One of the most popular metaphors used to describe social media - especially social marketing - is the cocktail party.
Interactions at a cocktail party are spontaneous. They happen in the moment. Everyone jumps back-and-forth between conversations, meeting new people and forging relationships. (And depending on just how you manage your social media, there may or may not be actual cocktails involved.)
But while this all makes it an excellent metaphor for social media interactions, there's one big problem: nobody can spend all their time at the cocktail party. They have other things to do, and so they leave - and if they keep popping back in to socialize, it makes them less productive outside the cocktail party.
The reason most people spend too much time at the party? (Or even just thinking about the party?) They believe in one of social media's biggest myths:
"You need to post your updates live."
Posting live updates to social media feels natural - after all, that's how you do it for your personal accounts. You share your observations and announcements as they come. You're not on a schedule, so you simply share what you want, when you want, without having to worry about things like when your audience is online, what types of content you need to post regularly, and so on.
But just like with the rest of your social activity, you need to make the mental leap between personal habits and professional ones.
Your updates all serve different purposes, and that necessitates careful planning - not improvisation. It isn't enough to post stray observations and random updates - you need to post content that will drive web traffic, get shares, encourage engagement like commenting, attract new fans, and more.
Even if your social media updates were written in advance, the simple act of posting them live is disruptive to your schedule. Every time you break your concentration to jump over to social media and post an update, it can take 23 minutes for your brain to find its footing again. Post live updates a few times a day, and those minutes start stacking up big time.
This is why getting out of the live-posting habit is a two-step process - one that not only frees up time throughout your day, but also gives you more opportunities to actually engage directly with your followers.
1. Plan and write your status updates in advance.
You know that nightmare where you're standing up in front of a crowd to give a speech, and you don't know what to say?
What if that crowd was actually tens of thousands of people, or more?
That's what you're doing every time you log on to post a status update and have to think of something on the spot. It creates an undue sense of pressure - not only to post something that accurately represents your brand, but also to maintain the right variety of updates. (After all, you don't want to accidentally post 10 links to your blog in a row.)
Instead, set time aside - an hour or so - and write the following status updates all at once:
That's 30 social media updates, all taken care of in one fell swoop. Even if you spend only an hour a week doing this, imagine how many updates that adds up to over time. Ultimately, it creates a continuously growing library of updates you can use at any time on any day, so you're no longer pressured to think of something at the exact time you need to post it.
Once you've started building up that library, you can focus on the second step of the process.
2. Schedule your updates to be posted automatically.
Task-switching may not feel particularly disruptive in the moment - in fact, you may pride yourself on being an excellent multitasker. But while multitasking isn't inherently dangerous, too much of a good thing can seriously lower your overall productivity - and that means you can't afford to be jumping onto social day in and day out to post your updates manually.
While some networks like Facebook offer built-in scheduling options, third-party scheduling tools are another, more robust solution. Scheduling tools allow you to load your updates and program times for them to publish, so you can generally set it and forget it. Just like you can program your home's thermostat to click on and off at certain times, you can rest assured that your updates are getting posted when you need them, whether or not you're anywhere near a keyboard.
By using insights and analytics from your various social networks, you can determine what you should be posting and when, based on your audience's habits. Once you do, design an appropriate schedule for each network. For example, I may see from my Twitter analytics that tweets posted after a certain time in the evening get almost no engagement, leading me to stop posting after that time. I may find that I get the most clickthroughs from Facebook within a certain window on certain days, which tells me to post my most valuable links at those times.
Your schedule created, all that's left is to upload your updates, and there you have it - your social media is on cruise control. This frees up time on a daily basis, so the need to post live updates no longer monopolizes your schedule. Essentially, you're free to stray away from the cocktail party as much as you need.
When you schedule your posts ahead of time, you're free to pop into your social media accounts at the times most convenient for you, so you can still provide regular live engagement on your own terms. Because you're spending less time on social writing and posting original updates, you can spend more time on social engaging live with your audience. And really, that's what social media - and cocktail parties - are all about.
Laura Roeder is the founder of Edgar, a new social media automation tool designed to prevent updates from going to waste. Since 2009, she's been teaching entrepreneurs how to harness the power of social media marketing and create their own fame at LKR Social Media.