As my spouse Dave and I were sitting one morning at our respective computers, I wondered aloud what topic to choose for my monthly newsletter. Dave, staring at his own screen, complained, “Who has time to work and still keep up with Facebook? Hey, why don’t you write about that?” Now since Dave isn’t even working at this time of year, if he feels overwhelmed by the endless stream of social media posts to read and make, what’s it like for the rest of us?

Social media

For the average independent professional who is trying to serve existing clients, run a business, and market for new clients in multiple ways, social media can be only one small piece of the picture. Yet it seems that to use social media well, it can potentially consume an endless amount of time.

Here are five ideas to consider about where social media marketing may fit — or not — into your already busy life.

1. Do you need to market via social media at all?
Despite what you may hear, it’s not a given for the independent professional. Social media can be a useful tool for creating brand awareness and market visibility. But independent professionals can rarely afford to do visibility-only marketing; they need to focus on direct response that leads directly to new clients.

If you are a one-person business serving only your local area, or you need a relatively small number of clients each year to be successful, it’s unlikely you will find social media to be an effective use of your marketing time. You would be much better off making use of approaches such as local networking, building referrals from personal contacts, or public speaking.

2. If social media marketing does make sense for your situation, before you begin setting up multiple profiles and pages, consider carefully where to have a presence. What platforms are your prospective clients most likely to use? If your target market is corporate managers, you’re much more likely to find them on LinkedIn than on Facebook. Twitter is dominated by younger adults and people in the tech, media, and entertainment fields. Google+ users are 65% male.

Sure, there are people who might be your clients active on every platform, but you want to invest time only where your clients are most likely to be. Once you’ve decided which platforms make sense, think twice before you set up profiles and pages for both you and your business. On all platforms, people are more likely to interact with a profile belonging to a person than to a business. And for independent professionals, repeated personal contact is vital to landing clients.

3. Set aside a specific amount of time each day or week for social media interactions. Social media marketing holds two time traps. When you don’t spend enough time, your presence has little impact, because your posts are stale or not seen by enough people. On the other hand, it’s frighteningly easy to spend many more hours on social media than it will ever be worth to you.

You can avoid both traps the same way — set a time budget for social media activities. You’ll need more time at the outset when you are first building your network of friends and followers. Once you have a network established, you can settle into a routine of posting and commenting on posts of others for a set amount of time each day, or several times per week.

4. Use your down time to keep up. When you’re waiting in line at the post office, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, or on your way to an appointment, get online and fill your social media quota for the day. You can easily stay current with posting, sharing, and commenting in sporadic 5-10 minute spurts. But only do this while standing still or sitting, please! No posting while driving or walking.

5. Remember to follow up offline with your online contacts. This may be the most powerful action you can take to turn your social media presence into a reliable client-getting system. When you interact on social media with someone you have reason to believe needs your professional services, don’t wait for that person to contact you someday and ask about hiring you. Reach out to him or her by email or phone and suggest a conversation.

I’m not suggesting that you add social media contacts to your mailing list for your ezine or email blasts without their permission. That’s a definite no. But do add prospective clients you meet on social media to your contact management system for personal, appropriate, and respectful contact and follow-up, just like you might with prospects you meet any other way.

Who has time for social media? Maybe you do, if you use it wisely and with forethought. Just remember one of marketing’s golden rules: Never spend more time on a marketing activity than it’s likely to be worth to you.

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