Several years ago, when social media was really starting to take off, the idea that an individual or organization could successfully engage in “just minutes a day,” was rampant. Then reality sunk in and people recognized that effective engagement requires time, hard work, and commitment. Finding ways to be more efficient and effective was still a primary focus, but the guidance offered was better grounded and more pragmatic.
Every once in a while, however, we see a resurgence of what I consider late-night infomercial, Ronco-style proclamations about how to leverage social media in simple! and fast! ways… No fuss, no muss, and for just pennies a day – less than you’d spend on a cup of coffee! This recent piece on Mashable - How to Spend Only 10 Minutes Per Day on Twitter - is a great case in point.
If I had to guess why these kinds of pieces continue to pop up, I’d venture to say they're in response to continuing new waves of adoption, as individuals and organizations that heretofore have had little to no digital engagement are finally ready to commit themselves to moving forward. And as busy, strategically savvy, but technologically naïve professionals, they’re looking to capitalize on the experience and expertise gained by earlier adopters. Their hope – and who can blame them – is that they won’t have to climb messy and slow learning curves unnecessarily but can instead achieve steady-state performance in leaps and bounds thanks to the trails that have already been blazed by their predecessors.
The people who are trying to help later adopters achieve their desired end-state more quickly are generally well meaning, especially when they give their advice away for free. Many seem genuinely motivated by a desire to demystify social media and other digital technologies, reduce fear, and lower barriers to adoption. But their Easy!Simple!Quick!Cheap! silver-bullet advice strategies are ill-advised. Here are seven key reasons why…
Reason 1. They minimize the strategic importance and value of social engagement. Like anything worth doing, social engagement requires a thoughtful, focused, and disciplined investment of time and resources to be successful. If an individual or organization has determined that it’s necessary to become more digitally engaged to achieve strategically important goals and objectives, they should be prepared to commit. If it’s not important, then it’s probably not worth spending any time or effort on. Dabbling is a waste of time – if that’s all you can do, don’t bother.
Reason 2. They overestimate initial skill levels and learning curve steepness. If you’re digitally sophisticated but not socially engaged, then the initial ramp-up to proficiency is relatively flat. But most social media rookies are also not that adept at using digital technology in general. They lack many skills that are now considered basic, like copying/pasting and embedding hyperlinks, using bookmarklets and other time-saving tools, and knowing how to check and correct their work. They also need to learn new terminology, like activity stream and tagging and category cloud, as well as normative expectations like when and how to use a hashtag, whether it’s appropriate to like your own post, and the proper quantity and frequency of posts – on each channel.
Reason 3. They neglect ramp-up time and costs. Even for digital sophisticates, it takes time to establish an initial presence on any social platform. Yes, you can create a Twitter account, LinkedIn profile or Google+ account in mere minutes, but that’s just the beginning. First, you have to decide which platforms on which you want to be present and engaged, at least initially. Then you have to learn how that platform works, how best practices are defined, and what it takes to be successful. Now that we’re well-past the early adopter stage, there’s little to no tolerance for rookie mistakes on the most established platforms, and the brand and reputational risks of mis-stepping shouldn’t be disregarded or underestimated. The best way to minimize that risk is to listen before engaging, which could take weeks or even months. Finally, building out your networks of relationships on each platform takes time and understanding.
Reason 4. The time parameters are unrealistic and misguided. I once read a piece that provided tips for doing “social media marketing in 15 minutes a day.” It suggested, for example, that you could find and pin five images to Pinterest in two minutes, and that you can scan, read and comment on one to two blog posts in three minutes. Seriously? Even if you’re a graduate of the Digital Era equivalent of an Evelyn Wood speed reading course, that kind of – ahem – efficiency is virtually impossible. In addition, the advice disregards the fact that engaging in what I call “cluster posting” once a day is likely to be ineffective and potentially off-putting, especially in time- and activity- sensitive channels like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (for status updates).
Rather than trying to engage in 15 minutes a day, it’s probably more effective – and efficient – to try to carve out fewer, bigger chunks of time to review, read, comment and share relevant content. You can probably engage on a fast and fast-moving platform like Twitter in short bursts of time, but reading and commenting on blogs and participating in LI groups requires larger investments. And with all platforms – even Twitter – it’s a good idea to use a tool like HootSuite to schedule posts so that you can engage consistently without feeling tethered to the channel.
Finally, it’s important to remember that as your engagement grows, so does the necessary time commitment. If you create a Facebook page, a LinkedIn group, or a SlideShare or YouTube channel, for example, you have to invest in establishing a solid presence and commit to feeding, seeding, and weeding the related activity as needed. And if you want to start a blog, well that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax! These commitments are not unwieldy or excessive – and they can certainly be managed efficiently and effectively – but if you want to do it right you’re going to need more than a few minutes a day.
Reason 5. They (indirectly) emphasize quantity over quality. One of the common complaints about Twitter – besides oversharing banalities – is that people retweet (RT) content somewhat indiscriminately, often without vetting it first. And too many bloggers share rehashed or unoriginal content and don’t do the necessary research to ensure their posts are complete and accurate. When posting frequency and speed are emphasized, quality suffers, and the signal-noise ratio everyone complains about gets more abysmal.
The pressure to post quickly and frequently also promotes carelessness and can also lead to mistakes, some of which can be serious enough to court disaster. In this example from the NY Times, a journalist retweeted a misleading post from a fake Twitter account, @nytkeIler, that he thought came from @nytkeller. The differences in the handle are subtle, but it’s a classic trick: the first “l” (el) in the fake account is actually a capital “I” (eye).
Reason 6. They misrepresent – or ignore – cause and effect relationships. Another piece I have read was headlined “5 Ways to Double Your Twitter Followers in 10 Minutes a Day.” Ironically, none of the advice directly addressed that premise – and even if it had, it would have been wrong. One of the biggest ongoing challenges with social media and digital engagement is determining the ROI (return on investment). There are so many variables at play that it’s almost impossible to determine whether and how involvement leads to a particular desired result. That doesn’t mean engagement is not worthwhile, but we need to be realistic about why we’re engaging and the results we expect that engagement to produce (for more on social media ROI, check out this post).
Reason 7. They create false expectations and set people up for failure (or a sense of it). People are generally inclined to look for quick fixes and silver bullets, but feeding into their naïve hopes isn’t doing social media rookies any favors. Instead, it’s doing them a disservice and undermining the importance of digital engagement. No one advertises how to help organizations do accounting, finance, operations, HR – or even marketing and sales – in “just minutes a day,” and no one expects to be able to master those functional areas on their own without a serious investment. Digital engagement is no different, but because of the ubiquity of social platforms, their low (or no) costs, and the ease of access, people underestimate them and think that mastery is easily obtained and maintained. Then, when mastery eludes them, these rookies feel as if they have failed in some way – or they blame the technology for not being all it was cracked up to be. Either way, they’re likely to give up and/or quit in disgust, which is ultimately not in their best interests.
A More Realistic Perspective
I have written a series of pieces targeted to social media rookies and others who want to engage more efficiently and effectively. They capture many of the "Welcome to the Digital Era" themes I highlight in the presentations I give and offer realistic guidance. You can find them by reviewing my previous posts on this site.
As always, your comments, questions, and additional insights are welcome.