As a small business owner, it can be difficult to decide where your time is best spent, especially since your time really does equal money. Technology may make marketing and customer service easier, but it can also be more time consuming with existing, and potential, clients expecting a 24/7 social media presence, and business owners wanting to take advantage of every available opportunity to spread the word of their product or service.
TUTORIAL: Business Plan

While an overabundance of marketing opportunities, introduced by social media, can make the average small business owner feel a certain invisible pressure to always be online and communicating, that isn't necessarily the most effective way to drive your business. Here are some pointers to help you decide how much time spent on Twitter, Google+, Facebook and other networks might be too much. (To know more about social media companies, read: 5 Emerging Social Media Companies You Need To Know.)

No Such Thing as an Overnight Success
It takes hard work, time and dedication to develop a successful social media presence. If you expect to tweet for a few months and triple your business, you are probably in for a real shock when you see how incremental growth actually is. In addition, it's difficult to actually measure what success you may be achieving. For instance, increased sales is certainly a tangible sign of success, but increased buzz and positive brand image can be the building blocks for future financial success and should not be undervalued. As you determine how much time to devote to your social media campaign, keep this in mind and manage your time so that you can be consistent over the long haul.

What Is the Return on Investment?
For every marketing and networking action a business owner takes, there is an anticipated reaction. They may be using social media to increase brand awareness, increase sales, improve consumer perception and so on. But, without measuring the return you gain on the time you are investing in these things, you can't know whether or not your efforts have been worth it.

When you create your social media marketing campaign, be sure to have well-defined goals and a system in place for monitoring and measuring your success towards achieving those goals. Measuring and monitoring this success, or return, will help you determine how valuable the time spent on social networking is, and whether it's worth increasing or decreasing.

Do Some Trendspotting
People may love your product or service, and that may prompt them to "like" your Facebook page or follow your Twitter feed, but it doesn't mean they want their accounts flooded with messages promoting your business. Keep an eye on the communicativeness of the consumers who follow your social media feeds. If the level of back-and-forth communication such as replies, shares and retweets start trending down, it could mean that your message is no longer resonating or that you are spending too much time networking and need to scale back.

Are Other Areas of Your Business Suffering?
Social media should enhance your overall sales, goodwill and public relations, not create a time glut that causes a shortfall in executing your overall business or marketing plan. While you monitor trends and return on investment from your social media activities, keep a close eye on other areas of your business to ensure that nothing important is being neglected.

The Bottom Line
An effective social media strategy is often more about quality and consistency than quantity. It's also about listening and fostering communication that results in trust and building relationships, which may take more time than you anticipated. Finding that careful balance between spending enough time to build an effective social media presence and hurting your business by focusing too much on just one marketing strategy is challenging. However, if you create a solid plan and system for measuring results, along with a back-up plan to supplement any shortcomings you find, it can be done. (To understand the importance of relationship building, read: Small Business: It's All About Relationships.)

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