For all the perks, conversations, and general brand engagement that it offers, I have a startling confession to make: social media can suck up your time– but only if you allow it to. I’d argue that small to medium sized businesses benefit the greatest from social media, as it allows them to utilize the very same tools that much larger brands have access to, while leveling the playing field. However, it’s exactly these types of organizations that often have little to no marketing team; quite often it’s one person, and that person might also be responsible for a myriad of other additional tasks.

Therefore, how, what, and where social media marketers allocate their time is a precious commodity around the office (as well as post-office hours). But if your job is engagement, how do you take control of your time and maximize the return on your efforts?

Have a Plan

plan How to avoid the social media time suck

In the 1990′s film The Hunt for Red October, Fred Dalton as Admiral Painter waxes poetically with, “Russians don’t take a dump, son, without a plan.” Crude as it may be, the same maxim can be applied to your social media approach. If your job is to build awareness of your product or brand, you’re certainly not going about it with an end goal in sight (right?).

Take the long approach. Sure, daily, this-and-this happened updates are interesting to a certain segment of your social media audience, but therein remains the problem; your tight-knit audience is listening and appreciating, but how do you reach the larger audience? Take the long approach. Think bigger than you are. Just like sales forecasting or financial planning, your social media program should have some long-term goals and appropriate rewards attached. No, I don’t mean 5k fans=a steak dinner. Rather, midway through your “Gizmo’s are great for summertime fun!” campaign, sales is reporting an increase in RFP’s, the landing page traffic has increased, or similar benchmarks. Review this long term plan on a daily basis and ask yourself, “What am I going to do today that will move this project more towards the end goal?”

Laser Guided Social Media

laser How to avoid the social media time suck

Or…shiny object syndrome. Sure, we all do it. A new announcement from Apple is burning up the Internet, or the phone is ringing off the hook, or that ever so friendly “ping” is pulling you back to the inbox. These all-to-common distractions are exactly what’s eating up your laser guided social media time.

Perhaps a better way to phrase this is, “If you only had 3 hours a day to work on social media strategy and projects, what would you do?” And now if you only had 1 hour? Looking at your social media time in terms of less-than-optimal time frames will push you to further refine what you’re working on and focus your attention like a laser beam.

Bonus: Review your distractions over a 2 week period and formulate a plan as to what you can do to reduce or eliminate these distractions, at least during your dedicated social media time. It might be as simple as activating the DND button on your phone, and turning the sound off on your machine to avoid the email ping.

Time It

time How to avoid the social media time suck

“Life is about timing” – Carl Lewis. While Mr. Lewis was speaking more about his sprinting career, this adage holds true for social media. Dan Zarrella, Hubspot, and KISSmetrics created an infographic last summer that highlights the Science of Social Timing. While the data might be a few months old, there are still a number of truths to be gleamed. Likewise, TNW presented a rundown on nailing down that sweet spot that will get the biggest reaction from your fans and followers.

Keep these crucial times in mind when focusing on your social media activities. If you’ve been working on a video with a production team, obviously, you’re going to want to make the biggest splash possible. While it’s easy to think that every content release across your social media channels is big news, the truth is, it isn’t. There will be pieces that are bigger hits than others. The new featured function provided via Facebook’s Timeline launch can help, but there’s no substitute for great timing.

You have been digging into Facebook’s insights feature, so you’ve already got a good idea of what engages your audience, what triggers virality, etc., so use this data and a bit of experimental posting times and items to maximize the return on your efforts.

25 Minute Tomatoes

tomato How to avoid the social media time suck

This is a little trick I learned a few years ago, and whenever I absolutely, positively need to buckle down and get ‘er done, there’s simply no substitute for the Pomodoro Technique.

At its most basic, the Pomodoro technique is nothing more than a timer and break system. The theory works around a 25/5 and 5+ system. That’s 25 minutes of dead solid focus – no Internet, no phone, no music, no nothing, with a 5-minute break scheduled to round out the half hour. The 5+ comes into play after every 4 rotations of the system, i.e. every two hours. At this point, reward yourself with a bit longer break, or…have lunch, a novel concept, I know, but after 100 minutes of concentrated thoughts, go ahead and treat yourself.

To effectively use this technique, don’t just use a watch/clock and tell yourself that you’ll stop after 25 minutes; you won’t. If a tomato shaped timer with 25 minute intervals isn’t readily handy, feel free to use that timer feature on your phone, but lock the phone, disable the vibrate feature, and put it face down on your desk.

By forcing yourself to do nothing other than the task at hand, you’re free from all external interference and can truly focus. If you’re working directly on a browser, minimize all other windows and have only the page up that you need to accomplish the task at hand. If it’s Facebook, “Go Offline” in the chat settings to avoid any accidental intrusions.

Once the 25 minutes is up, reward yourself with anything you want. I generally take these 5 minutes to do everything else that I normally would have alt/tabbed to over the previous 25 minutes. Not only will the Pomodoro technique keep you on track when it comes to limited time budgets, but over time, you’ll also notice how amazingly effective you can make those 5 minutes of personal social media time.

Use it or Lose it

loseit How to avoid the social media time suck

Focus and time management are two business obstacles that we all come across on a daily basis. Whether it’s the Cubs playing in the World Series (Ok, in this case, clearly the world is coming to an end, so drop everything and tune into that game), or Jack from Sales breathing down your neck, distractions are everywhere. With the above points in mind, ask yourself:

  • What are the top 5 pressing social media goals, and how can I/we accomplish them?
  • How much time can I/we dedicate to achieving these goals/day?
  • How can I/we cut out as many distractions as possible and hone in on delivering likeable, shareable material?

By fully answering and planning these three questions, you’ll be well on your way to eliminating the social media time suck.

Loved this? Read: Meet the 18 people behind your favorite social media accounts.

Lead Image via David Blackwell