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One question I am asked very often is, “who has time for social media?”- which, as I see it, is another way of asking “Is social media a good use of my time and energy?” This is a valid question.

Social media can take a lot of time- as anyone with hundreds of Facebook friends or Twitter followers canattest, and it can be tiring, sometimes, to try and keep reaching out and making new connections when you feel that you don’t have time for the real life ones you already have.

While social media is not a substitute for real life connection and conversation, you probably do not want to ignore it all together. In order to make time for social media as a marketing strategy, consider these suggested guidelines for keeping your time and energy intact.

1) Participate on a few sites, not many. This is a good strategy for building deep connections as opposed to broad ones. Both are valuable, but you can often make stronger alliances and more meaningful ties with people when you focus primarily on two-three sites, rather than signing for accounts at 10. The sites you decide to participate on should reflect your primary goals of being involved in the social media space. If your goals relate to branding, be sure to spend more time on the social networks (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Myspace). If your goals relate to sharing your knowledge or expertise, you might find this easier to do on the content networks (such as Squidoo, Hubpages, Gather). If you want to do both, spend time on both kinds of sites, but limit these in number.

2) Set aside time each day or every couple of days to be involved and participate. Consider this like any other marketing or business growth strategy you perform regularly. Social media is a marketing avenue, so make time for it. While it may not bring you immediate return for the time invested, every mention of your name, every sharing of your philosophy, every time you share good information- all of these combine to create a snowball effect, which, ultimately, can create huge opportunities for you.

3) Being popular is not the only measure of success. One thing I’ve noticed about social media is that there is a tendency to form cliques on some of the sites- and it reminds me of high school- you know, the cool kids vs. the not cool kids? But on the social networks, as in life, popularity isn’t everything. In terms of fulfillment and direct impact, you might have more luck with 3 very well made contacts; even more than you’d have with 300 lesser ones. Relationships continue to be built one person at a time, so making even one new contact today can be a worthwhile endeavor. Think quality, not always quantity.

4) Track your efforts and your results. Most of business success comes from a smaller percentage of our efforts. Measure your social media strategy and its impact in definable numbers, such as traffic growth to your website, increase in newsletter and RSS subscribers, as well as increase in number of comments left on your blog. Notice if people are reaching out to you more often, and/or asking you to participate in new venues and new ways. These are all ways of understanding that your social media participation is working.

5) Realize there can be too much of a good thing. If spending one hour a day in social media is returning well, it doesn’t necessarily mean that spending two hours will be 2x more effective. As we’ve seen on Twitter now and then, there is such a thing as *too much* participation (think of the people who tweet about every 2 minutes, about everything!)

Hopefully these strategies have given you some tools for making time for social media. Like anything else, the more you participate, the easier it gets.