Tips for avoiding the digital quicksand of social media

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I’ll cut my favorite bank a bit of slack this week and get back to passing along sage advice.

This week we’ll turn to Laura Stack, who is president of The Productivity Pro Inc., for some tips about how to navigate social media — which she says is a double-edged sword.

“On one hand, it can help you make connections and expand your professional network faster than ever before,” Stack said. “On the other hand, you can dump countless hours into social networking sites and see little return on the investment. It’s like digital quicksand: sucking your time into the abyss.”

So, in the interest of not falling into the abyss, Stack recommends the following to help us neophytes “avoid obsessive compulsive social media disorder”:

1. Separate your business life from your personal life. Not only is this a good idea in terms of maintaining professionalism and not boring your friends, but it also has big implications for productivity. If you comingle your personal social networking with professional social networking, you are basically inviting your friends and family into your workday and your clients into your personal life.

That means that when you are at work and decide to focus, for example, on marketing yourself, that you will almost certainly be distracted by updates and messages from family and friends. Just glancing through those personal posts is going to make your social media activities take a lot longer than they need to.

2. Get into a regular social media routine. It’s easy to spend the better part of an afternoon reading blog posts and checking status updates, but generally speaking, that’s not what you’re there for.

In fact, the things that eat up the most time for social media users are typically not things that add value at all; they are just another form of procrastination, like lingering at a coworker’s desk or surfing the Web.

The best way to approach building a social media routine is to establish dedicated blocks of time to handle social media. This might be a single 15 minute session each morning or maybe a few quick sessions spread throughout the day, whatever makes sense with your needs and situation.

3. Embrace third-party applications to automate manual processes. Rather than posting to multiple places, sites like Ping.fm allow you to go to one place to make updates to all of your social networking sites. That will save you the trouble of jumping from site to site and streamline the experience across the board.

To get even fancier, load your future postings into hootsuite, and have that update Ping, which updates Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. So, while you are sitting in a meeting, it can keep your account looking alive.

4. Decide what you’re really trying to do with social media. The biggest reason that otherwise productive, well-intentioned people end up wasting a ton of time on social networks is that they never sat down and figured out what they were trying to accomplish with social media. It isn’t just about how many friends/followers/readers you have. It’s about what your business has to gain.

That might mean interacting with existing clients, reaching out to new prospects, or simply building your online reputation. Whatever makes sense for you, be sure to have a goal in mind whenever you commit yourself to another online profile. Otherwise, you could spend 40 hours a week bouncing from thing to thing without ever adding real value to your business.

5. Connect, listen and contribute. This is the easiest one to forget. You’ve already decided that you are going to invest time and energy into social networking, don’t forget that you aren’t there to simply broadcast your sales pitch to anyone who will listen.

Just like you make time to Tweet, update Facebook or post on LinkedIn, you need to set aside a few minutes just to see what other people are saying. This will give you great insights into the needs of the community and help you better focus your message when you do have something to say. Even just carving out five minutes twice a day to pop in and see what others are saying can add tremendous value to your social networking activities.

Mike Boyd is editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at Mike.Boyd@csbj.com or 329-5206.