Nothing sucks like a time suck. Social media has become a massive time suck for so many people. Just how much of a suck is open to some debate. GlobalWebIndex tracked the time spent by 170,000 people, and found that over the past two years, time spent on social media is 1.72 hours per day. That amounts to 28 percent of our time online.
According to Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange, 1.72 hours is a gross understatement. Among those who social network, the average number of hours spent per day is 3.6, according to Ipsos.
The amount of time a person must spend on social media depends greatly on why they are there. People in different functions need to spend time on social media to different degrees, and there is a good overview here of how that need varies by function.
This article concerns marketers, folks who work in SEO, content marketing, social media marketing and similar functions. Whether social media is central to your function, or just one of many aspects, it pays to be efficient. If you get paid by the hour, your clients or your employer will want to know that you are being efficient. If you are paid by the project, you will want to know that you are being efficient.
Here are 11 ways that you can plug the social media drain (and reduce that annoying sucking noise).
1. Start with a Plan
If you've heard this piece of advice before, it's probably because you've read another blog post with tips on something. Pretty much anything you do works best with a plan.
Some things are easier to plan than others. Social media cannot be completely planned, because it is "social." Just as you cannot plan all your real-life conversations in advance, you cannot plan all your online social activity in advance. But you can plan a lot of it.
In fact, when I asked Tor Refsland, the Time Management Chef, what his number one tip for avoiding the social media time suck, he told me, "Have a PLAN on what EXACTLY you are going to do on social media."
Generally, there are three categories of social media activities, from a planning perspective:
- Proactive posts, which might include sharing your blog content, dedicated social posts and articles posted specifically to social media.
- Social interactions, which includes responding to user-initiated contact and to comments from followers on your own posts.
- Reactive posts, which might include reacting to something happening in the news or in the blogosphere, or commenting on someone else's social media post.
The only category for which you can plan ahead is the proactive posts, which can be synchronized with your website's editorial calendar. But you can plan a process to at least bring some semblance of order to the other two, which will save you time that otherwise would be inefficiently squandered wandering lost through social media timelines.
2. Set Up a Process
There is a process that can govern each social media function. For instance, once a blog post is published, you might have a list of specific places to post a link. That might include a list of Group Pin Boards and various Google Plus Communities. It might also include specifics of how to use the various images in the post, and it might include a schedule (first post immediately, next post 11 hours later, etc.). If you have a team for sharing, it might include specifics of what each member of the team should do, when and where.
Ah, but that's the easy part. You might have a process for social interactions. That process needs to be very flexible when it comes to the responses, but you can be very specific as to monitoring conversations – who, where, when – and how to process various different kinds of interactions. At the very least, this will avoid two members of your team covering the same ground, and reduce unnecessary discussions each time to decide how best to proceed.
A process for reactive posts can also be set up in a similar fashion, determining who will monitor for opportunities, when they will do it, and how to go about responding if a response is desirable. If you have multiple team members and collaborators, setting up projects on Trello can help ensure that things do not get lost in communication gaps and that everybody knows who has to take care of which aspect.
3. Schedule Posts in Bulk
There are two different kinds of bulk scheduling that can be done. The first kind is dedicated social media posts, such as a daily motivational tweet or a weekly gardening tip on your Facebook page. These can be written all at once and scheduled in advance. You might for instance, dedicate the last Monday of every month to preparing all these posts for the following month.
Then there are posts to share your content links, and those cannot be scheduled in advance of the content going live. However, once the content is live, you can schedule multiple tweets at varying intervals, not only to make sure that everybody sees your content when it is new, but to keep the post alive by sharing it periodically over the following year or two.
If you wish to schedule multiple tweets over a longer period of time, and you are doing this for an ongoing flow of content, you will probably want a full-scale social media dashboard, such as MavSocial (which I mention in particular for a reason I will reveal later).
A word of caution: it is pretty risky to schedule in advance when you are posting in response to something in the news or in the blogosphere. Sure, there is huge value when you participate in a trending discussion, but sometimes discussions can take a quantum leap in a different direction.
For instance, a really sad story breaks and you react. The next day, the story is discovered to be a hoax or it turns out that the person everybody was feeling sorry for is in fact the antagonist. If you had prescheduled tweets about the story, you will be totally out of sync with the rest of the world. Scheduling posts in advance works best with reasonably evergreen topics.
4. Keep Track of Your Time
One of the reasons people spend so much time on social media, and this really is why it is a "drain" and a "time suck," is that people don't keep track of that time. When something is not measured, it is easy to keep going on and on and on, and do too much of it. I am that way with jigsaw puzzles and reading books. Just one or two more pieces, and then I'm going to bed. Just one more chapter, and I'll go mow the lawn. Well, after several dozen "one mores," you'll understand why this bleary eyed guy has such long grass.
As professionals, we cannot afford to get sucked into "just one more" on social media, so it helps to keep ourselves on a timer. Tools like Due.com can help us keep track of our time. You can assign a certain amount of time to specific tasks, including social media tasks, and when that time is up, it's up. Or if you spend too much time one day, you can make up for it the next day. But you can't do that if you are not keeping track.
And if you are invoicing clients directly through the Due interface, it will show them how much time was spent on social media tasks, which also helps both you and your client understand what is involved in their social media campaign (which clients often underestimate).
5. Block Out Time Just for Social Media
This goes along with keeping track of your time, but it deserves special emphasis. Hands up everybody who is like me, foolishly checking social media in the middle of doing other things.
This is a very inefficient way to do anything. Much more efficient is to block out specific time each day to spend on social media. One of the benefits of doing this is that it allows you to track your time, but the main benefit is that it adds discipline to what otherwise is a very unwieldy activity.
I'm still trying; one day I'll get there.
6. Don't Get Sidetracked
One of the problems with checking social media frequently, is that it interrupts your work flow. Not only is it an inefficient way to do social media, it also makes everything else you do less efficient. This is especially true when you are doing something that requires a lot of focus and concentration.
Making sure not to get sidetracked allows you to focus on other activities without always being interrupted by your own worst enemy – yourself!
Ideally, you should identify your least productive hours for writing or strategy or analyzing data or whatever you do that requires the most concentration. Those least-productive hours can be dedicated to social media.
But not getting sidetracked also applies when you are on social media. Ooh, look – there's a funny cartoon. Oh, and look at what that no-good politician is doing. Ugh, I need to rant about that! And, lol, did you see what that cat is up to?
Once you are on social media, getting sidetracked is as easy as starring in a fail video. And a lot of valuable time can get sucked down the drain without you even realizing it. Don't get sidetracked.
7. Turn it Off
I suppose I could have bunched a number of these together, but each one is a separate point with value in its own right, and they ultimately lead to this. Turn it off. Turn off social media when you are not tracking your time on it.
Turn off social media when you are not in time blocked out for it.
Turn off social media when you are working on something else to avoid being sidetracked.
That sucking noise coming from Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus is like the siren's call to the sailor. Just turn it off, and carry on with whatever else is actually more of a priority.
8. Create Images on the Fly
One of the most effective ways to engage your social media audience is through images. No, no, no, I don't mean stock photography. People are just way too blind to that stuff. I mean interesting images. Cartoons do very well – people read them, people share them and sometimes people click through to the content they represent.
Motivational quotes and business quotes, when set into an image, are incredibly effective, as are demotivational posters. In fact, any image that includes a written message (words) seems to do very well on social media – and that includes those boring stock photos that are revived by adding a written message.
Any time you want to create engagement right on Facebook or Google Plus, create an image. Even on Twitter these days, images increase engagement by 35%.
What I have found, though, is that images can take a long time to put together, to save and to upload. The reason I mentioned MavSocial earlier is that it is the one social media tool where you can create images right in the dashboard. You can upload your own image or use one of theirs. In the dashboard there is a tab to search Bigstock, Getty Images, Giphy Images (gifs), ImageAfter and Pixabay Images by keyword. Pixabay and Giphy images are all free.
You can then easily "add effects" (including changing the colors, adding text, adding a frame, cropping, resizing, changing orientation, drawing on it, etc.) and program the image to send. In other words, you remove all the wasted file-handling time.
Creating images on the fly does not mean you have to constantly interrupt your work to create them. It is still best to set up a specific time, such as the last Monday of each month, to create and pre-schedule those image posts.
9. Social Media Monitoring
One of the things that can suck a lot of time is trying to monitor everything that happens on the big, wide world of social media. You want to monitor your brand mentions so that you can react, but you also want to monitor topics that relate to your business. You want to be able to enter the discussion, because that's where opportunity lies. And you also want to know when people are sharing your posts.
Rather than doing it all manually, which is a bit like exploring the world on foot, you can automate a lot.
For instance, you can set up to follow certain hashtags on Twitter. If you are following breaking news, you can set up alerts in Google Alerts, so that you can determine easily what hashtags to search for.
I use Topsy to check who's been tweeting a specific piece of content, which also helps you find people that should be in your network. I also use ShareTally to get a quick snapshot of how well a specific piece of content is doing across social media. If you are an SEMrush subscriber, you now have access to the new Social Media Tool for monitoring conversations and shares.
There are a number of more sophisticated tools listed in a previous article, but this topic really is one that deserves its own post.
10. Automate with IFTTT
One tool that deserves highlighting for monitoring and also for posting is IFTTT, which stands for "If This Then That." What IFTTT does is automate interactions between various apps.
IFTT is an ideal monitoring tool. For instance, here is a recipe to get an email anytime a New York Times tech article becomes popular, and another to get a notification whenever an astronaut enters space.
Automated monitoring is 100% safe, but I get very nervous about any automated posting. There is always something that can go wrong. But some things are fairly safe. Auto-tweeting from certain highly trusted blogs, including your own, is fairly safe. For instance, here is a recipe somebody created to tweet whenever he changes his Facebook profile picture, and another that autotweets all his Facebook status updates:
Personally, I won't automatically post anything, but many people do save time that way.
This is another time-saver that I file under "Great for research and monitoring, risky for posting." You might have junior team members or a virtual assistant in the Philippines, and you might feel comfortable delegating a lot of social media tasks.
Delegating works best when you have repetitive tasks that can follow a template without the need for judgement calls. I have known a number of people to engage a virtual assistant to do all the social media submissions each time they publish a post. That frees up their time for writing without having to bother with social media posting.
For instance, small business marketing strategist Gail Gardner creates all her the original social content herself, and then has her offshore VA duplicate the originals and schedule them repeatedly using MavSocial. She estimates that this saves her 10 hours per week for more productive work.
These are just some of the ways to make social media marketing more efficient. Just remember that efficiency and effectiveness are not the same thing. When deciding to automate, to delegate or even to set aside specific times for social media, you might find it more important to decide what is most effective rather than what is most efficient. In such cases, you might just have to accept some time suck and buy some ear plugs.
However, what can be made more efficient without sacrificing results should be implemented as soon as possible.