Beware the Social Media Black Hole

There is a phenomenon I call the social media black hole. That’s when you find you’re spending more time on social media sites than you are working. It can easily become an obsession.

File:StarTrek Logo 2007.JPG - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia It all starts innocently enough.

At first you remember you’re doing this for business but as you get to know people it becomes a great way to hang out around the virtual water cooler. Sometimes you’re just having fun talking to your network. You share information about your hobbies and kids and you hear about theirs. After all, social media needs to be social right?

If you’re using social media listening tools you can also get sucked into tracking your statistics, finding out who the people are that link or talk to you, chasing the various links you find and exploring the information for professional development, curiosity, entertainment or all three.

Then there’s “link chasing”. This is where you find so many links to information that can be valuable to you, your business or your network that you end up with 20-30 browser windows open. Your desktop slows to a crawl and your Twitter client is slowly sucking the vitality out of your computer because of a memory leak.

Can you tell I’ve been here? Many times. So I really want to explain how you can avoid the social media black hole.

Start with a strategy
I do not mean a strategy carved into stone because I truly believe any social media strategy has to have room to change organically, but that’s another discussion. For now, just say you want to have some structure to guide what you’re going to do. What your team is doing. How much time and where you will expend your efforts.

Pick your networks carefully
Many people think it makes sense to just start with a profile on every network that could possibly relate to their subject and then see if they fly. Terrible black hole ensues. You just end up with so many different profiles to keep populated with content and discussion that it quickly becomes a sisyphean task. That’s when you’re likely to throw up your hands in disgust and say “Social media doesn’t work”.

Listen first
Do a bunch of searches. Listen to the various networks before you start to engage on them so you can really gauge the value of each network. Pick no more than three (one is best) to start with, and get comfortable there before you expand to other networks.

Take your time
People feel really guilty if they see their friends or competitors on multiple networks and they are only on one. They seem to feel they’re skimping. The reality is that very few people besides professional social media folk can handle learning new networks all the time. Even we don’t always do it well. It takes time to learn a network and the people in it enough to be comfortable and able to juggle more than one network at a time. Let yourself get used to it and you’ll communicate better and more effectively.

Pace yourself
Set up some times you plan to engage on your networks, preferably spread out over the day. If you’re going to do some blog and forum searches and commenting for example, set a time that fits into your schedule to do this every other day.

Set up an editorial calendar that fits within your goals and messaging and use it as a guide so you stay on focus. Of course there will be new things coming up to interact with but if you know your goals and have a plan you’ll stay on track better.

Don’t get stuck
If you set yourself up on a network and you just don’t seem to be getting anything going but one of your other networks takes off like a rocket don’t feel like you have to give them equal time. You need to build your relationships where the people you want to talk to are. If you’re on Facebook and you find that suddenly you’re having really great discussions on LinkedIn groups, go ahead and give LinkedIn a little more of your time.

You will see that network conversations ebb and flow. Go with it.  That is the natural flow of any conversation. So you may spend more time on one network and then conversation slow because of an event or whatever. Big deal. Either be the conversation starter or look to see who’s being interesting on one of your other networks.

Bottom line
Think of social media as a huge networking event. Around the room are clusters of people talking. Do you stay in one conversation all night or do you move around the room, joining conversations here and there, making connections to follow up on later? Use your networks the same way and you’ll be successful with social media.