I love being inspired by other people’s blog posts. Speaking of inspirational, have you met Jon Swanson? I’ve been a fan of Jon’s for well over a year. His blog, Levite Chronicles, is one of the first blogs I go to every morning. Jon blogs about life, faith, family, work, new media…really, a bit of everything. What I love about Jon is how he so thoughtfully and carefully crafts each post, in a way that leaves you with a sense of clarity and plenty to ponder.

This morning, he wrote a wonderful post called “Accumulate or Collect”. It’s required reading for my post so go read it now. I’ll wait.

Great, you’re back.

Jon describes his enjoyment of coffee (we are kindred spirits that way) and the many coffee mugs he has as a result. Despite having vast quantities of mugs adorning the shelves of his office, he considers himself an “accumulator” of mugs as opposed to a “collector”. He goes on to cleverly point out that a collector “has discernment”, whereas an accumulator has none. Collectors are meticulous about what they collect, how they categorize and label things, and how they track the value of their collections.

My brother collects coins. It’s obvious that it’s a collection because it’s all perfectly labelled, organized and tracked. He knows what he has and how much it’s worth to him. In other words, he isn’t just accumulating a random pile of coins on a shelf in his office.

photoAccumulators, on the other hand, may like the things they have accumulated very much, but they don’t necessarily have a rhyme or reason for it. Jon accumulates coffee mugs. I accumulate fridge magnets. I don’t really care where they come from, as long as I get them while I’m visiting a place, or they are given to me by someone who has been there. They aren’t labelled, they are just stuck on my fridge, willy nilly. They are an accumulation.

Jon’s article teaches a great lesson about how we deal with the information that comes at us. We can just accumulate all this stuff in our heads, and not really put much thought into it, or, we can start to really collect that information – meaning sort it, discern it, get rid of what doesn’t work, make use of what does.

And that brings me, naturally, to social media.

Followers, followees, friends and fans. Anyone who is in to social media has some combination of all of these. It’s the foundation of this vast online community we’re in, for without that two-way connection none of this would be effective.

Have you ever really sat down to think if your base of connections is a collection or an accumulation? If you put it in context of Jon’s definitions, then an “accumulation” of connections is just that. It’s not thought out, not categorized. It’s just a whole lot of numbers. If your goal on any of the social media tools is to just have the most friends or followers on your list, then you’re missing the point. If you are simply accumulating numbers, then you aren’t making real connections. If you are sitting around, tracking (and caring) if your numbers are growing steadily or if you are in steep decline, then you are missing the point. If you are complaining to every person that unfollows you, you are missing the point.

Collections are what it’s all about. I can pretty well categorize my social media connections. I have business connections, friendship connections, people I just joke around with, people who I am fans of, and people who I learn from. I have categories for subjects, too. There are people I talk to about music, entrepreneurship, books, tech gadgets, video, or pets. Do people fall into more than one category? To be sure! I suppose, if I wanted to get really fancy about it, I could map my connections, see how it’s all linked.

What’s important with a collection is that even though each item in the collection may have a different purpose, they must all do one thing – provide value. If I collect postage stamps, I’m not going to have a big pack of regular stamps that you put on a letter in my collection. They are noise to my collection. I am going to seek out the unique, interesting stamps though. The ones with stories. The ones with something to contribute to my collection.

My networks are the same way. If I follow or friend someone who only contributes noise to my conversations, then I don’t find value there. It’s nothing personal. I may not see the value, simply because the content of that person’s stream is not aligned with my interests. Someone else may find tremendous value in the same person.

The people I welcome into my network are the ones that are providing me with something unique, interesting, entertaining, and valuable. To me. It doesn’t mean it has to be valuable to you. It’s my collection. The beauty of collections, because they are meticulously put together the way you want them to be, is they become uniquely your own.

So, to accumulate or collect? It’s a provocative question. Look around your network. Is your collection something you’d be proud to show off? But more importantly, is your collection providing you with value?