Lack of time for social media is a challenge we hear almost as much as fear of social media, which we talked about last week. Budgeting time for new media is one of the biggest challenges an organization or an individual faces when beginning to think about adopting these new communications channels. Most people aren’t sitting around right now with a lack of things to do. Trying to shoehorn in one more thing can feel like an overwhelming task.
What’s worse, social media are a brand-new set of tools that we have very little experience working with. We don’t have much in the way of benchmarks or standards by which to gauge what we might recoup from our efforts or what we might lose by not acting at all, so much so that we saw one recent blog post asking, “Is Encouraging Businesses To Use Social Media Unethical?”
Jumping headlong into social media without an inkling of what you’re doing definitely isn’t the answer. Try, though, to imagine yourself saying, “I can’t make time to answer or return calls from current or potential clients. I’m too busy to answer their letters. My store is too crowded for them; they should just go somewhere else because we’re too absorbed at the moment to look into ways to serve them.” As one of our friends (a librarian) wrote on Twitter following a bout of system outages, “I’m sorry. The library is over capacity. You will have to leave.” It’s absurd when you look at it that way, and if you have clients or potential clients who use social media (and chances are increasingly great that you do–whether it’s to buy things or to get customer service afterward), then you have no choice but to sort it out and prepare a response.
Let no one lie to you: Executing on social media is hard. It can’t be faked. It’s time consuming. That’s a big part of what makes it so valuable, and valuable directly in proportion to how genuine it is, whether it’s unique, whether only you, working like a dog, could make it happen. Things are valuable when they’re hard to come by. It’s a basic management challenge, the same way that you must make time to pay taxes, provide performance reviews for employees, answer phones, practice fire drills and any of a thousand other tasks that didn’t use to be things businesses or organizations had to do. Times change. You can roll with that or get rolled over by it.
Here’s a guarantee: In 20 or 30 years, we’ll look back on this as a quaint, slightly funny time in which we struggled to figure out things that will by then be patently obvious. That’s what we always do as people; what begins as bewildering novelty becomes commonplace assumption. So let’s see if we can get there a little sooner by taking a look at ways to minimize the work required and maximize the return on your efforts in social media.
First, know what you’re trying to do. This can’t be stressed enough. I will give you an axiom. Argue with it if you’d like–it would be a fun discussion. Here it is: If you are clear about your strategy and your goals, you cannot waste time. You won’t be able to. Turn it around; it works just as well: If you’re wasting time, then you are not clear about your strategy and your goals. How else can you measure what’s “effective” or “worthwhile”? By definition, wasted time is time in which you accomplished nothing or accomplished something besides what you wanted to.
People race past this step, because it’s extremely difficult and because it requires a leap of faith. One of the things you’ll learn about me is that I’m a big believer in the strategy paradox–the idea that strategies require commitment to succeed, but the assumptions underlying strategies are prone to change, meaning that a commitment to a particular route can also lead to inability to adapt. To this point, I would say: be as clear as possible at any given time what you’re trying to do then. It’s really the only way to operate if you’re looking at effects. What do you expect to get from social media? What strategies will you use to get those results? Think and think some more. Think till you’re sick of thinking about it and you might have thought about a tenth as much about it as you need to. Don’t get paralyzed, but plan.
Second, work by design. Stephen Covey has some wonderful points on this topic in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He talks about breaking tasks down into quadrants: each item can be either urgent or not urgent and either important or unimportant. Items that are urgent and important must be dealt with quickly. Items that are urgent but unimportant sap our time without cause; they’re the principal time-waster since unimportant and not urgent items are easy to ignore. Important but not urgent is really the sweet spot where we can be proactive. Ultimately, he explains, “the key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” You can see now how this flows from our first point: If you know what’s important, you can make sure that’s what you’re working on.
This is where we get into the meat of what I’d call the tactics of making time for social media. Here are some concrete tips:
- Schedule time. Do you remember those old Qwest commercials where the guy announced, “Well, that’s it, Honey! I got to the end of the Internet”? If you try to get to the end of the Internet right out of the gate, you’re certain to collapse quickly from exhaustion. You’re going to start out slowly and build up speed as you get stronger. You’re going to plan regular, manageable periods of activity–just as you would for any other necessary business function. Again, if you’re clear on what you’re doing, you can plan accordingly.
- Cut down on your distractions. Twitter is seriously dangerous. When you need to produce a good blog post for the week,focus. One job done well beats five done poorly. Turn off the phone. Concentrate on your social media, when you’re working on your social media, just as you would any other business activity. If you don’t know lifehacker.com (some of you still might not), cutting down on extraneous noise is a staple of their blog.
- Understand it’s a marathon. Set a pace and start jogging. You have a long way to go. The effects are cumulative–for a long time, you’ll sit in the middle of a big pack of people loping along. After a while, you’ll see the people who sprinted ahead, now exhausted. Soon, if you’ve saved your energy, you’ll start seeing fewer and fewer around you and eventually, you’ll be one of only a few left. Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t start out to impress people at the starting line–you have to keep the goal in mind. The flip side of this is the need to be disciplined. A winning pace doesn’t falter halfway through.
- Watch before you jump in. This was also a tip for getting over your fear of social media. Watching, however, ensures that you’ll be ready to hit social media running when you do finally start. Invest a little at the outset and you’ll be rewarded.
- Know the tricks you can use to leverage your content. This is a tip with several parts. The two major principles are:make each piece of content go as far as possible and stretch your definition of “content” to avoid creating new material. I’ll do separate blog posts on this soon, but for now let’s just imagine for example that you take a photo of the company picnic. You can use that to illustrate a blog post about your team spirit. You can use it in the company email newsletter that summer. You can post it to Flickr in a pool where it will be found by people searching. You get the idea–use the same item as many times as you can in as many ways as you can. The other idea is also fairly straightforward–what do you have that other people would be interested in? Maybe it’s those moldy old photo albums from when the company was founded in 1952. After all, they show a lot about the time and about the city you live in, don’t they? Maybe it’s a report you prepared for an industry association. Whatever it is, try to avoid creating new material by using things you already have. You’ll save time! (Big hint: Videos are incredibly easy. If you don’t have a pocket camcorder, you are missing out on your biggest content opportunity.)
- As Chris Brogan said recently, “stay human.” Be yourself (or your company as the case may be). Why is this included here as a time-saver? It’s because you don’t have to invent yourself and because you are interesting. Yes, you are. We love to read other people’s reactions to things. We love to be surprised. You don’t even necessarily have to be creating content that would fit in an industry newspaper–part of the content you create can be just you being you. How great is that? You can have fun and save time. Being something you’re not takes time, and why would you want to? Be natural.
- Don’t forget to have fun. You’ll be amazed how much time you can make for things you enjoy. If you like to spend some conversing on Twitter or browsing new industries on LinkedIn, allot yourself at least some time for that. It will encourage you to continue. Go where you are interested to go–you’re guaranteed to mind spending the time less that way at least.
Another major strategy to consider is outsourcing part of the duties. That’s a topic that’s definitely going to require another blog post, because hiring out something so closely tied to your identity is extremely difficult. For now, just be aware that it’s one way to save time. In that post, I’ll talk as well about the management of social media personnel, because that’s another important factor to consider for larger organizations.
So, what are your thoughts? How do you budget effectively for social media? What are your tips, tricks and principles? We look forward to your thoughts.
Will Reichard, MBA, is the president of CrossCut Communications, LLC, a full-service social media, public relations and marketing consultancy based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.