It’s tough to think about a world that existed before Social Media, because it seems so pervasive in most people’s’ lives today. However, there was a time when Social Media was a handshake and smile, and not a Web or digital tool was involved in connecting two or more people. Since those days are long gone, we have to cope with the new digital deluge and find ways to practice safe and sane Social Media time management. Since this is one of the most oft-asked questions from my audiences at seminars and workshops, I thought I’d round-up a strategy and the best tools I’ve found for making time and managing Social Media in Small Business.
Keep Ahead of Social Media Trends
If you’re a child of the 80’s then Social Media is the fashion equivalent of wigwam socks for the modern-day business marketer. (If you’re a child of the 70’s, we’re talking about Daisy Dukes. And, for the 60’s, well, that’d be a tie for platform shoes and bell-bottoms. But, I digress.) For every generation there are many trends and in the Digital Age, trendsetting is hyperactive with new websites, Web tools and online services launching daily. To keep track, you have two options that readily come to mind.
One strategy is to set up a blog/RSS feed reader. This is a tool that lets you curate the blogs that are publishing the most pertinent content about Social Media (or any other kind of marketing on the Web and beyond) and capturing them all in one tool. This is really saves time so that you only have to check your RSS reader daily, or weekly, instead of going to 50+ websites to see if they’ve published anything new. So, you can stay abreast of all the important social trends all in one place. While there are many options of readers, I really like the combination of Feedly and Pocket. You subscribe to blogs you want to follow in Feedly and save them to Pocket, say, every Friday afternoon, then you on Monday morning you can review all the articles you saved to Pocket. Some you will want to share with others, some you’ll want to tag with keywords and save for reference and easy retrieval later; Pocket is the best person for the job here.
Also, we will be re-launching our email newsletter, soon which will be a “best in class” update on all things marketing and operations via your website, email, Social Media and blogging, online/social advertising, mobile and more. We’re really excited about the email newsletter re-launch, so if you’re not already a subscriber join now and await the first email coming in the next week or so. Basically, we will be doing all the work of reading all the blogs, email newsletters, resources and eBooks galore and condensing it down to the most important few (with our insights) to share with you on a weekly basis. Not bad, eh?
Develop a Social Media Strategy
The next logical step in managing your time on Social Media is developing a strategy that works for your business. As this topic could be dozens of blog posts by itself, I’m going to go over the fundamentals using my simple and effective Social Media Strategy Framework (pictured below).
For your Social Media strategy to work, it requires four elements to creating an online community: giving (Listen), taking (Speak), a sense of belonging (Connect), and tracking engagement (Measure). To begin the Listen phase of any Social Media strategy means that you are looking for conversations that your target audience is having already. Go to their places and talk to them; you’re giving content , advice and time to those blogs, social networks and people (through posting comments and interacting in their conversations). Note, that once you follow the diagram above back to Listen, now you’re reading the comments on your own blog and engaging with your audience there as well.
Next, you Speak by publishing great content on your blog and disseminating that to social networks, your email audience and more. We will talk about how to do that efficiently in the next section. But, this Speak phase is really about setting the tone for your brand, tell your story, and communicating your core value through competent, helpful and positive advice for your readers, or listeners (podcasts) or watchers (video blogs, or vlogs).
Following Speak, we have the Connect phase of the framework and this encompasses strengthening the bonds that you have established. This could take the form of introducing members of disparate groups to one another; perhaps you know the owner of a nail salon and the proprietor of a hair salon and spa, that you can connect so that they can refer their customers to one another. Do this proudly via Twitter or another publicly appropriate social network, then take it offline and make the “real” connection. The stronger the bonds, the stronger the web that supports your community.
Finally, you have the Measure phase, which is there because it’s all online and almost everything can be tracked. For most Small Business owners, start and grow with Google Analytics; it’s free, it helps you track all the largest pieces of the Web marketing (Web, Mobile, Email, Advertising and Social Media) in a centralized dashboard. There are many other tools that you will come across along the way that help you learn more about the effect you’re having on your target audience engagement through your Social Media work. This information will guide you well, but remember that the true guiding force for your Social Media strategy is sales. If your website is getting traffic, your blogging effectively and disseminating it outward to your audience, you should be seeing sales increasing. If not, blame not Social Media. You likely have a hole in your sales process–website navigation, poor Web copy, not enough blog deep links, or engaging in the wrong social networks. Patch those holes and let the sales flow!
Editorial Calendar for Greater Content Production
No Social Media time management article is complete without talk of an Editorial Calendar. In journalism, writers, editors and publishers live and die by the deadline. And, so should your blog and Social Media publishing! Review several of your industry competitors’ blogs and see how often they post: daily, weekly, monthly or less often? Now, once you’ve surmised what an average number of posts you’ll need to produce annually, you can start with a paper calendar and block out the general periods of your professional calendar. Is there a “busy season” in your year? When are your sales highest (check with your accountant/bookkeeper if you don’t know)? Break your year down into smaller units (“themes”) however it makes sense for your business. Thereafter, send those themes around to your staff and ask them to assemble a list of blog, ebook, white paper or other resource topics for each of the themes; this is individual brainstorming is best (and not in a group setting). If everyone gave their all, you will have an overflowing bucket of topics for your editorial calendar. Finally, you will need to assign who will be writing the content, editing, publishing and disseminating those blog links to social networks.
Thankfully, there are several tools out there to really help with managing an editorial calendar:
- Google Calendar – this amazingly elegant and no-cost, and has the ability for you to make an editorial calendar so you can track themes, topics, deadlines and responsible parties all within Google Calendar. It offers color-coding, multiple calendar sharing, notes, powerful search, and access on desktop/Web as well as via mobile.
- EditFlow – if you’re using WordPress as your website/blog hosting platform, EditFlow is a handy, no-cost plugin that helps manage the content-side management of your blog. This tool also really helps with the people involved in putting the content together from the initial topic ideas to drafts to the redacted versions scheduled to be published.
- Buffer – This handy app helps you curate (by drafting the who tweet-sized messages for you!) and schedule posts to your major social networks (Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook). It learns from your posts when the best times are to post and adjusts to post them when more of your audience is clicking on things. Very smart tool!
- HootSuite – As the granddaddy of social sharing tools, HootSuite has the greatest number of social networks that it can manage. Also, if you have a larger team, HootSuite is definitely the way to go since it manages a distributed workforce very well.
Pay Attention After Publishing
One area that can really take up a great deal of time is paying attention to all the conversations about your company, brand, products, services and your blog articles. When the conversation is happening on your website/blog, I really recommend that you sign up for Disqus (pronounced dy-skuhs, as in the word “discuss”), a social commentary profile, system and dashboard. There’s also an amazing WordPress plugin, Disqus Comment System, that helps you integrate Disqus into your blog so it manages the commenting on your blog seamlessly. Now, when you make a comment on someone else’s blog that also uses Disqus, it captures that comment also in your Disqus ecosystem and helps you track when replies happen to the comments and so forth. Very handy! If you like more email, there’s a spiffy competitor to Disqus called Livefyre and their WordPress plugin equivalent is Livefyre Comments 3. It notifies you via email when new comments happen and lets you respond to those comments via email, which it then posts as a blog comment reply. (This can be handy if you’re not at your office often and need to manage on the road.)
So, that’s for when the blogs are neatly happening on your blog/website. What about the conversations happening everywhere else on the Web? That’s where good, old-fashioned Google Alerts comes in handy. This no-cost solution built by Google notifies you of search criteria that you set up and emails you when the search criteria is met. (You can also try Google Alerts’s competitor, TalkWalker Alerts.) So, for example, I have a search set up something like this…
w3consulting AND “W3 Consulting” AND “W3 Consulting” AND “Web and Beyond” -site:w3cinc.com -site:w3.org
This Advanced Search string in Google Alerts tells Google to send me an email (or I can subscribe to an RSS feed in my Feedly account from above) to anything on the Web that matches conversations talking about my company, tagline and brand. Now, set up these same kinds of searches for your products, services and combinations that include your name and company name to catch any of those conversations happening about you and your products/services. What would take hours is now automagically gathered together for you!
Synthesize the Analytics
After all this blogging and commenting, you’re going to have a plethora of data from Google Analytics, your website/blog, Buffer, HootSuite, Disqus or Livefyre, Google Alerts and more! One way to streamline this is to use a URL shortener (which I’ll be covering in-depth in an upcoming post) so that you can have all the various tools I’ve just mentioned capture all that data into Google Analytics where appropriate. This takes some know-how that searching the Help articles on all the tools listed will explain, and taking an afternoon to set it all up. Thereafter, though, you will save in compound dividends of time! Once all your Social Media traffic clicks and engagement metrics are run through Google Analytics, you need only look there to start to understand what is working, and what isn’t. And, what I love most about Google Analytics, is that you can customize a master report that is emailed to you every week or month (to whoever in your company needs to see it). Once you’ve done the setup, all the synthesizing work is done for you and delivered to your inbox. Business decisions become faster and sounder.
There’s no question that Social Media takes time, and time is your most important commodity in Small Business. But, the world has changed and Social Media is one of the best ways to reach your target audience, understand your business and grow your sales. So, if you keep track of the Social Media trends, develop a strong, consistent strategy, master your Editorial Calendar for producing great content, and then pay attention to the conversations and the measurements, you will not only minimize time spent on Social Media but increase your business’ sales too!