The mainstream media of yesteryear loves to tout the internet as a social tool. And there's good reason for them to believe that, even though it's not entirely true.
The web is a great network, I've met some of my closest friends online. It's great to connect with fans of my work. But the web's not very social the closer you climb to the top. At least, if you've ever tried contacting someone you look up to on Twitter or Facebook or even email, the web starts to look a little less social and instead like an all-business buffet for robots.
Maybe you're one of those busy people who simply can't take time out of their day to stay up-to-date with every single tweet or message or email that comes your way. That's understandable, but it's not okay. It's time for us to look at the way we're using social networks to stay in touch with our fans, our friends, and most importantly: our audiences.
A lot of the widely successful people online aren't even using their Twitter accounts as themselves these days. A fact that makes me wonder: what's the point of having those accounts in the first place?
People want to follow and hear what YOU have to say, not what a random group of interns or an automated robot has to say (I'm looking at you Mr. Kawasaki). Don't even get me started on emailing. Trying to get a hold of any prominent online personality by email is practically a joke these days. If you do ever get a response from somebody, it's likely to be a paid gatekeeper, but even that term is too generous for what you're likely to deal with if you try contact Scott Belsky (of The 99 Percent) or Chris Brogan (who touts himself as a social media guru!).
There are gatekeepers, and then there are robots or bottom-of-the-bucket interns wearing masks to look like the people we're trying to connect with. This simply will not do any longer.
Here, for sanity's sake, are a few ways you can manage your online profiles properly if you find yourself strained with time:
1. Dedicate just 10 minutes a day to checking-in.
10 minutes isn't hard to find, for anyone. If those 10 minutes just so happen to be when you're in the bathroom on your iPhone, fine, whatever works. Just find 10 minutes a day to log-in as you and respond to those who are trying to connect with you. You'll not only prove to those who look up to you that you care, but you'll also have an opportunity to get some real-world feedback on the work you're doing online. And that's worth more than any dollar amount you could otherwise be making in those 10 minutes.
2. Work with a passionate team.
If you really have to use a team of interns or personal assistants to help you manage your social accounts, at least do so in a passionate way. When your team identifies a message to you that they think you might like to personally respond to, just have them notify you and then you can take care of it yourself. Don't just send an email or give approval for the team to respond, do it yourself. Use the team like a lighthouse, to help guide you. The biggest problem here is identifying what messages might really interest you (I'm sure people like Julien Smith get a thousand requests every day), and that's something you'll have to really work out with your team. Worst case scenario is they send anything that simply doesn't look like spam onto you. A team to help filter spam, plus 10 minutes of "social" time every day, is a guaranteed outline for the beginnings of success.
3. Manage the robots yourself.
There are a lot of great tools to make using social networks nearly automatic. From plug-and-play to scheduling services (like Time.ly, which I use regularly). These are great tools for keeping your accounts fresh and up-to-date, but they leave a lot of room for the social aspect of the networks. Again: this is a place where you'll have to find your own happy medium, but you could consider something that I like to do: manage your content robots and dedicate random bursts of 1 to 2 minutes every hour to simply checking for replies to those automated posts. That way you can immediately reply to any questions or comments, you can still be plugged-in without having to be on 24/7.
4. If you really can't do any of the above, close your account.
For brand reputation you need to keep your name registered on sites like Twitter, etc. But if you aren't going to actively use the account, do everyone a favor and make your profile bland or at least with a note stating something about you not having the time to socialize with fans/audience. Trust me: it sucks to not be able to see the latest and greatest material on Twitter from someone you look up to, but it's a thousand times worse to see updates from someone and not stand a chance of actually connecting with them.
In the end: social networks are all about being social, and connecting with the people who got you where you are today. Whether you're a huge online success, or someone who's merely finding their way: take the time to figure out a social strategy that works, but remember above all else: the part of social networking that makes it so great is YOU. No robots or interns or fancy makeup can change that.
We want to talk to and connect with you. That's all there is to it.
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