Social media has become a viable means for marketing businesses and making connections with customers. With the likes of Twitter, Stumble, Facebook, and other information sharing and networking portals, our success is measured not only by the profits that line our pockets, but also in the number of followers we have, and the amount of influence we wield on the social networks we are a part of.
But this is no small job. You need to be visible to your social networks, clicking on links and commenting thoughtfully on others’ contributions, as well as formulating your own contributions that aren’t solely tied to marketing yourself or selling something. You have to develop relationships with these relatively anonymous people — some who are potential customers or business partners — and to do that takes a lot of time and effort.
The rewards may warrant the effort, but there are only a certain number of hours in a day. What if you don’t want to be plugged in all the time? What if you just want to take some time off, free from wifi connections and cell phone signals? How do you get that breath of fresh air from our plugged in world and not feel like you have backtracked in your social media progress?
Plugging In (to Begin With)
When I was running a financial planning practice, I prided myself on being accessible to my clients. Although initially I didn’t have a smart phone, I managed to answer all phone calls and emails fairly promptly and efficiently. Unfortunately, taking time away from the office was a challenge. I would return to hundreds of emails, dozens of messages, and a mess to clean up that invariably took me a week to recover from. All of this was on the heels of a vacation that was supposed to be relaxing, but which often harbored stress in the knowledge that I would have a lot of work to do to catch up from being away. I often considered whether I really wanted to take time off at all, given the chaos I’d have to contend with on my return.
Enter from stage right: one Smart Phone (in this case, one of the earlier generations of the Blackberry). This made life much easier. When I was out of the office, all I had to do was a quick scan of the emails and messages that came in, and I would either forward the task to my assistant or deal with it myself. I madly tapped emails out with my thumbs on the phone’s tiny keyboard, and on my next vacation I returned to the office with no ugly surprises awaiting me, nor much extra work to make my first week back a long one.
However, it also meant that for almost an hour on each day of my “vacation,” I was working. And all this was still before the mass popularization of social networking. If I were promoting my business with social media at the time, I’m not sure I would ever have left my hotel room. Or had I left the room, I might have missed the sights at my destination for having my nose glued to the screen of my phone, searching for a wifi connection or tapping out a retweet.
So although having a smart phone increased my productivity and reduced the stress of wondering what disasters awaited me at the office, it also increased my ongoing workload and the expectations of my clients. And as the incline towards social media increases, we are navigating a brave new world that teeters on the edge of imbalance.Instant Gratification
Speaking of expectations, what does our society — which is becoming increasingly impatient — expect of businesses? You got it: instant response. If an email goes unanswered for more than a day, we assume the recipient must not have received it (instead of wondering if they are out of the office). Because everybody has a device to read and respond to emails on the go, right?
I am reminded of the ubiquitous message that followed every email from a Blackberry in its early years: “This message was sent from my Blackberry.” When we saw that message, didn’t we always expect an instant response from that person from then on?
Such are the challenges of our times. Because the blackberry message doesn’t even need to follow our emails any more; it is assumed — rather expected — that we are connected all the time.How to Make Social Media Work For You
So far I have been ranting about the system rather than offering solutions, partly because I don’t necessarily believe that we should be sticking a band-aid on this problem by throwing yet more technology after technology. But in the spirit of any number of clichés (“When in Rome…If you can’t beat ‘em….”), my mission is not to convert the masses to a prehistoric time when the internet didn’t exist and we communicated with clicks and sticks, but instead to learn how to play the game.
So for those who love their social media, here are a few solutions to help you discover a healthy balance between being plugged in, and decompressing from our fast-paced world long enough to ensure we continue to see the bigger picture.
If you don’t want to dedicate the time to built up and maintain a viable social network, you can outsource this work. There are freelancers who make it their specialty to be the face of your company on all the social media sites. They can be referred to as “social outreach consultants” or “social media virtual assistants”, and a good one will take the time to get a sense of your company, values, and target markets so they can narrow their social media focus to yield the best results. You will pay for this service, but you may also find that the increased visibility of your business — without you having to be there all the time — is worth the cost.
Third Party Applications
There are third party applications for just about every social media network out there. With them you can do anything from play games, to search for and immediately connect with dozens of prospects at once, to harnessing your cell phone with the power to allow you to announce your latest thoughts to the world while sitting at dinner, riding a bicycle, or boarding an airplane.
Unfortunately with such an influx of third party applications comes the negative side of all things internet: viruses and phishing scams. Although people in our networks are providing links to informative articles and services, we now must filter them with suspicious eyes to ensure we don’t click on that link of a supposed video of us and open the gateway to the evil-doers of the Internet. Twitter accounts are “bricked” when third party applications don’t play nicely together, and much of the work in building a social network can be lost in a flash if your account is suspended or your computer is fried.
But with a cautious approach, the following techniques and applications might help you streamline your social media activities:
- Scheduling: If you have an international market to communicate with, you need to appear to be online 24 hours a day to catch everybody. You can accomplish this by prudently scheduling posts and updates for times when each market is likely to be online.?
- Auto-follow, and other management techniques: With automatic functions available, you can automatically follow those who add you to their network without having to pre-screen or review your new “friends.” If you are looking to build influence by amassing great numbers of online friends and followers, you may wish to streamline your approach and automate everything possible.?
- Linking one social media network with another (integration): Many social networks allow you to syndicate recent blog posts to your profile page, or announce new updates to your website in a Tweet or status update. You can also sync status updates across various social media networks to reduce the time required to write an update for each site. Beware, however, of crossing messages across social media networks; Facebook users (for example) might not take nicely to all your thoughtful re-tweets filled with confusing acronyms being broadcast on a non-Twitter platform.
Here are some resources to help you determine the best strategy for being plugged in without being handcuffed to the system.