Many business owners and marketing professionals respond to the social media buzz with what Olivier Blanchard calls the “Social Media Terror Syndrome“—a wait and see approach.  The next barrier is often a lack of time.  And the focus becomes “how do I avoid the social media time suck?

Here are 7 steps to help you overcome the time dilemma.

1. Set One Specific Social Media Objective

One of the reasons why people waste time on social media is because their objectives are:

  • Not clearly linked to their business strategy
  • Inappropriate for the environment of social media

Don’t be surprised if you find you need to participate in social media for a little while before you find the right way to use it for your business objectives.  Take the time to observe your audience and learn how to connect with them on social media.

Read the Social Media Marketing Report to understand how other marketers are using social media.

Return on time investment: Before you see any return on your time investment in social media, you need know what your business can get out of it.

Don’t jump into social media with both feet and no business objective. Develop your social media presence with one clearly defined business objective in mind.

2. Find the Right Social Media Strategy for Your Business

This is what Mari Smith, the Pied Piper of Facebook, says: “The main reason people fail in social media is lack of a strategy. There’s so much confusing and conflicting advice out there, it’s easy to get lost in the social media jungle. By having a clear objective, developing a strategy to accomplish that objective, and measuring milestones along the way, you’re bound to have better results.”

  • What can you say on social media that would interest your audience?
  • How should you say it?
  • Where should you say it?

Many businesses choose to use a blog as their central social media hub.  A pivotal role is played by what Authority Blogger Chris Garrett calls Flagship Content. The truth is that your social media strategy needs to be tailored to the particular message you want to convey to your audience.

Return on time investment: When you include a clear objective in the social media strategy most appropriate for your business, it boosts your overall marketing strategy.

Don’t waste time using other people’s social media tactics. Find a social media strategy that connects your business to your audience.

3. Make Your Presence Social

Once you have defined your social media strategy, the process does not end there.  It will only work if your presence is truly social and, as Rebecca Leaman says, you need to also “focus on being good online neighbors.”

A good resource to find out how to connect with your audience is Groundswell. And for ideas in creating the valuable content your business needs on social media, Jay Baer gives 7 steps to get your message right.

Return on time investment: The right message aligned with your business objective in a social media marketing strategy can save your business time spent elsewhere on sales and marketing. 

Don’t waste time sending inappropriate messages. Find the right message for your business and, above all, be social.

4. Stay Focused on Your Business Strategy

Social media can be a particularly dangerous time waster because:

  • It is a social environment.
  • Businesses need to create a social presence and it can be hard to find the balance between business and social.

Don’t fall into traps when adapting your marketing to social media. As Chris Brogan says, the question of friending and reputation “is difficult in the face-to-face world, but it’s even harder online.”

Return on time investment: Social media marketing creates stronger relationships with the people in your market.  You can use it to build trust and loyalty with more people and in less time than with most other marketing tactics.

Don’t waste time by getting sidetracked. Adapt social media to work for your business.

5. Adopt Social Media One Step at a Time

Amber Naslund says trying to be everywhere on social media is a big time waster. Social media is made up of numerous different places where people hang out, and these places all have different environments.  You cannot try to be everywhere all at once and know how to act and what to say.  You need to take things slowly:

  • Research to find out where your business should be present.
  • Observe and learn what to say.
  • Listen and learn how to adapt to each different site.

Be sure to add your own social touch to all of your social media communication. Have a look at Chris Brogan’s social media task suggestions.  Look at them closely and you will see how these tasks add extra value to his marketing strategy as a whole.

Return on time investment: When you choose your actions wisely and add some social juice to them, they can give you back much more than you put in.

Don’t try to jump into all social media platforms at once. Find the social media sites that work best for your business.

6. Get Extra Mileage Out of Your Social Media Marketing

Many businesses look at what the social media “stars” are doing and think they would never have the time to do the same thing.  Here is the scoop: You need to get into social media before you can fully understand how your time spent can multiply in value.

Once you get your basic social media presence up and running, something very interesting happens.  You begin to see little things to do to get a much wider presence on social media.

Return on time investment: The good news is that you can get extra mileage out of your daily social media actions as soon as you begin.  One of the very first things you need to do when you begin marketing using social media is to set up professional listening activities.  The time you spend on this aspect alone usually adds much more value to your overall sales and marketing activities than you can imagine.

Don’t waste opportunities for more visibility and buzz. Adopt the social attitude.

7. Avoid Social Media’s Fatal Attraction: The Shiny Bells and Whistles

The truth is that there is a lot of movement in the social media arena.  New social media tools, applications and platforms hit the news every week.  And you just do not know who the key players will be this time next year.  It’s natural for businesses to hesitate in investing time in such a climate.

Return on time investment:  The key is to focus on developing social skills and to integrate these into your marketing strategy.  This is how you can spend your time wisely and be well-prepared as:

  • Marketing becomes social
  • Media habits change

Don’t focus on the social media tools. Focus on developing the social skills you need for your business to create a strong social presence.

Use Social Media to Add Extra Value to Your Current Marketing Strategy

Social media helps businesses to create stronger relationships with their clients; for instance, by creating trust agents.  This trust factor can be so powerful it removes the question of time investment.

Social media marketing can save your business time when it is included within your overall marketing plan.  When you add the ability to build trust, social media becomes a powerful marketing tactic not to be ignored.

These are just some examples of how to integrate social media into an overall marketing strategy to save businesses time.  What other tips do you have? Please share them in the comment section below.

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  • Thank you for this outstanding post! Whenever I speak about social media, I get the question – what’s the ROI? The best response I’ve heard so far is another question – “what’s the ROI of passing out business cards?” No one asks that question! YOur points that you have to get into social media to figure out how it can be valuable to your business and that you must, must, must go back to your business goals are just excellent. Thank you!

  • #7. Avoid Social Media’s Fatal Attraction: The Shiny Bells and Whistles kind of makes me laugh. All too often I see people in business (big and small) that get lost in that one ‘really cool thing’ that may or may not have a value, but it sure does have a time related cost.

  • Thanks Katie. I really think a clear vision of your goals… and revisiting them – are vital. As well as regular audits to see whether how you spend your time is relevant to your goals

    Time and time again when I listen to people struggle with social media, I hear the lack of clear goals. I think I was lucky Adobe Air & Tweetdeck did not work on my computer – it made me focus on my own goals 🙂

  • I think a lot of companies need to focus on point 3. If you only ever treat the systems as a way of pushing adverts, you’ll likely lose a significant section of your potential customers/partners.

  • Great post. Thanks for including me. I’m bookmarking this one to refer to clients and conference attendees. Excellent synopsis Cindy.

  • What I really agree with and what has been beneficial for us is the approach of stepping into it one step at a time. I see so many others who try to do it all, and end up doing them all poorly. Listening and learning & then contributing to one of them is essential prior to starting on the next social media endeavor.

    Great Post

  • Great post! This ties in well with other conversations I was having just today about social media.

  • Julia Kinslow

    Execellent post, Cindy. I really like the part you mentioned about not focusing on the tools:

    “Don’t focus on the social media tools. Focus on developing the social skills you need for your business to create a strong social presence.”

    This is an important point. When I am developing social media strategy, tactics are part of it. Tactics are necessary steps, but I was concerned about recommending tools that may be obsolete in a year (or will start to cost money). So, this statement alone made me rethink my focus to creating an overall strong soical media presence, and the tools that change over time will only complement it.

  • Thank you for such a timely post! I’m often asked this question by my clients and I’ve not had nearly as succinct response as your post above. The additional reading material you noted is also very helpful.

    Something I stress is consistency. Regardless of where you start, or on what platform, being there consistently and being social is important. Your advice of not trying to be everywhere – invaluable.

  • An excellent post. I agree with Chris on #3. A tremendous time sink that I see over and over again are companies not understanding the medium. They view social media as another avenue to jam promotional material down the throats of our community members. They simply do not take the time to learn about each medium and the people within. They shout before listening. For communities that have strict anti-spam policies (like ours), playing clean-up becomes our own time sink.

    David /

  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much for this excellent article. I am beginning work with a company which is fairly new in social media and has many questions. Thanks so much for giving me a starting point on where to point them and help them learn. I also agree the additional reading material was also very helpful.

  • Thanks for the wonderful information. I am always looking for interesting information in regards to social media to pass along to small businesses I work for. Often time businesses I have consulted with are so overwhelmed, I often tell them to start with one social media tool, learn it and do it well then learn a new tool and gradually build.

  • Cindy this is a very practical list that is any small business could understand and follow.

  • Hi Chris, I have to say this was the hardest part for me.

    This reminds me of when I was learning German: my ears were incapable of hearing the difference between the 2 words “schön” and “schon” no matter how hard I tried. It took me 6 months to hear it, and I only got it when someone told me the vowel sounds were similar to the French words “jeune” and “jaune”. I had been concentrating so hard in trying to pick up the sound for this little “¨” that my ears were blocked. Embarrassing!

    I went through similar experience in understanding what being “social” was on social media. Luckily I found the right mentor , who knew how to use the right words to get through to me. And I found a small group of friendly people who would take the time to tell me “What you did was good, but you would have been more engaging and provided more value by doing this”.

  • Hey Jay, just giving back a tiny portion of what I picked up from you 🙂

  • I personally feel you will be able to get value of any of the tools if you have the social skills.

    But you know what, the marketer in me also needs to keep tab on what the tools are offering and there are so many of them! There’s a balance to be found somewhere.

  • You make some great points David. 🙂

  • Cindy, I really like your idea about adopting social media one step at a time. I think people sometimes feel they have to do it all–and that they have to do it all at once. Trying to do everything all at once is definitely a recipe for disaster. Thanks for offering a sane approach.

  • Hi Saundra,

    I hear people say that rushing out and creating lots of social media profiles without taking the time to develop a presence on each social media platform is a wasted effort. I also hear others say you should go out and create as many profiles out there as you can.

    Although I do understand the wisdom in securing your preferred user name on different platforms, when developing different platforms I tend to take a more business focused approach.

    Not many businesses would open up different stores in different markets all at once, would they? There are questions of resources and risk.

  • Cindy,
    Great article that explains the need for a strategic social media business strategy. Coming from a retail background, I love your analogy to opening multiple stores in different markets. It is important to transfer our bricks and mortar thinking to online marketing.
    I am tweeting and bookmarking this article for reference.

  • Social media marketing should save your business time, but there are a lot of people that just get too much into one thing and waste time, which is sad when you thin of it. You have to make a plan and stick to it – don’t let SM swallow your life.

  • Name

    Great article, Cindy! And so many fantastic links too… I’m referencing this in a blog entry (and going to review my own strategy — it could use a little “freshening up).

  • Surprising how many people jump in without having a strategy, and then complain that it’s a “time waster.” How are you going to know if it’s successful if you don’t know what you want out of it? I’m spending a lot of time educating my clients about how to develop their strategy. I shared this with my followers @lkinoshita

  • From an organizational and business point of view these tips make perfect sense.

    From a personal point of view, the quality of one’s life is equal to the value one ascribes to ones own time, so I never see a time sink where social media provides an avenue for personal exploration and when it is an enjoyable discovery.

    Money is important but the value of the online space as a thinking space fits neatly with the extension view of Marshall McLuhan – that we personally understand our social media is an extension of our nervous system.

    I am typing my thoughts here because I love exploring possibilities within DISQUS but on the way picking up a few entrepreneurial reminders is a worthy bonus, so this is also a visit of appreciation.


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