Small business owners often complain about the time required to jump into social media. But these same “busy” business owners will spend hours at networking events and in pointless one on one conversations.

Now don’t get me wrong. Good networking is valuable! And smart one-on-ones will fuel your business. Unfortunately, many business owners confuse activity with productivity. They assume if they simply show up enough times, something will happen. While this is fine in the early days of your business, as you get clients and projects, you need to manage your time, choosing the events, meetings and conversations which will make the most sense for your business.

The same approach works for social media and social networking.  In the beginning, register for a lot of sites. Try out different tools. Then start narrowing your focus, concentrating on the tools and sites which make the most sense for you.

How much time does it take? Thirty minutes to one hour a day, spent well is more than enough for most business owners. Remember, that one hour does not have to be all at once. With smart phones, I can pop in, get caught up, send a few messages, read an article or two, all while I am waiting in a coffee shops for my next one on one.

How should you spend your time? I like the model Chris Brogan proposed recently. In it he divides social media into three separate activities:Listening, Commenting/Communicating and Creating. Just as you would in real life, he suggests you spend the majority of your time on the first two.

  • 1/4 Listening – Or in the online world, reading and researching. I rely heavily on Google Alerts and my Google Reader for the listening part of my day.
  • 1/2 Commenting/Communicating – This is about engaging in conversations. Replying to or repeating information others have shared with you. My favorite tool for this phase is Twitter, but you can also use Facebook, Friend Feed, Plaxo or LinkedIn.
  • 1/4 Creating – This is the part of the social media equation which strikes fear in the hearts of many small business owners as they try to answer the question: What do I right about? If you are doing a good job in the other two sections, this third part is easy.   You can fuel your content by sharing what you have found in your listening phase and expanding on conversations which begin as comments.

Is it worth it?   Just like face-to-face networking, it takes time to answer that question.