Social media is the perfect outlet for idle hands and distracted minds. Standing in line at the grocery store? May as well check your Facebook feed. Watching the football game? Hit up Twitter for some live commentary! While social media's power to occupy your time is a blessing when you're bored, when you're busy running a business, it's one of the worst things for you.
The cliche solution is to say, "just don't go on social media while you're working," but that's just not realistic--you may as well go all day without checking your email, or answering your phones. If you want to use social media in your business for things like marketing and customer service, though, it's time to realistically confront the big myths that can derail your daily routine.
And one of the most damaging of these myths?
"You need to maintain a constant presence."
Some brands set the bar pretty high on social media--for most entrepreneurs, it's an unattainably high standard. Look at a business like American Airlines, whose Twitter account publishes an average of more than 4,000 tweets and replies every month.
It's tempting to look at their social behavior--most replies are sent within minutes--and want to emulate it. But it's also unrealistic, and it can monopolize your time if you allow it. Businesses like airlines, for example, need to be as active as they are on social, and for a number of reasons (one of the biggest being that customer questions and complaints posted on social are highly time-sensitive). You, most likely, do not need to maintain that kind of constant presence. Once you stop buying into that myth, there are steps you can take to avoid getting sucked into a time-wasting vortex.
Step One: Cut Yourself Off
There are plenty of ways to keep an eye on your social media throughout the day, and most of them feel relatively harmless--keeping a browser tab open so you can keep checking in, or sending push notifications to your phone so you can reply in an instant. These also pose a constant threat to your productivity, and can interrupt your work at some of the most inopportune times. Task-switching like checking your notifications may feel like it takes only a few seconds, but it can cut your overall productivity almost in half.
Eliminate the temptation to task-switch at random by cutting yourself off from social media. Yes, keeping that browser tab open to Twitter makes sure you can click back-and-forth with ease. No, that's not a good thing. The push notifications that go to your phone make it easier to reply quickly, but they can also chime in and interrupt your groove at the worst possible moments. Email notifications can be just as detrimental--whether they trickle in slowly or flood your inbox throughout the day, they're a nonstop production line of distractions. Heavy multitasking doesn't just interrupt your day, either--it makes you less efficient overall, and may even lower your overall IQ.
Put yourself back in control and cut yourself off from social--close the tabs, turn off the notifications. Make it a "don't call me, I'll call you" arrangement, so that you can view your notifications when it fits your schedule, rather than allowing them to interrupt you.
Step Two: Set a Schedule (and Stick to It)
If you're not maintaining constant contact with your social media, when do you check it? The answer is: whenever you want.
Ideally, you can set aside time to check your accounts/notifications throughout the day--howoften that is depends on how active your followers usually are. Maybe you need to check in once an hour or so, or maybe just three or four times a day. It's all a matter of determining your own needs, rather than trying to follow the example of another business (like the airline, for instance). When you check your social at intervals, you can engage in batches--knock out all of your replies and other activity in one fell swoop, then move on with your day and put it out of your head until your next scheduled check-in.
For me, this was one of the hardest habits to get into--especially because the last thing you want is to interrupt a project you're working on just because it overlaps with your scheduled social media check-in time. That's why I actually use an achievement-based system for myself--it not only prevents me from engaging in disruptive task-switching, but it boosts my motivation for the tasks I'm working on. I may tell myself, for example, that I can spend a certain amount of time checking my social accounts as soon as I finish the blog post I'm writing, or after I file the paperwork I've been avoiding. By making my social media time separate from my other tasks, and by making it into a reward, I can motivate myself and fight the urge to maintain a constant presence at the same time.
As far as customer expectations of speed go, don't let the breakneck pace of bigger (and heavily-staffed) businesses fool you--the majority of consumers expect a response on social media within a day. (Less than half as many expect it within an hour.) Manage your social responses in batches instead of on a rolling basis, and the time you save will add up fast.
Step Three: Take Drastic Measures
Social media's sole purpose is to distract you. That means that in the fight to stay productive, it's your enemy--and there's no shame in calling in reinforcements.
If the pull of social media is too strong, or your habit of checking in at every random idle moment of the day is too ingrained, try supporting yourself with a free program that will actively prevent you from accessing your account. SelfControl, for example, allows you to input a period of time during which you want to be cut off from certain websites--even if you restart your computer, you can't sidestep the app until the timer runs out. (Alternatives like Focus give you slightly more wiggle room.)
It might seem a little drastic, but once you're actually prevented from maintaining a constant presence, you may realize just how often you've been allowing social media's pull to dictate your daily routine. Even if it's just something you try for a short period while you adjust to checking your accounts/notifications in scheduled batches, it can make the transition a whole lot easier.
A constant social presence isn't the only thing killing your productivity.
Even if you successfully cut the cord and stop trying to maintain a constant presence on social, there are two other major myths that can seriously affect your productivity--learn more in parts two and three, coming soon!
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.