If you look at any of the articles and research done on the benefits of social media, you’d be hard-pressed to find any downsides to using social media to promote and build your business. But as with anything that looks as good as free social and business networking, there is a potential snag: Time—more specifically, time management. Managing the time you spend networking online versus other business-building activities or even just the day-to-day activities of running your business can make a world of difference in how effective your marketing efforts prove to be. There are several notable networking platforms and using them in conjunction with your other activities increases your online presence and visibility—as long as you’re not spending too much or too little time with them. Where we spend our time Facebook is a wonderful marketing tool for consumer marketing. It’s fun and you can do so much with it. Many of you are already communicating with friends and family on Facebook. You might even have connected with current or former clients through your personal page. But, have you considered creating a Business Page using your personal profile? With a Business Page, you have greater opportunities for promoting your business to potential clients. You can secure a user name for your business so that you can print the URL on your business cards, flyers or brochures. It’s a free Web site for you that you can easily manage through your personal profile. Of course, you cannot take 1003 applications through Facebook, but you at least have a platform to promote your services to its 600 million-plus active users. Another booming social media platform is Twitter, the 140 character micro-blogging phenomenon. With 200 million current Twitter accounts and 460,000 new accounts each day, Twitter is undoubtedly growing fast. Twitter really is a great tool for business. In just 140 characters, you can share industry news, talk about your services and build relationships with potential clients who found your tweets. If you have a Web site or blog, you can link your tweets directly to them for complete details and to perhaps capture visitor information with a registration request for additional information. You can have mini conversations with interested parties, share important news, and create an online persona that will attract future clients or industry partners. To keep in touch with your industry partners or professional groups, don’t neglect LinkedIn for outstanding networking functionality for referral partners and fellow mortgage professionals. LinkedIn is the business networking tool that serves the needs of professionals in any industry or job function. Even the most basic “free” version of LinkedIn has valuable business building potential. You can post status updates similar to Facebook to keep connections involved with your business and can interact with networking groups that best suit your business and your interests. LinkedIn provides for an online “resume” where you can list your credentials, experience, specialties, languages spoken, etc. And like Facebook and Twitter, you get amazing search engine result placements. How to spend your time wisely No matter how many of the social media platforms you choose to use, it is important that you manage your time wisely so that you are not so consumed by them that you burn out and drop out completely. That would certainly be a disservice to your fans, followers, and connections and could be detrimental to your reputation. Social media is a commitment. While it’s not as quick to maintain as other mediums, blogging is a good example of the importance of sticking with it. So many companies start blogging, but give up after one or two posts when it becomes difficult to find the time to develop fresh content on a regular or semi-regular basis. Then, they have a blog link on their main Web site that leads to nowhere. Search engines will forever continue to drive traffic to your earlier posts, but visitors might think you’ve gone out of business when they see you’ve been inactive for so long. The same pitfall lingers in the background for social media that require greater regularity and frequency. What makes the pitfall easier to combat in the platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn is that there are tools specifically designed to help you save time and energy when posting to multiple mediums. ►All-in-one suites: Technology companies know that you’re busy. Just like your loan origination system (LOS) provider, they work hard to ensure that their technology, while developmentally complicated, serves to ease your daily work life. Companies like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, along with many others, have honed the art of the “post-once-post-all” social media extravaganza. Hootsuite is an online system that allows you to post immediately or schedule your Tweets. With Hootsuite, you can monitor multiple platforms and post to all with very little effort or time. There are separate tabs for each social media platform you monitor. Tweetdeck is a downloadable application that displays your various platforms on one screen, as opposed to tab views. Like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck also allows you to schedule your updates. If you need to shorten your link addresses, Tweedeck gives you a choice of several URL shorteners. If you are looking for a suite to manage your social media, there are several others to choose from depending on your particular needs. Don’t feel like you are obligated to just one. They’re free so you can try several to determine which one works best for you. ►On-the-go tools: This would be a good time to start using your phone for something other than a phone. It’s almost impossible to find a basic phone anymore … they’re all smartphones that offer so many features and functions to help you organize your day. If you have a data plan, you can use your phone to access your social media, check your e-mails, and post based on incoming news or anything other information that your networks will appreciate. Set up e-mail alerts for industry news so that you are always up-to-date and can post relevant material for your clients. Your phone is a wonderful communication tool that allows you to stay in contact with your clients, making them happy and more apt to provide you referral opportunities. ►Analytics: Social media activities—keeping your material fresh and current, posting multiple times a day, having meaningful dialogue with your followers/connections—is great, but without analytics, how do you know what’s working and what’s not? Use the free tools within your platforms to monitor the posts and links that resonate best with your clients and peers. You will save time and potential followers by only posting the best content for your networks. 1) Facebook has “Facebook Insights” that helps you see how your fans are interacting on your page. It allows you to see who your active users are and where your traffic is coming from. 2) To check your Tweet stats, you can use a free tool such as Tweetstats that will display your tweets and monitor how you’re doing in terms of follower interactions. 3) If you use bit.ly for a URL shortener, you can visit their site to see how many followers are clicking your links. Analysis tools for Twitter are plentiful and you can quickly find one that provides the information you need. It bears mentioning that if you do choose to use Hootsuite, you have access to their analytics tools as well. Time is money The goal of social media is to enhance your business by increasing your online presence and enabling virtual relationships with clients and referral partners. It’s your opportunity to demonstrate your expertise, knowledge of the industry and personality. After all, people want to do business with a person, not a company. You are the face of your company that social media displays for the Internet world, and it’s online where many buyers start their search for information so it’s the right place to be today to grow your business. But, if you get locked up in social media jail, you’re not running your business. Social media can certainly be fun and it can do a lot for you and your business. It is definitely entertaining to keep up with old high school friends, see how your peers are dealing with regulatory concerns, or read about the antics of the children in your friends and family network. But if you’re using it for business, you have to manage your time wisely and not neglect the daily activities that are the bread and butter of your business. On the other hand, take your social media commitment seriously. If you abandon your support network, you could suffer a loss of credibility—and potential business. For social media to prove successful as a business-building strategy, you must designate and maintain a good balance of time. Develop a strategy for social media content as you would with your overall business and use the tools at your disposal to help you manage your time. Effective time management of your networking activities will give you a decided advantage over your less-contemporary competitors. B.J. Bounds is senior marketing communications specialist for Calyx Software. In addition to media relations and copywriting, B.J. is a contributing author to the Calyx Software blog, CalyxCorner. She has more than 10 years of experience in sales and corporate marketing with a focus on technology that spans several industries. She may be reached by phone at (800) 362-2599.