Here's the problem with social media: it takes a lot of time. There are only so many hours in the day and if you're a small business owner, you need to spend most of them working. The challenge for any small business owner when it comes to social media is figuring out how to leverage it without letting it destroy your productivity. That's why it's essential to stop worrying so much about missing something and start focusing more on using what works for you.

My primary job is to write about search engine and online marketing here on Search Engine Guide. While I do work on my own projects and take on the occasional client, the priority of my work day is to learn about and write about the various ways you can market your business online. That means I'm paid to spend time on social media sites, blogging sites, search engines and the like. Nonetheless, I often find myself wondering if my time is being well spent with these types of sites and tools.

On an average day, I skim through roughly 400-500 RSS feeds. I have active accounts at four or five major social networks. I run three blogs. My instant messenger program generally has five to six conversations windows running throughout the day. All in all, I spend anywhere from 4-6 hours a day using or talking about social media and Web 2.0 tools and another 2-3 hours a day writing.

Social media is an amazing source of information; social media is also a massive time sink.

Rob over at Business Pundit writes about this today in a satirical post titled "My Biggest Regret of 2007: I Wish I Spent More Time On Facebook."

With all this talk about the social media revolution and how great it all is, I can't help but wonder if it's what we really want. Does Facebook really help us achieve our long-term goals? Or is it really just taking advantage of our short-term reward systems and sucking us down a path of wasted time? I'm not saying you should work on your goals 24/7 and never relax, I'm just guess that most of you have be sucked into social media for longer than you intended.

I asked myself two tough questions at the beginning of this year:

1. How many pieces of information did I receive from blogs, aggregators, news sites, etc, in 2007 that, if I had not received them until the next day, I would have been much much worse off?

2. How many pieces of information did I receive that, if I had never received them at all, I would have been worse off?

Rob makes a great point.

It's hard in this day and age not to focus on what we might be missing if we aren't following every conversation. Unfortunately, following every conversation rarely puts us ahead in terms of knowledge though it certainly puts us behind in terms of time.

Out of that 4-6 hours I spend reading each day, I might find two to three topics worth writing about. I have to wonder if I might not find the same amount of topics with less reading. Or perhaps the same amount of topics with less reading, but more thinking.

Thus, I'm joining Rob in my plans to scale back on the social media this year. That doesn't mean I'll be shutting down my Facebook account or ignoring my LinkedIn simply means I'll be a lot more picky about what gets my continued attention.

I'll be spending less time on most social networks and a bit more time on the few I've found real value in. I'll be weeding out my feed reader as well. After all, if I haven't found something worth linking to in six months on a blog, I probably don't need to follow it any more.

I'll still be testing new options. In fact, I'm playing around with Twitter right now to try and learn a little more about the pros and cons and practical applications of it. Once I've had a test run though, I'll only continue using it if I've found real value.

I wonder how many of you are doing the same this year. After all, if I find myself bogged down in information and conversation when it's my JOB to follow it, I have to think many small business owners find themselves asking if they're wasting valuable work time trying to figure out how all of these sites work and when they might be a good way to boost business.

2008 might be the year that "because it offers value" replaces "because I can" as the reason to spend time on social media sites. Last year was an exciting time to jump in with both feet and explore, but as the medium matures, it's becoming time to stop stressing over missing out on the next hot spot and start focusing on spending your time on the sites that help advance your business.

January 8, 2008

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


A byproduct of spending so much time on social media is to begin believing that the tools are more important than they really are. A social media junkie begins believing that Facebook is the answer to all the marketing questions, or that every person should be twittering.

In reality most normal people cannot devote 4-6 hours per day on social media. I would venture to say that half the population has no clue as to the meaning of the term "social media." And these are the people to whom we are supposedly marketing.

So true!

I mean clearly I have to spend far more time than average on these things to be able to write about them in a way that makes sense to small business owners, but I sometimes find myself amazed at how easily everyone gets so wrapped up in it.

That said, I was talking to my mother this morning and mentioned Twitter and then said "oh wait, you don't know what that is" to which she replied "oh yes I do!."

LOL. I'll probably run a search later and find out she's been tweeting for weeks.

That said, I think 2008 will really see people looking past the "MUST TRY EVERYTHING" mentality and into the "let's utilize what works" mentality. That's the change that will really push social media into maturity and help separate the hype from the things with real value.

I also feel like I am not sure where I should focus my attention. I tried Twitter and could not really figure out the big deal. I thought it was way too much trouble than it is worth. I love SU and find it has so much value both for info and for attracting readers to my site. Also the demographic is much older, in mid 30's which works for me. I have just deleted my Facebook account completely, and MySpace went out about 4 months ago. Still I am looking for new ways to utilize social media, looking forward to hear your results. Veronica

Veronica, I'm with you. Some of the sites people gush over make sense to me. Others leave me scratching my head going "really? you think it's THAT great?"

I'm playing with Twitter this month with plans to do some writing about it. I see some uses for it, but so far, I'm not even remotely convinced this is going to be a life-changing application, especially not in terms of marketing a small business.

We'll see though. It took me a year to really start to get the full value of LinkedIn, so maybe Twitter or Facebook or some of the other sites will win me over eventually.

"There are only so many hours in the day and if you're a small business owner, you need to spend most of them working. "

The problem here is that people who aren't sold on social marketing are making such a distinction between "work" and "social marketing" as if the two are exclusive.

There is such a thing as professional social marketing and I used it to completely replace a lot of what you are referring to as work.

If social marketing is done properly, and treated as a serious marketing plan and not just a thing we do for fun when all our "real" work is done, it completely surpasses the results gained from tradition marketing online of every kind.

In a business setting, this issue can freeze up an entire company. Marketing has one solution for an issue, engineering another. Facebook and Twitter are alive with comments about the same issue. beRelevant is designed to sort out and prioritize this massive amount of information and deliver a handful of actionable ideas in priority order. We do it by harnessing the power of customers who do most of the heavy lifting. It's a huge problem for all businesses, large and small. Thank you for highlighting the issue. Randy

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Avoiding Information and Conversation Overload from Social Media