In my most recent article on Biznik, I wrote about what happens when online social networks become too much. I got a lot of comments on that article, and in several of those comments were some good tips about how to manage your online social networks. In this article, I want to re-present those tips, as well as some of my own tips for how you can manage the existing online social networks you are involved in, and have time to run your business and live your life.
Christian Jacobsen pointed out that it's really important to establish a sense of consistency and integrity with your presence on a social network site. Participating on a consistent basis on just a few social network sites allows a person to establish a presence on those sites that can be useful for creating relationships, similar to how you would create relationships with in person networks. However, it can be useful to participate on more than a few sites, provided you can automate the majority of those sites. I'll discuss that further later in the article, as well as how to make sure you still maintain an authentic presence on those sites.
Wesley LeFebvre also made some sensible suggestions for how you can manage your online presence. In his comment he broke down how a person could participate on Biznik, Linkedin, Twitter, and other relevant sites in terms of how much time to put into those sites on a daily/weekly basis, as well as what was a person could do on those sites. For example, for Biznik, Wesley recommends spending a half hour daily on it, reading and commenting on an article, participating on the biztalk forum, as well as going to in-person Biznik events, writing articles, and even hosting your own events. The rest of his comment provides similar insight to Linkedin, Facebook, your own business blog, etc. you may find that how much time you spend on sites varies from what Wesley recommends, but taking a similar structured approach to how much time you spend on your different online networks can be very useful in managing them.
I use both Christian and Wesley's approaches to managing my online networks, but I also do something else to manage my online networks. I automate them and the activities I do on them as much as possible. Automation involves creating a process where minimal input, effort, and time is needed from the person using the process. In return that process can still generate an excellent return for the person using it, and in fact will increase the amount of return over time, even as the amount of effort, work, and time is decreased.
As an example of automation in action, I post ads to the Portland Craigslist about my freelance writing, editing, and coaching services on a daily basis. If I were to spend time everyday thinking up ad copy for my craigslist ads, I'd use up a lot of time and effort that could be directed to more profitable activities. Instead, I've automated my process by writing seven ads up, one ad for each day. On a given day, I open my ad on MsWord, copy it, and then paste it onto the craigslist ad generator and press the post button. The initial effort of writing the ads took some time, but now it only takes me a minute to copy, paste, and post my ad. Any leads I generate from those ads have already made up for the initial investment of time and effort it took to write those ads. While I can't completely automate that process, it is mostly automated, which saves me a lot of time, and also continues to inform people of my services.
Just as it's possible to automate your craigslist ad, it's also possible to automate your social networking sites, and it can be quite useful to do so. However, readers shouldn't think that automation doesn't mean you aren't present on the social networking site. You still need to maintain some kind of presence on the site. Rather what automation really means is that you minimize the time you spend on a site, while maximizing your presence on that site as much as possible.
I'll use Plaxo, which is another networking site, as an example of this principle. On Plaxo, you can find people you know and categorize those people as business, friends, or family connections. You can also set up a profile and tell people what you do and what services you offer. However, you can also automate Plaxo's status update bar by syncing it with your Twitter posts. This means that every time you post an update to your twitter account, it automatically also gets shipped to Plaxo and appears on your pulse, so that your network in Plaxo also knows what you are doing. What this also means is that instead of having to logon to Plaxo everyday to update your status bar, you can simply update Twitter and get your Plaxo network updated at the same time. Your presence on Plaxo is essentially automated. It's still a good idea to login occasionally and add new contacts you've met, but the amount of time you need to spend on Plaxo is greatly cut down, which is useful because you then have more time for your other business activities and you still maintain a viable and visible presence on the social networking site you've automated.
It's possible to automate or semi-automate most, if not all, social networking sites. Even Linkedin and Biznik can be partially automated. After all, you can create an rss feed on each site for your blog and let people access and read your blog through your profile, which automates, to some degree how people access another form of social media through your profiles. Additionally the functionality that Biznik includes when it comes to notifying you of a response in a post is another example of automation at work. You don't have to keep checking the thread...you just wait for the notification to appear in your inbox (unless you chose not to follow the conversation thread). Automation is at work on all of these social networking sites to some degree or another, and it is worth our while to automate these sites so that we have time for other aspects of business, and most importantly, living our lives.
However, while automation is important, it's also equally important to balance it with some time spent on social networking sites. And while some will advocate that you should get on as many of these sites as possible and then automate them so you only have to update them from one source, such as Ping.FM, I'd argue that such an approach ultimately hurts you more because it actually removes you from participating on those sites. While you can update from one source, not actually going on those sites can become obvious to people who do use those sites and note that you don't respond to their queries or other ongoing discussions and activities on those sites. An additional problem is that not every networking site is necessarily appropriate to be on, when it comes to promoting your business. So if you join those sites, but don't post appropriate content, people will soon label you as a spammer.
As Christian Jacobsen pointed out in his comment to my most recent article, it does come down to maintaining a sense of integrity in the social networks you interact in. Integrity ultimately involves being present and consistent on sites you are on. I advocate automation as a way of making your online social network more manageable, but I also advocate sustained, conscious activity on your networking sites as a way of being present and creating relationships with people you not only want to do business with or even collaborate with, but also actually acknowledge as living, conscious beings who have needs of their own and a desire to be acknowledged as people worthy of your time and effort, even as you are worthy of theirs.