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 requests...it 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.
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.
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