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How to Use Social Media Without Letting it Eat Up Writing Time

Friday, July 16, 2010

How can we use social media without letting it grow into a hungry monster that gobbles up our limited writing time?

Last week, I opened up my blog to questions and Lisa Jordan brought up a problem most of wrestle with: “I'm trying to create more of an online presence with limited time--Twitter, Facebook, building up my blog followers and blogging on a regular basis. I'm using the time I have to write to interact with others...I need to find a nice balance.”

Since increasingly more of the population is hanging out in cyberland, most of us can agree that social media sites are important hang-outs for writers. (See this post: The Importance of an Online Presence.)

I’ve been developing a web presence over the past year and a half. I joined online communities before I was agented or had a book contract and then worked at broadening my presence throughout cyberland in many different ways. Now as my first book gets set to release in a couple of months, I've built a strong foundation and can move forward with confidence. I don’t have to jump in, figure it all out, and meet people right when things are heating up with my career.

In other words, as I’ve said before, it’s never too soon to begin developing an online presence.

But exactly how much time should we devote to developing that online presence? We’ve talked this week about TIME and how hard it is to find enough to write with all the other responsibilities we’re juggling. How can we squeeze in the social media stuff when we barely have time and energy to devote to our writing? And if we do try to interact online, is there really any way to keep it from eating our writing time?

Here are just a few things I’ve learned along the way.

1. View social media time as part of the job description.

Sure I’d rather devote all my work time to writing itself. My husband is a private-practice counselor and even though he’d prefer to spend his work hours meeting with clients, he also has to set aside time for other duties –paying bills, doing paperwork, returning phone calls, etc.

Likewise, we have to accept the fact that a writing career is going to involve work besides the writing. We have to plan time into our days for those other things—returning emails, commenting on facebook, or writing up a blog.

2. Dedicate time to social media, but don’t let it take over.

No matter where we’re at in our writing careers, social media should never occupy the bulk of our work time. It would be crazy for my husband as a self-employed counselor to spend the majority of his day talking on the phone or writing up notes at the expense of seeing people. Even as an almost-published author, my primary job is my writing.

If we leave the social media door wide open all the time, it’s all too easy to spend our days chatting with co-workers and never get the really important work done, especially for those of us who find socializing online an easy, enjoyable part of the job.

Yes, we can schedule online time into our work days, but we also need to establish boundaries for “how much.” For example when I read blogs—I give myself permission to make those connections. However, I also give myself a time limit, and when it’s up, I move on to other work, even if I’d love to keep “visiting.”

3. Maximize the social media time we are carving out.

In cyberland, consistency and socializing are two of the top ingredients to growth. People need to see our friendly presence on a regular basis. That doesn’t mean we have to be chatting with everyone everywhere. Instead we need to make the most of the time we do have.

Maybe all we can afford is one blog post a week. Then we should put everything we have into that one post and make it shine. Maybe we don’t have time to visit all our blogging friends on a weekly basis. Then visit them every other week. The point is not to give up, but to keep our presence visible and genuine.

And if we want to continually see growth, we can’t forget to make time to meet new people on Twitter, leave comments on new blogs, and add Facebook friends. We have to build room in our daily schedules for new contacts too.

How do you make time for social media without letting it eat a chunk of your valuable writing time? Are scheduling in enough time? Or are you allowing it too much? And if you’ve found a good balance, please share your secret to success!

44 comments:

  1. Great suggestions, Jody. Thank you. It's so easy to be distracted by the social media stuff...especially when we're querying or working hard to procrastinate. :)

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  2. Wonderful ideas, Jody, and like you I started early with my blog. Now I'm navigating my way through the river of social networks and find it a little more time consuming. Tweetdeck has has combine my interests into one, thus eliminating the need to keep logging and looking into what is going on. Truly inspired. Now if I can just take some of the inspiration and translate it into my writing. :)

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  3. I think you hit it--it is all about time management. We've owned several businesses and when self-employed you learn to juggle and pick out what needs to be done when.

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  4. Great insight, Jody. As always, it's all in the balancing stick. Be somewhat organized but not too rigid. Be focused but not to the extreme. Share yourself and ideas with other but in a timely fashion.

    Enjoy your weekend.

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  5. I give social networks the time I have. Some times I am here lots. Sometimes not. The writing comes first. When I am madly re-writing or subbing I am not anywhere but writing. I let the whole thing ebb and flow as it needs to. Great advise as usual.

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  6. Same as with others - the writing comes first! I know where I'm at, what I need to get done and my goals for the week and then I can judge how much I should be online. Great post!

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  7. Still working on a balance here, but your recommendation to make social media "a part of the job" makes fantastic sense. Very frew jobs do not require an "administrative" portion on top of the "fun stuff." Thanks Jody.

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  8. I have NOT found a good balance!!! LOL.

    On my blog, I always found that when I am actively commenting on other's blogs, I get the most hits and/or comments on my own blog. Over the last few months, I've slacked off, due to time/family issues, and there has been a steady drop in hits/comments. (although, I also started writing about less writing related things so this is probably part of that too!)

    Actually, the later might be mostly it. My goal was to start appealing more to my reader base than just fellow writers, and I KNEW when I did so that the hits wouldn't be as much for a while.

    I also started blogging 2 days a week instead of 3 (and down from 5 a year ago.) This helped my time TREMENDOUSLY.

    Really, I think scheduling time helps the best.

    And now I think I'm rambling... NOT a useful way to spend my time!!!

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  9. I have no problem keeping up on Twitter because I think it's super fun. I'm on facebook less often. Blogging.....now that's where I struggle. Especially lately. I just don't know what to write about lately. It's hard to be unique and fresh when there are a million and one awesome writing blogs floating around in cyber space.

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  10. Good post, Jody! I esp. like point number one. :-)

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  11. I'm thinking once my kids get older they can read out tweets and posts to me while I'm driving in the car and I can call out replies for them to type back. A work force of sorts..... ?!?!?!? :O)

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  12. Because Himself leaves for work at the crack of dawn, I'm up early. I use this time to read and respond to blog posts I follow. I also write a blog post during this time if I haven't scheduled posts ahead of time. That's a great feature of Blogger btw. I try not to work over the weekend especially on Sunday so that's the day I use to write out blog posts for the week. During the day when I take a break, I hit Facebook and Twitter. Having a Twitter client like Digsby (my preference) or Tweetdeck, allows me to quickly catch up with what's going on.

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  13. I'm a social person, so I naturally enjoy social networking and meeting new people online who have a common interest. I find social networking while trying to produce a good, well-crafted novel very challenging. I do think everyone has to find their own personal balance of time between writing, social networking and the other very important aspects of life. What works for one writer might not work for another.

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  14. I discipline myself and remember what the journey is all about...the story.

    I allow myself only a certain amount of time/attention to certain sites. Then I cage the beast and get back to writing.
    ~ Wendy

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  15. I wish all writers who struggle with this would read your post. I love how you put it as part of the job description. I agree.

    I check in on FB and Twitter every morning for 15 minutes. Then I check back in the afternoon. It does not take much time and it's fun. Blogs, on the other hand, take more of my time, so I aim to read my closest blogger friends once a week. Then, maybe once a month, I'll spend a few hours and try to get to the blogs I've neglected.

    The big thing for me is letting go of guilt at not being able to read every blog. Writing is more important to me.

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  16. I think social media is like so many other things in life. As humans we are prone to extremes. We think we need to work out five ours a day every day and practically be a vegan to be healthy, when in fact small things add up. Parking in the back of the parking lot, taking the stairs, just cutting out soda and fast food.

    We think we must live like paupers to be financially sound, when just saving a little every week and getting rid of impulse spending adds up.

    Social media is the same. You don't have to tweet 6000 times a day to establish a presence. I would venture to say that 5-10 "tweets" a day actually could go very far. You can do that by following my Rule of Three--1/3 Information (post articles and blogs of interest), 1/3 Conversation (tell us something about your day or take time to offer encouragement. Be genuine.), and 1/3 Reciprocation (repost blogs for others. Help them build their platform, too). And actually Information and Reciprocation can often be blended together.

    Just do these every day and you will see tremendous results.

    Another method that I actually recommend in my new book "We Are Not Alone--The Writer's Guide to Social Media" is outsourcing. Make your family part of your plan for success. Don't we think our family would benefit from being super-successful authors? Recruit their help. If you have teenage kids who are goofing off on MySpace or Facebook anyway, have THEM add friends while you cook dinner. This way, once you get on to Facebook, you can spend time in genuine interaction instead of worrying about adding more friends. I have my husband add friends and post my blogs while I tend the baby. Ask for help.

    Anyway, great post and I have taken up enough space. Thanks for sharing!

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  17. I love what Jill aaid. In spite of my arguing with her on her last post, I am thinking more of starting Twittering. My big issue is discipline. Because my flesh leans toward the addictive nature, I must often tell myself NO! when I want to blog or Facebook just five more minutes, which turns to twenty, then thirty...

    I schedule times for blogging and Facebooking and answering emails. That's the only way to "keep the monster caged" as Wendy says.

    Thanks for talking about this. We need to help each other succeed.

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  18. Jody, this problem has been bothering me from the time I started blogging few months back.I have decided that I have to consciously stay away from spending too much time online and concentrate on my writing.
    I time myself when I am online, else no writing will get done.

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  19. Great post Jody, thank you for sharing this. The struggle to maintain balance while building a platform is something that seems to haunt many of us. You have provided some great insight.
    Thanks again,
    Michelle

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  20. Sigh. I wish God would miraculously transform me into a social person so that I'll find the online stuff more enjoyable. I'm only social to the extent that I enjoy having a few close friends.:) But I suspect there will always be aspects of the job that are less enjoyable than others.

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  21. Excellent post, as always. I like your point about viewing it as part of the job description. I learn so much from reading the various posts, but it does get overwhelming some weeks, especially when I am working toward a goal or deadline. Not letting it take over, your second point, is the hard part. My writing partner, Marissa, and I actually share our blog. I highly recommend that as a possible solution. We can each cover the other when there's something going on and still get the regular features up on the blog. Doing contests or our Friday round-up of articles would be impossible some weeks if there weren't two of us.

    I have to say, I am in awe of the job that you do, Jody. Your posts are always thoughtful and such high-quality.

    Best,

    Martina

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  22. Great post, Jody.

    For one, realize how important this is. If you see the value, you won't mind spending the required time to do it well. Because it IS that valuable.

    And two, be smart about it. Once you figure out these tools, take it to the next level and schedule what you can ahead of time. I'm a fan of Hootsuite. Let's me know I'm tweeting all day without actually having to stop writing to do it.

    This is becoming even more important for me now that I'm helping small businesses and organizations (and some individuals, too!) grow their online communities. I can't spend all day on one client's Twitter account -- have to be smart about it so I can manage ALL my clients, plus my own social presence.

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  23. Thanks, Jody. I'd forgotten your last suggestion - visit new blogs on a regular basis. I'd slipped into a comfort zone with those I've already met and like.
    Karen

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  24. As I clicked on your post, I thought, "What words of wisdom will Miss Jody give today?"

    I'VE FOUND A BALANCE!!
    (at least it works for my present deadline on edits.)

    I edit a chapter, then can network!!! It breaks monotony and keeps my work interesting and hopefully my brain from fuzzing out!!!

    Blessings, dear one.
    Patti

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  25. You nailed it for me Jody. The balance between consistency and socializing is what my online time really boils down to.

    Blogging is so much fun, I have to administer breaks or I will never walk away!

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  26. Great post! Great suggestions! Since I do the majority of my writing during the week, I try to write and schedule my blog posts for the upcoming week during the weekend. Then I don't have to worry about it while I'm writing.

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  27. I do love socializing online (as an introvert, far more appealing than offline). :-) Since I'm at the day job all day, it would look bad if I were on most soc. media sites more than just here and there for breaks. So in order to keep my presence there but not actually "be" there, I schedule short posts through Tumblr to automatically go out during work hours. Mostly sharing links, or lines, or edit notes. I augment that with a few quick flyby stops to check replies and such during the day. When I have time at work (such as now), I skim through google reader and comment on a few blogs, marking others to visit later.

    After dinner is my convo time - I can chat w/people on twitter/FB while I'm surfing and watching TV. Then during my writing time late at night, I post that I'm writing to twitter, and ignore it until I get my writing in. In theory. It doesn't always work. Twitter is shiny. ;-)

    Tools like Google reader, twitterfeed, networked blogs and tumblr have all made keeping up a lot easier - all the admin stuff is automated for the most part, so I can spend the time I do have actually interacting with people. Which is the most important part, I think. :-)

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  28. I'm having way too much fun with social media and I really need to take your advice and not let it take over. I understand how people get sucked in. But the great part is that I've met so many amazing writers.

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  29. I have not found a balance but I have tried to narrow down what's most important to me and what kind of social media suits me the best. That way I can connect with people, keep in touch and still not feel overwhelmed. This has also meant lowering my blog posts to once or twice a week at most. Once I finish my current WIP I'm going to start to find a more productive writing and social media schedule so I can fit both in, in a way that makes sense. Thanks for the post!

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  30. I think when I first started blogging since it was a new experience (and still is) I spent a lot of time just learning how to blog, comment, and organize my blog. After a while, I got the swing of it.

    Now, when I need a break from working on my WIP I check out my blog roll. I set up a special blog that lists all my blogs in categories. I use the show first part of post feature. This allow me to find out if it’s a post of awards or “Sorry no post today” type post, both of which I tend to avoid, and find posts with new interesting, content.

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  31. Excellent information as usual, Jody. Two points really stand out as important: accepting the administrative tasks as part of the job, and remaining visible and genuine.

    People have mentioned how they automate their online conversations to save time and I find that disappointing. I think our blog posts can be scheduled without affecting the authenticity of our online presence, but beyond that I wonder if we're less than genuine when we have others monitoring and making comments for us, or when we schedule automated tweets throughout the day to save ourselves online time. To me that's as artificial and ineffective as popping from blog to blog dropping innocuous comments like, "Nice post, thanks." Such actions say we've been there but they're very impersonal and seem self-serving rather than friendly. Is having our name out there and having lots of friends/followers becoming more important than the social interaction itself?

    Perhaps in finding a balance we need to handle our online presence the same as any other activity... taking on only as much as we can effectively deal with and then allotting appropriate time for it. It sounds reasonable but I'm discovering even that isn't easy.

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  32. Good suggestions. I try to make one day a week set aside for promotion and give myself one hour a day to hit blogs and loops.

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  33. Hi Jody -

    I love blogging and visiting blogs, so it's a challenge to be disciplined.

    I'm trying the tactic of a master coupon diva: combine a coupon with a sale, and score a double win. I have my posts show up on Facebook, announce contests, make contacts with authors. I do my best to contact all new friends, thank them, and ask if they have a blog.

    This approach has led to interviews, meeting new people and enjoying their blogs, and developing relationships. My time on Social Media works together rather than against each other.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  34. I'm pretty sure I haven't found a balance yet, but I feel better about where I am.

    I access both Twitter and Facebook via PC. I use Twitter once or twice a week. I access FB most days but I've learned to catch up with what people are saying, "like" the ones I'm interested in, perhaps post a comment, and then close out the application. If there's a blog event that I'm interested in, I make sure to jot a note on my calendar so that I can check in once that day, but only once.

    I'm a member of several Ning groups but I maybe access them once a month, if that. Most of the members are also on FB or Twitter.

    My blog reading has gotten out of hand, which it seems to do about once a year, so I'm about to embark on my annual blog purge, where I cut the number of blogs I follow by at least half.

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  35. I once had an editor explain to me why she didn't friend or follow anyone in her stable of writers. She said it was way too frustrating (and angering) when they said they needed more time for deadline -- and she'd noticed them posting on social networking sites like crazy.

    Writing is the main business. Yes, PRing is vital too. But when PRing as social networking turns into missed deadlines, something has run amuck. Something to think about and take seriously.

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  36. Thanks, Jody. It's weird. I got all obsessive tonight and decided that I want to see 0 in my Google Reader. I see that I've missed many of your posts. Sorry. But, this one is for me. Set limits. Network, but don't make it a distraction. I want others to read my blog, so I need to spread around my reading time, and I can't make it to everyone's place in one day.

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  37. Making social networking part of my regular writing routine is something I'm working on. I dived in headfirst earlier this year when The Wild Rose Press accepted my debut novel. I love blogging and learning about other writers so it's been a struggle to stay disciplined. I admire the way you planned ahead. You have some great advice.

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  38. I did as you: I had an "online presence" before my books were published.

    For me, visiting has been cut way down. I used to be able to visit blogs more often, but now, I just don't have the time to visit everyone. So, I'll pick a day out of the week, a morning of that day, and call it my "blog walking" time - as I'm doing right now. Sometimes I have to skip weeks if I'm working on deadline, but it seems to work fine.

    My twitter and facebook accounts are active, but I try not to spend too much time on them. On twitter, joining groups like Litchat has been a huge help - it's a way to network one to three times a week from 4-5PM.

    I consider it a part of what I do, but, the writing has to take priority of course!

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  39. All very good points to remember. Social media is important but can be an enormous time waster. I pencil in time for Twitter, FB, and visiting blogs but understand I have to get in and out quickly.

    I spned the most time visiting other blogs. Five here. Five there. Leave a comment. Hopefully around 40-50 a day. Twitter, maybe five minues a day. FB, maybe 10-15 minutes total.

    Stephen Tremp

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  40. Jody, I really like how you refer to this cyberspace stuff as part of the job description. I've never seen it worded that way, and it's so TRUE. I just blogged a bit about juggling the two and if you don't mind, I'll post the link to your post in my blog. Good stuff! Thank you!

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  41. Social media can be a vacuum... it's so easy to get sucked in! Limiting time is sometimes more difficult because you don't always realize how much time has passed while you are online.

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  42. Jody, thanks so much for your practical advice. I have found that socializing on blogs and twitter is addictive. A little while back I decided that I had to accomplish my writing goal for the day first, before diving in to the blogs and twitter. So far, it's helped a great deal. It's kind of like dessert after a great meal!

    Thank you for stopping by my blog, I appreciate it!

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  43. I used to post every day on my blog but found that was eating too much of my time, so I reduced it to 3 days a week for two blogs which amounts to 6 posts a week. But it's the visiting of other blogs that takes up most of the time. I visit blogs & comment an hour a day and take the weekend off to refresh.

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