Anyone here want to spend hours checking Facebook each day? How about constantly checking Twitter for little bite-sized bits of communication? Or constantly tweaking settings and affiliations in LinkedIn? Social media, it turns out, takes time.

For some, the looming threat of losing all of their free time to the constant chatter of social media is a big barrier to entry. If you know anyone like that, perhaps they’ll enjoy today’s column.

Because of my work in Web traffic analysis I often get asked questions about return on investment. "What’s the ROI of Facebook?" someone will ask. Or Twitter, or Foursquare or whatever. The answer is always some variation of, "It depends."

Anyone here want to spend hours checking Facebook each day? How about constantly checking Twitter for little bite-sized bits of communication? Or constantly tweaking settings and affiliations in LinkedIn? Social media, it turns out, takes time.

For some, the looming threat of losing all of their free time to the constant chatter of social media is a big barrier to entry. If you know anyone like that, perhaps they’ll enjoy today’s column.

Because of my work in Web traffic analysis I often get asked questions about return on investment. "What’s the ROI of Facebook?" someone will ask. Or Twitter, or Foursquare or whatever. The answer is always some variation of, "It depends."

It’s natural to want to know the return on investment of an activity before any investment has been made. But when you put it in broad daylight, it doesn’t hold up. If you’ve made zero investment in something then chances are fairly good that you’ll have zero return. Beyond that, it tends to depend upon whether your strategy fits your practice and market and how well you execute on that strategy.

Social media is no different really — it’s just another tool for communication. The best way to get a sense of what the ROI for it is going to be is to give it a try. But then we get stuck in this chicken-and-the-egg situation where, not knowing how to use the tools, how are we going to get a meaningful ROI?

Here is how you can get started using existing social media tools and form a solid base for you to learn the tools, discover what feels right for you and your organization, and get a (very small) taste of what benefits social media might have for you.

This will take about an afternoon to initiate and, after that, however much time you care to devote. So don’t worry about becoming one of those people oblivious to the real world because they’re so wrapped up in their virtual world.

Set up some profiles

Step one in getting value from social media is to have a profile on the sites. The reason you want to do this is because many of the social media sites are becoming vertical portals.

Just as it’s easier to find a house if you search on Trulia, Zillow or Realtor.com than it is if you search on Google, same thing for people and social media. If an old classmate is looking for you, chances are good their search will happen on Facebook. If someone is looking for a person with your business skill set, chances are good they’ll do a search over on LinkedIn.

Setting up a simple profile on any of these services is fairly straightforward. You can get really intense and tweak them six ways from Sunday, but the goal of this column is to get you started in the least amount of time possible.

Make a text document that contains:

  • your name
  • one sentence about yourself
  • one full paragraph about yourself
  • your business name
  • your title at the business
  • a paragraph about what problems you solve for your customers
  • your business Web site address
  • your blog Web site address (if you have one — if not, don’t sweat it)
  • your business phone number (that you don’t mind putting on the Internet)
  • your e-mail address (that you don’t mind putting on the Internet) …CONTINUED

Now dig up a photo of yourself that you don’t hate. If you don’t have one, smile into your Web cam and take one. You’ll need a photo. This is where many people stop because they’re not comfortable with having their picture taken. I’m totally there with you on this. But you’ve got to do it and it won’t be that bad. Trust me, you look great.

Now that you’ve got the basics together go log in and sign up over on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. There are others you can (and hopefully will) explore later. But for now, the big three will do.

Use the information you put in that text document to make filling out the profiles quick and easy. Anything you don’t want to answer leave empty. You don’t have to answer anything you don’t want to answer. That said, provide a town and state, because it will help for any searches that are location-oriented like "I want to find a real estate agent in Napoleon, N.D."

Be sure that you sign up to the services using an e-mail that you’ll check. Also be sure to get your Web address into each profile. Since the purpose of low-impact social media is to spend as little time as possible, you’ll need a way for people to get from the social media site over to your Web site.

If you’re serious about tracking ROI, now’s the time to employ campaign tagging (see previous column). If you do this, your Web analytics report will let you know how many people from each service are coming to your site via your profile links. This will be useful to you if you want to calculate the ROI of making these profiles and also for helping you decide if and where you want to spend some more time investing in social media for greater returns.

There you go. You don’t ever have to log in again if you don’t want to. You will get e-mails from the services. Go ahead and approve all the friend requests or whatever, but don’t spend any more time than you want to.

The point of having these profiles is that you show up in searches for you. This is very low-impact. Don’t expect this level of investment to have a massive impact on your bottom line. But at least you’ve achieved a due-diligence level of participation. Later, you can start to use social media more if you want to.

I’ll be at RETechSouth this week speaking and listening and hope to see you there. If you’ve got anything you’d like me to write about, or if you just want to say hi, track me down in the hallway. I’m usually easy to spot: long hair and a beard.

Gahlord Dewald is the president and janitor of Thoughtfaucet, a strategic creative services company in Burlington, Vt. He’s a frequent speaker on applying analytics and data to creative marketing endeavors.

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