Overwhelmed by social media? Here's how to tame the clutter.

This past weekend, I went to the 2010 USA Science & Engineering Festival on the National Mall. My husband and I were really excited to see some props from TRON: Legacy on display, as well as a large Transformers replica.

We were somewhat surprised to find that the fair was enormous, with dozens of booths and appearances by Bill Nye the Science Guy and various authors and scientists. We could learn about the Large Hadron Collider, get bones painted on our hands to learn about anatomy, learn how to make slime, and more.

Naturally, the festival drew a lot of attendees, particularly families; so many, in fact, that it was nearly impossible to actually get close to any of the exhibits. And despite the location information provided on the website, we never did find the Transformer, which was disappointing. Even though we had fun (and the TRON props, like the Light Cycle below, were particularly awesome to see), we were also overwhelmed by the sheer mass of the crowd and frustrated by our inability to find what we were seeking.

Light Cycle

Light Cycle

Social media can feel similarly overwhelming and overstimulating. There's just so much to see and so much to keep track of, and a lot of noise standing between you and helpful nuggets of information. A common complaint I hear from people reluctant to engage in social media is that there's too much static, and they don't have time to weed through it all.

Luckily, there are lots of tools available to help you find what you need and cut through the clutter.

On my Twitter account, for example, I follow over 1,000 people, some of whom tweet dozens of times a day. There's no way I can keep up with all that, and I value some people's posts more than others'. So I make frequent use of Twitter Lists. This allows me to segment people I follow and read tweets from a smaller select group of people as opposed to everybody I follow. For example, I have a list of close friends, a list of comedians and a list of people who post coupon codes and deal alerts. I can peruse tweets from people in those lists whenever I have time.

Meanwhile, on Facebook, I'm able to hide people from my News Feed who aren't posting content I find interesting or valuable. This keeps my News Feed less cluttered. You can similarly hide updates from pages you have "liked" but from whom you don't want to receive regular updates.

When you're first diving into social media, don't be afraid to follow new people because you risk becoming overwhelmed. Just keep some lists and prune your news feed when you've hit your breaking point.