Twitter logoDo you feel that social media is taking over your working day? Do you lose large chunks of time to Twitter? Do you get lost in the depths of LinkedIn? Do you panic that you haven’t posted any new activity on your Facebook business page for two days?

It’s true that we’re all spending more and more time on social media sites these days. I recently read that it’s as much as 66% more time now than 12 months ago: globally we spend 110 billion minutes on social networking sites and blogs – that’s a staggering 22% of all our collective online time. With statistics like that you can’t really argue whether social media is a useful tool – it’s free and your potential audience is huge.

But nor should it take over your life. Or make you feel like you’ve taken your eye off other important elements of running your small business.

The question of how much time should be given over to social media activity is one I’m often asked in marketing reviews with clients. And while there aren’t any hard and fast rules about this, I do worry slightly when clients see it as a task to be ticked off their ‘to do’ lists. Social media is all about engaging and participating – it’s a two-way dialogue that has moved way beyond the traditional realms of promoting your business by broadcasting a message and then hoping for the best.

So how do you contain it, be active yet ensure you don’t burn up hours of valuable time on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and your blog?

The answer is quite simple really – a little discipline and knowing how to take advantage of social media management tools. Tools such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck are there to help you manage your social media activity more effectively. You can post messages to multiple sites so that they automatically appear at the same time on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Yes, you still have to interact daily but you can also plan your promotions and campaign messages. And if you write a blog, you can prepare your articles in advance (an evening of rubbish TV is ideal for creating three or four pieces I find!) and then simply set up a publishing schedule through your blogging tool.

Nikki Pilkington, a leading exponent of social media for business, recommends 15 minutes a day as a realistic – and achievable – target for small businesses, and I would agree with this. Most of us can see how we can set aside 15 minutes, and pretty soon it’ll become second nature, like checking your accounts, updating your expenses, or having a tea break at 11 o’clock.

Have you mastered the art of social media activity or do you struggle to keep on top of it? It would be great to hear about the time management tactics and tools you use.