timerIt’s so easy to hop on a social media site and suddenly find that several hours have gone by–without you really knowing what you have spent your time on.  We all do it.  Explore and get lost at first, but eventually you are going to need a plan.

Got Benefits?

Here are some questions you can ask yourself when participating in social media.  These will help you both manage your time and measure your results:

*Is this helping to establish a good reputation or improve an existing one?

* Are the sites where I am spending my time related to my niche? Does my target market hang out there?

* Is this helping to increase awareness of my brand?

* Am I learning new things which will enrich my business?

* Am I building beneficial relationships?

* Am I seeing increased traffic to my website or blog as a result of my participation?

It is also good to remember that certain activities–chatting with someone on Twitter, for example–do not always result in an immediate benefit. However, it is the relationship you are cultivating which can pay off in the future.

How Do I Know Which Tools are Right for Me?

You will naturally find yourself spending more time on the social media sites which interest you the most. But here are some questions to consider:

* Why are people there and what are they doing? Are they looking for jobs, setting up joint ventures, discussing video games? Is that focus important to you? Do you enjoy spending your time there?

* Who are the people there? Aspiring entrepreneurs, moms, business owners, employees? Are they people you can learn from?

* What are they talking about? Are you getting value from the conversation? Are the discussions applicable to what it is you do?

How to Set Limits

* First–stop feeling guilty!

* Set a timer. I know it sounds funny, but for some people this works really well. If you find yourself getting sucked in on a regular basis, tell yourself you will only spend X amount of minutes on Twitter or Facebook or whichever site you are using. Stick to it!

* Have a plan. It may sound strange to plan out an activity that is supposed to be “social.” But you should decide how social media is going to fit into your overall marketing or business picture. Making a couple of comments on Facebook and your favorite blogs should only take a few minutes. Drop in on Twitter, listen, share a link and respond to others there. Give more than you take.

It’s Not for Everyone

If you aren’t seeing social media activities as being valuable because you are too busy, then maybe (gasp!) it’s not for you. Maybe you already have plenty of clients, and your business is happily growing. Don’t force it.

Obviously, social media is just one of many things you can spend your time on, and unless you see a good return on that investment of time you are probably better off doing something else.

People can and will carve out the time for social media IF they see a reason to. If you think your business will benefit from understanding how to use these new tools of client communication, marketing and networking then it might be a good idea to get your feet wet.

Of course, ultimately it will be up to you to decide what is best. Do you consciously manage your time on social media sites?  What kind of results do you look for when using them?

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