"Social Media Management" is a very real, demanding, rewarding and sometimes lucrative profession. Every startup founder should utilize social media in some capacity. Considering how many platforms there are, even the most niche of industries can find ways to connect and engage with audiences virtually. However, social media can be truly addicting, which makes it tough for entrepreneurs who want to curb its use because it can be so time consuming. Going cold turkey may not be an option.

Unlike other potentially addictive items such as nicotine or alcohol, social media is an integral part of many peoples' actual work goals and can't be ignored. You might be charged with updating the business' digital photo albums, managing comment threads or some other business directive. Short of refusing to do your duties, social media addicts have to learn to deal with their disease.

The Cold, Hard Facts

The University of Maryland, in collaboration with Total DUI (a non-profit group), recently released a compilation of reports and statistics on social media addiction in the US. It revealed that 18 percent of users can't go beyond "a few hours" without checking Facebook and 61 percent of users check their newsfeed "at least once a day." Of iPhone users, 28 percent check their Twitter feed before getting up in the morning. It's estimated that the average American spends nearly one quarter of their work day browsing social media for non-work related activities.

In fact, somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of Americans admit they don't go online for anything necessary, but rather to kill time or be entertained. For bigger businesses, this means if one thousand of your employees spend just one hour per day "cyberloafing," it could cost you $35 million each year. To make matters worse, numerous studies have revealed that just checking certain social media sites can make a person feel less happy. Now you might have unhappy employees as well as less productive ones.

Admitting You Have a Problem

Just like some people can stop at two cocktails and others can smoke the occasional cigarette only once or twice a year, some people are more prone to developing a social media addiction than others. It doesn't necessarily mean that you taking ten seconds to check Facebook after you turn off your smartphone alarm equates to being a social media addict. However, if you find social media negatively impacts other aspects of your life (like work), it's a problem whether you're "really" an addict or not.

If you're a small business owner, you need to ensure that you and your employees aren't falling into this trap. Start by assigning no more than two people to oversee the social media engagement of your company. Ideally, you might have a social media manager and perhaps an assistant manager. They should provide you with regular reports on what they've accomplished, improvement in numbers and details on how social media is translating into conversions or more loyal customers.

Although it's not popular, you may want to block some of the more addictive well-known social media sites from work computers (for the non social media managers) and draft a new agreement regarding cell phone usage at work. It might sound extreme, but without distractions your employees will be forced to focus on their work more. You may also want to invest in providing each employee a work phone so they will have less of a reason to check their personal devices while on the clock. However, that may be cost prohibitive for many entrepreneurs keeping a tight budget.

Extreme Cases

It's become more and more common for people to check themselves into social media rehab programs. The first rehab center of this kind in the US opened in 2009, but they first popped up in Southeast Asia. There are varying levels of addiction no matter what the "drug." If you suspect you or one of your workers has a serious problem, an inpatient or outpatient program might be a better fit.

No matter what your particular situation, this is an important subject for business owners to consider handling. Micromanaging your employees' social media habits is probably not the most efficient answer overall. As more and more people begin to work remotely or from home, businesses might be less able to regulate or monitor the activities of their employees. You must continuously communicate with them about their social media habits, and what will help them be most successful at their jobs going forward.

Published on: Jul 7, 2014