One question (and complaint) that I hear from people who aren’t active using social media online (or who limit themselves to one or two sites) is “Where do you find the time for all that?” That’s a fair question. Being online does take up time, and sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, the millions of blogs out there, they can call consumer a huge amount of time if you’re not careful.
However, you can use these sites and still be productive. Here are some tips on how.
1. Subscribe to your own RSS feeds. Many social networking sites offer RSS feeds of at least part of their content. That means you can subscribe to your friends’ status updates in Facebook or LinkedIn and get those right in your RSS reader. Why do this? If you’re like me your RSS reader is already a major source of incoming content and you monitor it every day. Subscrbing to RSS feeds means you can find out about those updates without going to the site. To participate or see you replies, you’re still going to have to visit those sites, but monitoring the RSS feed allows you to quickly scan what’s going on and choose what conversations you might want to get involved in.
Take-away action: Look for the RSS icon in your browser window or on the web page and decide which feeds it makes sense to subscribe to.
2. Set your account options so you get notifications via email. Social media sites will typically have account settings that allow you to be notified of things like connection requests via email. By setting those up you can ensure you don’t miss important notifications because you didn’t go to the site. Again, I’m assuming that even on days when you don’t have time to visit social networking sites you’re still checking your email.
Take-away action: Go check your account settings and turn on email notifications.
3. Update more than one social media at a time. There are a number of applications and services out there that allow you to update more than one social media service at a time. I use ping.fm and I have an account with, though I haven’t yet experimented with, hellotxt.tcom. That means I can update Twitter, LinkedIn and other services at the same time, assuming I want to give them the same update message. This also allows me to update these sites without actually visiting them all. Because these are web-based services I can use them from whatever computer I might be working on, at home or at work. One word of warning about these: Different sites impose different length limits on your status updates, so a full 140-character update for Twitter will be cut off on LinkedIn because that site has a shorter status message field.
Take-away action: Set up an account with one of the update services and start using it.
4. Measure the value of your updates. The key to effective social networking is to provide value. If you’re like me and you tend to send out a lot of links, then you might want to use a URL-shortening service such as BudURL or SnipURL that allows you to track click-throughs on your links. These allow you to see how many people are actually clicking through on your links. If nobody is, then it’s probably a safe bet that the links you’re offering don’t have much value for the people in your network, which may mean its time to do something different.
Take-away action: Set up an account with a URL-shortening service and put the link on your browser toolbar so it’s always available.
5. Decide on your key services and be diligent. Finally, it is true that you can’t do everything, and there are far too many social media sites out there to be active on all of them — even if you use every productivity tip in the book. So I recommend you choose a handful that are likely to be useful or fun and concentrate on those. That may mean that you choose LinkedIn over MySpace, for example, unless you’re involved in music in which case MySpace might be a better choice. Devote a little bit of time – maybe just 5 or 10 minutes a day – to checking each of your target sites and doing something there, even if it’s just leaving a comment for an acquaintance or reviewing status changes.
Take-away action: Decide on three to five targeted social media services to start with and try to be active in some way most days on each of those sites.
Have more tips on how to use social media productively and still have a life? Leave them in the comments below so everyone can learn.