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Waste Not, Want Not: Social Media and Time Management

When you are juggling an endless array of duties and priorities, as so many booksellers are, fitting yet another “thing” onto your already lengthy to-do list might produce the same effect as chopping onions. I would also bet that for many of us, when work gets extra stressful, social media is the first thing to go out the window. While dropping the ball happens to all of us on occasion, if I have done anything with these little blog posts, hopefully it has been to promote the idea that if you are engaging in social media, then it deserves the same commitment that you would put into other areas of customer care, such as answering inquiries promptly.

Putting the soapbox aside now, there is one big distinction between your regular office duties and social media: social media is not confined to business hours. In effect, the clock never stops. How, ye gods, can one mortal keep up with such a beast?? Well, good news: being online 24/7 is impractical, not to mention physically impossible, so give yourself a break. Reaping the benefits of social media, contrary to what you might have been told, does not require you to be constantly plugged in. In fact, you would be surprised at what a small time investment can deliver. The trick is to get smarter about how you spend time online, and to know the difference between wasting your time and investing your time because believe me, it is all too easy to engage in the former while claiming the latter. That cute kitten photo your friend posted leads to an entire website devoted to cute baby animals, and before you know it, you are scouring the internet for full-on interspecies friendship videos. It’s all in the name of bookselling, I tell you!

In order to avoid all the cuteness and maximize productivity while engaging with social media, here are a few guidelines to remember when faced with the dreaded time suck:

1. Know how much is too much (or too little).  A good rule of thumb is one post per day on sites like Facebook, Google+, and Tumblr. Blog posts will obviously be less frequent unless they are very short – I say one post per week or a few times a month is totally fine if you are the only contributor. Twitter is a bit different as it thrives on rapid communication – up to 5 posts a day being a good rule of thumb.

2. Set a schedule and stick with it. Avoid the time suck by deciding on a fixed amount of time to spend on social media every day – as little as 15-20 minutes should do it if you only have one or two platforms to worry about – and hold yourself to it. This should include time to see what’s new in your newsfeed and what people are talking about, “like” a few posts and maybe make a couple of comments, respond to any comments or messages sent to you, and post your own content. The amount of time you spend on social media and how you choose to divide that time up is ultimately up to you; just be sure to make it a part of your day and be consistent.

3. Plan your posts ahead of time. While it is always advisable to be as present and in the moment as possible, particularly when responding to messages or comments from followers, there is nothing wrong with planning some posts ahead of time. This is particularly true for those weeks when you know you are going to be busy, such as before publishing a catalogue or during a book fair.

To help me plan my posts for B & L Rootenberg, I use a simple Google spreadsheet with a new tab for every week (I like Google as opposed to Excel because I can view it anywhere I have internet access, plus it automatically saves). Each weekly tab is then divided into days, with columns for: 1. Each platform (Facebook, Tumblr, etc.), 2. A link (if applicable), 3. A photo (if applicable), and 4. The text of the actual post. This system is about as simple as it gets, but it keeps everything organized and in one place, ensures my content is varied and interesting, and is incredibly useful during those busy periods when my mind starts to feel like swiss cheese.

Many platforms also allow you schedule your posts in advance – you simply create your post on the website and then decide when in the future you want it published. A handy tool, but use sparingly – i.e. don’t schedule a month of posts and then walk away.

4. Have a system in place. Know how many posts per day you are aiming for and on which platforms, how much time you want to devote to social media engagement, who is responsible for posting and responding to comments, and what your goals are (more in this in future posts).  Consider protocol for responding to messages and comments, particularly in the event that there is a negative comment. Needless to say, systems are especially important if you have more than one person in your business engaging with social media as it ensures consistency.

5. Look into social media management software. This is a great idea for those of you who have more than two or three platforms and want to simplify your social media life. HootSuite is probably the most popular option out there (as well as pretty affordable), allowing you to sync multiple social media accounts to view, post, and keep track of your online presence all from one place. I myself do not use this kind of software as of yet, but as I grow our social media presence, I see it as a sound investment for its ease of use and the time it will save.

Some of the guidelines I have suggested here might seem a bit anal retentive or overly fussy, but social media for business purposes must be treated differently than social media for personal use. Having a plan in place and methods to fall back on are part of that process. In my next post I will talk more about planning in terms of creating goals and tracking the success of your online engagement, but in the meantime, happy networking!