its in the way that you use itA few years ago I joined two different Facebook groups that serve as a forum for parents of college kids (or soon-to-be college kids). One is a general group, and the other is specific to my kid’s school. I find one particularly helpful and the other, well, not so much.

You wouldn’t believe how many perfect kids are in the one group, how many secrets are shared  under the guise of privacy (in this growing group of more than one hundred thousand members), and how much judgement erupts on any side of an issue when the poster describes a situation or–heaven help us–asks for advice. I rarely participate, but neither can I seem to disconnect from it. Very occasionally have I gleaned useful information, but even then it was about an issue unrelated to the central focus of the group. Mostly I turn away from my screen shaking my head; I don’t want to add my two cents because it just adds to the confusion.

Posts in the other group typically revolve around logistics questions, advice, and useful information. How does the move-in process work? Where can I order a birthday cake to be delivered to my kid? What’s the best service to use for summer shipping/storage? I’ll be on campus next weekend for a visit–does anyone want to connect?  It’s not ALL business, but neither is it weighed down by too much “other stuff.” It’s useful, and I’m happy to contribute when I have information I think others could use.

So what’s the difference? We’re using the same social media tool for both, but one group is much better than the other. (Note: I’ll admit that LOTS of people seem to love the group I find less useful. When I say one is better than the other, that is completely MY opinion. It’s better for ME.)

The answer is simple: it’s in the way that you use it. [Cue Eric Clapton.] One group is so big that it arguably loses the value of specificity. Comments on a single post often run in the thousands; how do you find the nugget of critical info in that? Who has the time, especially when there are hundreds if not thousands of posts per day? The parameters for this group are pretty broad, too. If you can make a general connection to the purpose, any topic is fair game. e.g. I’m the mom of a college kid and I have a bunion. What should I do about it? Oh, you have a college kid? Go ahead and ask that question here, no matter that it doesn’t have one whit to do with your kid or college! The group is too big and amorphous. It’s losing sight of its original purpose.

The other group is limited to parents with kids in this particular institution, so all our questions and posts revolve around a specific, common interest. There is certainly a broad range of topics within it, but the lines back to the original purpose remain pretty clear. People stay on track, and we all appreciate the camaraderie. I think you’ve already surmised that I find this group infinitely more valuable than the other.

The broader lesson here? Define your purpose and stick to it. You dilute your usefulness when you let yourself get pulled in too many directions. Any tool just serves as a medium. How you use it defines its value. 

PS–I finally ditched the less useful group about a year ago. Stay tuned for a future post about the reason.