I am sure a lot of 20-somethings are dealing with this right now. I’ve actually worked two jobs for the past year, a full time job with a PR agency and worked weekends at the Gap.

    I quickly learned this past summer that I had no life outside of work and rarely saw my friends. Which in the end took away from my production at work because I didn’t want to be there. I wanted me time.

    The answer to my problems was to have an honest talk with myself about priorities. Could I leave my part-time job and still pay my bills? How important was it to hang out with my friends or go to happy hour during the week instead of maybe bringing work home?

    What I personally found is during the week, I try to focus more on my work and keeping up on the social media. By doing so I realize that the new people I’ve connected with on social media, are actually my friends. The conversations we have via blogs, twitter, e-mail have become a sort of release from the day to day routine and a way to discuss the problems or concerns I have within the industry.

    As far as my social life, I make time for the people that make time for me. My friends understand that at the point in my life, I’ve got to make name for myself. That means putting in the extra time and even sometimes working on the weekends. But I value the time I put aside for my friends on the weekends. I often don’t bring my cell phone when I am with them to truly disconnect and enjoy myself.

    Again great post, Tom.

    • September 21, 2009 11:35 am

      Thanks, Christina. You bring up some important things in your comment regarding social life. Having that honest talk is key to finding a balance. What do you absolutely need to do professionally and financially to survive? What do you need to do socially to continue building your relationships outside the social media world (and stay sane, too)?

      Also, great point about the fact that the people you’ve connected with via social media are also your friends and a way to stay relaxed during the workday.

      Thanks again, Christina!


  11. Katie permalink
    September 21, 2009 10:02 am

    I hear ya, brother! 🙂

    Thanks for posting this! I struggle with the same problem and you are generating some *great* conversation on here!

    This is super helpful!!

  12. September 21, 2009 10:03 am

    I think I’ve been seeing a trend where people are biting off more than they can chew in the social media space…myself included. I feel horrible about how abandoned my google reader has been but, if I were to actually keep up with it, I don’t think I’d sleep, let alone have any personal time.

    Perhaps it comes down to creating an efficient system for finding the new content. Maybe we need to be more selective in who we subscribe to. It’s not something that we want to do, but it may be necessary if we’re going to create a sustainable balance in this space.


    • September 21, 2009 11:41 am

      Thanks for commenting, David. I’ve definitely bitten off a bit more than I can chew at times, too. It’s hard not to when you have loads of time over the summer or when it’s your job. My Google Reader also feels neglected at times and I make sure to read certain things that I find essential and skip over the rest. Perhaps a more selective and efficient process is in order for us to find a good balance. It’s definitely a work in progress. Thanks again!


    • September 21, 2009 11:47 am

      Best feeling ever? The triumph of erasing 1,000+ unread posts on Google Reader by just hitting the clear button. I stopped using it because I just check blogs I like automatically in the morning.

  13. September 21, 2009 10:19 am

    Social media is a great way to find out what other are saying, thinking and or behaving. I think its a blessing and a curse to have such instant reply technology. The benefits are numerous but what’s happening to family life? My college aged daughter seems to deem her blackberry an absolute necessity. She oftens texts me while in class to inform me of something pertinant and non pertinant whilst ‘mi marido’ is constantly on the computer so much that its almost sad to see someone so dependant on social media. At any rate, I haven’t seem him pick up a book or newspaper lately. As a journalist and on-air personality I find social media rewarding and beneficial to my work. Almost like its an addition to all the other ways that I network and I guess, in the work place. I think its a big plus to the workforce but a big minus to family life.

    • September 21, 2009 11:47 am

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. The excellent connectivity that we have today is definitely a double edged sword and that’s why I think it’s important to have a balance so as not to become consumed by it, but still be engaged in it. It is somewhat of a minus, as you say, to family life. Some of my family and friends are a bit hopeless when it comes to social media, but I’ve been able to get more and more of them involved (for example, my parents aren’t on Twitter, but they check my feed daily to get updates on what I’m doing or reading). In that sense, it’s helped, but when I’m home with them, I need to do a better job being just that, with them. Thanks again for a great comment,


  14. teresabasich permalink
    September 21, 2009 12:52 pm

    Woo, great question, Tom. I admit, I really dove into social media after I lost my job, as a means of developing relationships and engaging to create opportunities for myself. Now that I’m spending more time freelancing, there are a pile of projects I’m working on at any given time that pull me away from this space.

    This seems like such a general and somewhat elusive solution but…at some point you just have to draw a line for yourself. I struggle daily to quiet the thought that I’m missing out on great conversations or industry news, and I have to remind myself regularly of my priorities, but what’s most important are the commitments I’ve made.

    I’m still job searching (or, at least connecting with people in hopes of finding the next best gig) so I’m probably able engage more than you, but as my project load increases I, sadly, just cut my losses and remember what matters the most — my responsibilities to my family, friends, and clients.

    Honestly, one of the best ways to put this space in perspective is to take a short break from it. Maybe take a few days away, or even a week, and see how you feel while you’re gone and what happens when you come back. I did it and found I wasn’t missing as much as I’d thought, and those who really cared to keep in touch did.

    Hope that helps! I think we’re all in the same boat, so at least you’re in good company. 😉

    • September 21, 2009 1:10 pm

      Teresa- Thanks for coming by and commenting! Responsibility and priorities are the two most important things you bring up, IMO. What are we responsible for and what are our biggest priorities? We need to answer those questions to be able to strike the right balance. I like your idea to take a short (or long) break from the social media space. I have done it before during vacations, weekends, and heavy work periods, but never in the way you suggest. I may need to try it! For the time-being, I think I’ll join your company and do what I can, when I can!

      Thanks again,


  15. September 21, 2009 1:25 pm

    Hi Tom- let me start off by thanking you for making this post. I graduated in May with my BA and started my full time job three days later. Now I’ve added a full time grad school schedule and freelance work to my 40 hours of “regular” work. It’s overwhelming sometimes and I have often wondered if I’m inadequate at multitasking if I feel inundated, but to see so many other over-achievers feeling the same makes me feel a heck of a lot better! Thanks for this morale-boosting post!

    I’m just finding my balance between all of my various activities, and like others have mentioned I don’t have a lot of free time to spend with my boyfriend, friends, or even my cat — which is kind of sad; however I did make sure to pencil in all of Saturday afternoon to spend with my boyfriend until his “important” football games came on- then I escaped away for a few hours to do some work/social networking.

    My advice is like the others: make sure you find a good balance and also be sure to make time for the important people in your life that have nothing to do with work. The best way to do this is to figure out what their schedules are and see where you can move things around in your schedule to fit in that time.

    It’s easy to think that because you’re the busier person they should work around you, but this mentality is likely to backfire when they feel you’re “too busy” for them or “ignoring them” for work. Make them a priority, after all– they ARE the priority!

    • September 21, 2009 2:44 pm


      Glad my post was a morale-booster for you! I definitely feel overwhelmed sometimes, and, as these comments prove, we’re not the only ones feeling that way trying to balance life, work, and social media. Most importantly, we’ve got to find what works for US, but also keep in mind that others are just as, if not more, busy than we are in many cases. Luckily, I’ve been able to keep to your advice to make those that matter most the priority. For instance, although I love #journchat, it doesn’t work into my schedule very often anymore and generally skip it to spend some downtime with friends or family.

      Thanks for commenting and I’m looking forward to talking more via Twitter!


  16. September 21, 2009 2:32 pm

    Great post, Tom.

    To echo the thoughts of the previous commenters, this is a topic that I as a young PR professional can definitely relate to. Recently, I’ve been trying out some new tactics to (hopefully) help me more effectively manage my time between work, SM, and family/home. This includes setting aside specific time during the day dedicated to checking SM sites and commenting on blogs, organizing/prioritizing the information coming in, and making sure to have time that is dedicated solely to family/friends. Thanks again for a great post that has generated some very relevant and very useful conversation!


    • September 21, 2009 2:52 pm

      Thanks Molly! Being conscious of where and how you spend time is essential for finding a balance and setting time aside for specific things is a great way to do that! I’m really glad that you found value in the conversation here! Thanks again,


  17. Sarah Weddle permalink
    September 21, 2009 2:35 pm


    I, of course, love your blog post. Good work!

  18. September 22, 2009 5:06 am

    really interesting and well written article.

  19. September 22, 2009 7:53 am

    I find myself wondering exactly the same thoughts that were posted in both the blog and comments alike. How am I supposed to find the time to socialize, network, blog, and maybe even relax or eat dinner once in a while?! And with any luck, I’ll be starting grad school in January… Meaning I’ll have even less time for my social networking.

    The answer that I’ve come to know is, I make time. I have a Blackberry and a 25 minute commute, so that’s when I get some of my best tweeting and commenting done. And the thing is, I absolutely love social media. It fascinates me, so I like making the time and making the ‘sacrifice.’ No other generation before us has been faced with the reality that work is no longer 9-5. And another thing that helps is setting up Tweets to post when you might be away from your computer, like through Hootsuite or Cotweet, or any of those platforms.

    • September 22, 2009 11:20 am

      Catherine- thanks for commenting. The thing I like about your comment is how you mention that you love social media and that it fascinates you. It’s something you enjoy and therefore, you make time for it and it’s not really a “sacrifice” necessarily because of that. The only thing I would caution against, personally, is tweeting when you’re away from the computer. In that case, you aren’t around to answer questions or further the conversation that comes as a result of your tweet. But, again, you must do what’s right for you in the social media space. Good comment. Thanks again for stopping by!



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