The biggest objection I hear from flooring dealers about becoming immersed in social media has to do with time. Their days are busy enough without having to add another layer of work that seems overwhelming when new social networks seem to keep popping up every other day. What’s a retailer to do?

I understand the objection completely. Time is a finite resource to be managed carefully. Keeping up with so many platforms seems exhausting and the return questionable. Better to focus on the business.

That said, what is time when it comes to generating customers? Aren’t customers the lifeblood of your business? Isn’t social worth embracing if it allows you to interact with them as people, and start your sales process earlier?

For that reason, social media is serious stuff. Finding the time for it means becoming part of how people connect, interact and gather information.


Why Bother Finding Time for Social Media?

What are you doing when you’re waiting in line for your Latte, during TV commercials, or to pass the time before your kid’s softball game begins? I bet you’re pulling out your smartphone and checking things—such as your Facebook newsfeed, LinkedIn connections, Instagram or Pinterest updates—and commenting, sharing, updating or liking.

You may even be searching for a specific solution and location for the errand you need to run. That’s what 148 million U.S. smartphone users were doing as of September 2013 according to comScore—and you can bet that number has grown.

Even though they—and you—are reaching for a piece of technology, they’re using it for practical and social reasons: To interact with family far away, admire a picture, laugh with a friend, share a common moment in between the general craziness of life and figure out who to buy from. They’re slicing this in between their other activities. They’re making the most out of the time available and being social.

That’s what makes social media worth paying attention to. We enjoy being social, even without technology. That’s how we build relationships and figure out whom we’re willing to trust enough to do business with. Add technology to the social mix, and amazing things happen:

• Sharing becomes easier.

• Quick, relevant touch points are possible.

• You can direct people to deeper content.

• You can link your brief update to your bigger business picture.

• You can create connections with and between others.

• You can educate people before they realize they have a need for your product or service.

• You can bring your business and its people to life with photos, videos and words.

• You have a 24/7 record of all of the value your business creates.

• You can visibly support your community.

• People get to know you and trust you so they don’t think twice when they are ready to do business.

• You build stronger relationships.

• You have another means for interacting with prospects.

• You can connect with people who share common interests across geographical boundaries.


Finding the Time

So, how do you find time in your busy day? If you’re like me, you’ll find time for social activities if they provide tangible benefits.

What if social allowed you to:

• Respond to customer service questions. Zappos customer service is ready on Twitter to quickly acknowledge, respond to and move more involved questions offline to the telephone.

• Show the real deal about your company and how your people care intensely about what they do. An insider’s view about how you prepare for a customer’s installation, for example.

• Educate potential customers about what to expect when they do business with you. BuildDirect has created videos about what to expect when a customer receives a delivery from them.

• Connect with design resources who can help promote the products you offer to their clients or who can make you look smart and design knowledgeable.

• Share customer success stories. Before and after pictures are powerful; they can also inspire future customer projects.

• Engage with people interested in your business without turning them off with non-stop selling messages.

• Learn about and monitor new trends in the marketplace.

• Make potential clients aware of what you sell and how those products work together to make their homes more beautiful.

• Perhaps some customers consistently ask the same questions. Imagine having the answer readily available in a blog article or a page on your website. When asked that question in a digital social setting, you can easily respond with a link to your content.


How to Spend Your Social Media Time

If you’re ready to set aside the time to consistently and regularly take part in social media, expect the time commitment to fall into two categories: initial set-up and ongoing account management.

• Initial Set-up

First, set up your business social profiles. You’ll need to have a square image (aka an avatar) of your company logo. Be consistent across all your social network accounts with this profile image. That’s how you’ll be recognized.

Next, complete your profiles thoroughly so a first-time visitor understands what you do and the benefits your company offers. Include terms that prospective customers use to search for the solutions you offer. Each network has its own constraints for length. Be consistent so your core message comes across whether you have 140 characters or 500.

The major social networks—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn company page—include space for a strong visual statement about your brand and company. Be ready to upload an image for each and remember that each platform has different size requirements.

Publish a few updates so your profile shows some signs of life.

Find related people or companies on that network to follow. Be sure to acknowledge them when they follow you back. Don’t forget to follow back those who follow you—assuming they are relevant (i.e., I ignore get-rich-quick-schemes).

• Ongoing account management

When you’re being social, you need to show up regularly and consistently so you can listen and comment on what others have to share. Plan on 10 to 15 minutes every day or so liking, commenting, congratulating your social community, sharing a few interesting updates with them and responding to questions. Every 1 to 2 weeks, explore outside your normal circle to expand your reach.

Involve others in your organization to participate with you on social networks. That makes the conversation a natural extension of what happens within your business and in real life.

Which Platforms to Select

There’s no possible way to effectively be social on every social networking platform in existence. For that matter, you don’t want to be on every social media platform. Pick and choose based on where your customers spend timeand focus your attention on doing those few platforms really well.

At the very least, make sure you and all your company representatives have created complete profiles on LinkedIn. Distribute to your employees a descriptive statement about your company to include in their profiles. Set up a LinkedIn company profile that your employees can all link to in their profiles.

Given the popularity of Facebook and the comfort level so many have with it, consider setting up a company fan page. Invite several from your company to be administrators and post regularly. Experiment to find out whether links, photos or videos perform better with your followers.

If you plan on publishing videos and/or have set up a Gmail account for your business, you now have a Google+ page. Claim it; add your business information, include photos and hours of operation and invite customers to post reviews. Then, explore to find out who’s active on Google+.

Be aware that several visual networks have been capturing the attention of customers: Pinterest in particular with its pinboards makes for an effective network for sharing design inspiration ideas relevant to your prospects and their decision-making process.

If you aren’t sure, simply ask your customers. Find out where they go to find ideas and obtain information. Try testing how one platform performs versus another when you upload and share similar content.


Tools Can Help You Manage Time

Yes, there’s plenty to do. Luckily, there are also plenty of tools to help you do more in less time when it comes to social media.

That mobile device mentioned at the beginning of this article allows you to do updates while you’re on the go—just as our customers do. If you’re visiting a completed installation, take a photo and share it on Facebook. If you’re stuck in line at the bank, go ahead and congratulate a peer on his success on LinkedIn. When you’re waiting for the little league game to begin, add a “+1” and a comment to the blog article you’re reading.

When you’re in front of your laptop and browsing sites with beautiful images, consider pinning a few to your Pinterest boards using the Pin It bookmarklet in your browser.

If you’re a power Twitter user and eager to monitor specific search terms—including hashtags—you’ll want to use a Twitter client such as Hootsuite to keep track of them more efficiently.


How to be Successful and Maximize Your Time

Ultimately, social networks are about being social—showing your human side and being willing to interact, respond, share and do more than just talk about yourself. Think through this ahead of time so your entire organization understands your rules for courtesy online. Interacting with customers on social networks carries with it similar responsibilities to doing so on the phone and in your showroom.

Commit to participating regularly and consistently.

Develop a content calendar so you know what to post when on your social networking platforms and can do so regularly and consistently. Be sure to include images, videos, simple updates as well as more involved ones. Your customers are a valuable source of content ideas. Think of all of the questions they ask you.

Determine what the goal is for your social interactions. Is it primarily for customer service? For support? To help you get the word out about your design services? To drive traffic to your website?

The more you are aware of why, the easier it will be for you to come up with content and measure how successful your efforts are. The more closely you align your social networking with your business, the more likely it will succeed.

Being social in business is about developing relationships and connecting with customers. If you focus on them, you’ll find the time you spend worthwhile.

Now, are you ready to find the time for social media for your business?