While millions of people and tens of thousands of businesses have flocked to Twitter over the past few years, many companies are still standing in the doorway wondering if they should step inside. Their biggest concern? How much time will they spend and how much benefit will they reap.

After all, if you talk to anyone who has invested heavily in Twitter, they'll tell you just how much time it can take. It's easy to get sucked into the conversation and it's not uncommon to log in, then glance at the clock a few moments later only to learn hours have passed.

With that in mind, it's important to establish a realistic timeline for yourself to make sure you're only spending the time you need. If you're just getting started, here's a quick five step timeline to give you something to work with.

The idea here is to spend a bit of time at each stage before moving on to the next. Keep in mind, the minutes per day is total, not per activity. This timeline is designed for your average do-it-yourself small business owner who is looking to put a bit of extra effort into social media to see if there are any returns. Ultimately, you shouldn't be spending more than an hour a day on Twitter, unless it's one of your primary marketing channels or you've got a staff dedicated to your outreach efforts there.

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Breaking Down the Timelines

If you're just starting out, you'll want to spend more time in the earlier stages of the scale before you move ahead. If you've been using Twitter for awhile and are simply looking to get your timelines under control, then consider moving quickly through the early stages and focusing on breaking your Twitter time into more manageable chunks with specific goals attached.

Stage One: 15 Minutes per day
Primary Goal: Following

In the early stages, you don't need to spend more than 15 minutes a day on Twitter. Run some searches based on keywords and geographical searches and find a few new people to follow. Many of these will follow you back, giving you a starting point of followers to work from.

Stage Two: 20 Minutes per day
Primary Goal: Listening

Once you've found a few hundred people to follow, increase your time to about 20 minutes per day, most of which you should spend scanning the postings of the people you follow and running keyword specific searches for topics related to your business. The idea here is to find out what people are saying so you can begin to prepare a strategy that appeals to them.

Stage Two: 30 Minutes per day
Primary Goal: Offering

After a week or two, you should have a feel for Twitter and what your followers and the community are interested in. This is when it's time to start investing a half an hour in the morning or afternoon. You should still spend most of this time listening, but you can also start to share links to blog posts you're reading or resources you're finding.

Aim to start by sharing a handful of links with your followers each day. For a stronger impact, make use of a Twitter scheduler like the one built into HootSuite to share your links over the course of the day instead of one solid chunk.

Stage Two: 45 Minutes per day
Primary Goal: Sharing

After another week or so has passed, kick it up to 45 minutes. At this point, you may want to break it into three 15 minute chunks a day instead of trying to invest all your time at once. Check for direct replies at least twice a day and respond to any of them that require attention.

Keep finding people to follow, running your searches and sharing resources, but kick it up a notch and start offering more thoughts and opinions on things or news about your business as well. Continue to make use of a Twitter scheduler to allow your thoughts to be broadcast throughout the day instead of in one solid chunk. This will allow you to reach more followers by targeting different times of the day.

Stage Two: 60 Minutes per day
Primary Goal: Engage

Unless Twitter is the absolute core of your marketing strategy, you're likely going to top out at a maximum of around an hour a day. At this point, you're going to do everything you've already been doing, but you're going to add in the goal of being more engaging. This is where you want to start communicating directly to other Twitter members. Offer feedback on their thoughts; thank them for their links...whatever it takes to get them engaged.

Consider checking in for around twenty minutes in the morning, afternoon and evening and make use of the Twitter schedulers to sprinkle your posts throughout the day when you're feeling kind of wordy or have a lot of links to share.

Keep in mind, it's likely not realistic for you to spend an hour per day on Twitter unless Twitter becomes a core part of your marketing strategy. That's ok. Think of these stages as a guideline to expanding your presence and track the results of your effort to determine how much time you can justify spending on the site.






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.





Comments(10)

After 10 weeks of doing Twitter in a meaningful way, I still feel like a newbie. However, I'm a newbie with a following, a newbie on others' meaningful lists, a newbie who knows certain people by name, and a newbie with personal email addresses that have been offered for those "I-need-more-than-140-characters" times.

Jennifer, you're the pro so I'd love your input. It seems like the feedback I get speaks loudly that they like that I don't automate anything. I have shortcuts I use, but I mostly do just what you're speaking of.

Do you think I'm pandering to a niche of Twitter snobs (myself included!) that I don't automate anything? Or do you think that my "slow and steady wins the race" is another way to working it.

This article is very timely as we had a meeting yesterday trying to decide exactly how long we will spend on our Twitter account when we have it up and running. I'll definitely forward this to my Sales and Marketing Manager to discuss in our next meeting.

This is a great intro for beginners. I plan to share it with others. Please note, that after "stage one", you repeat "stage two" instead of "stage three", "four", etc.

I'm one of the guilty ones for getting sucked into hours of twitter.... I'm a newbie at it too, and I know I have to add structure to my twitter time instead of being washed out into the twitter sea every day - thanks for giving me a framework to make my approach more professional

Great Post. About a couple weeks ago I began using Twitter. I followed and now I'm in the listening step. Its is very easy to spend alot of time on Twitter reading everyone's tweets.

Thank you for some structure! :)

I was assigned an hour for Twitter about 2-3 times a week. And I always did not know how to make use of the time. I've also felt that one hour was a bit too much. Now I have a structure to follow so I guess my time on Twitter is going to be more effective now on.

The thing about all social media out there is that sometimes it can produce less than you expected. If you just follow everybody and they follow you back but none of them ever visit your site it was basically a useless exercise. The key is to have a Twitter account that actually ads value to the internet and not just spammy advertising.

Excellent article.
I am one of those that do not spend time on Twitter every day and I'm not sure that I can block out an hour every day to engage. I'm sure if I did, I would probably draw more readers to my columns. I do make an effort to be on there more.

I would love to see an article on how to engage in social networking with limited time.

Sounds like good advise, but didn't seem to me that you answered the question that I was really interested in hearing about "how much benefit will they reap." Does Twittering translate into sales?

I am using twitter for over a year now and i really like it. I have to admit i spend too much time on it..

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Getting Started on Twitter with a Realistic Timeline