Are your social media habits undisciplined?

Just as you wouldn’t—or shouldn’t—mess around recklessly with a hammer or power saw, nor should you treat online networks like toys. Make them work for you!


I follow almost 4,000 people on Twitter, more than 1,500 on Linkedin, and more on Facebook, Google+, blogs, forums, a zillion social networks, wikis, and more. I get around 800 emails a day (half of them are client-related alerts, newsletters, and feed reports).

I’m not bragging—there are plenty of people with more—it’s just a fact of my life. How do I manage to do all that every day and still run a full-time business? Great question. I don’t. Nobody else does either, at least not by themselves and definitely not every day.

Here’s the big, deep, dark secret about using social media for business: You’ve got to have discipline. If you get derailed by Farmville for an hour every time you go onto Facebook, your business may have a problem. If it’s open all day in your browser while you “work,” then you may need an intervention.

Don’t claim social media takes too much time when the issue is that you aren’t focused on how you’re using it. I don’t mean you should constantly push out your marketing messaging and talk about business. You know as well as I do that you don’t approach a new client, stick your hand, and say “Hi, I’m Janet; buy my stuff!” You have to get to know them first. Listen to what matters to them and what they care about; then you can help solve their problem with what you have.

Turn off Twitter

Leaving Twitter open in your browser all day is distracting. Set up alerts for mentions and direct messages. I use TweetBot on my phone, and it lets me know when I get a message, and then I can respond. I open Twitter three to four times a day, scan for new things to share, and decide whether I’m going to send them now or later. I shoot off a few pertinent Tweets, bookmark some links for later reading, and get off.

Scheduling is your friend

I use a combination of tools to schedule my updates, and they almost all have a browser bookmarklet, so as I surf I can add items to the scheduling tools on the fly. Sure, some posts are timely, but a lot of them can wait a little while. If you use an app such as Buffer, you can send that tweet when your network is most likely to be paying attention. I also use Hootsuite, which is good for scheduling tweets for when you may be traveling or you want to publicize an upcoming event.

On Facebook I use a combination of Hootsuite and MediaFeedia. Both tools enable me to monitor and update multiple accounts, which is great. Mediafeedia also enables you to send special offers to your fans and, like Hootsuite pro, delegate to others on your team.

Check the mirror

Is your messaging getting derailed by cool cats and hip conversation? Use a tool like NutshellMail to see a summary of your conversations on a regular basis. What do you talk about most? Who is talking to you a lot, and who is talking about you? Use what you learn to fine-tune your messaging and to connect with people on a deeper level.

Delegate

You don’t have to do it all yourself. There are lots of tasks that can be handed to a virtual admin: moderating forums, replying to basic questions on your social networks, finding new topics to comment on or RSS feeds to add, researching industry information for your blog posts, updating your blog software, or finding handy plug-ins. All these things and much more can be done by a talented assistant.

Heck, you can deliver a pile of information and have an admin split it up into items you can share on your social networks and schedule them for you. These are all things you can outsource and leave the focused personal interaction to you.

Turn off email

I tell my clients to contact me by direct tweets, text, phone, and email-in that order. According to many recent surveys, email is dead. I won’t go that far, but I just don’t read it as often anymore. I hit my email box three or four times a day. I scan for spam and delete it, I filter alerts into mailboxes by topic so I can use or delete them, and I filter clients into boxes so I can scan their messages and reply quickly.

Get a plan

An organized plan can be a huge help. If you blog, create an editorial calendar. If you use micro-blogs, think of a theme for topics and schedule some conversation starters. Then fill in the gaps with real-time posts to specific people. If you are blogging, set aside time once a month to brainstorm ideas and, if you can, write two or three or even more blog posts; then, schedule them for release. Better yet, send them to your admin and have him format and schedule them for you.

Stay focused

If you love the games on Facebook or surfing for videos of cute cats, save it for after hours. Your goal is to create relationships and raise the visibility of your business. Keep your eye on the ball, and think of never having to make a cold call again.

Choose your friends

Be thoughtful about whom you connect with. The idea of automatically following anybody who follows you on a social media network is a recipe for a private message box clogged with spam. Even more important, people scrutinize whom you follow in deciding whether to associate with you. Set aside a few minutes each week to look at those new followers. Are they truly interesting, or just after you as a notch on their social media bedpost?

If it’s not working, quit

You don’t have to be on every social media network. Keep your networks limited to what is truly useful. If it’s not, move on. Maybe the crowd you want isn’t there, or maybe you hate the interface. Don’t worry, there are plenty more where that came from. I tell clients to pick one network they like, learn it, and let their followers help them decide which network to use next.

Follow through

Social networks are a tool for business, but they do not replace actual conversation. Once you break the ice with social media, reach out to the people you’ve connected with. Give them a call. Meet face to face. I can’t tell you how many out-of-the-blue conversations have become fruitful business this way. Go ahead, give it a try! Here’s my number: 408.216.7423.

Janet Fouts is a social media coach and senior partner at Tatu Digital Media. She blogs at JanetFouts.com, where this article first appeared.

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