How Much Time Does It Take to Manage Social Media?

Ever since social media became a thing, there’s been someone saying it can be done in 30 minutes (or less!) a day. The reality is much different if you want to be successful, and claims to the contrary—even very helpful ones like Hootsuite’s How to Manage Social Media for Business in Only 18 Minutes a Day—do a disservice to people and companies alike. They set up false expectations of success and about the time it takes to succeed.

Whatever analogy works for you (garden, long-term relationship, or something else), social media is a commitment. You need to tend it, nurture it, give to it what you’d like to see come back to you. There’s no short cutting it. Period.

If you spend 18 minutes a day on social media, you likely won’t grow your channels, and if your competition is spending more time, you may still lose customers to them. And maybe you won’t be “forgotten,” but I doubt the “40% of digital shoppers [using] social media to research new brands and products” (Hootsuite) will find you. Why? Because it takes more time than that to cultivate an engaged following and to show up in searches. 

The time you need to spend is also tied to how many channels you have. If you’re only active on Instagram, the time you need to invest will be less than if you’re managing Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn, for example. Your company size and how much you need to communicate also impact the time equation.

Okay…So How Much Time Does Social Media Take?

As much time as you can give it. I know, frustrating answer. 

The reality is, social media can be a time suck. It will greedily soak up all the time you have and still make you feel like you’re not putting enough energy into it. I’ve felt that whether I was spending 5 hours a week helping a startup client or my team had the equivalent of two full-time people managing a full set of channels. There’s always more that you can do. Although, I must confess that the feeling is way more intense with 5 hours a week than 40. 

So, the first thing you must do is make peace with that and know that it’s okay. 

Next, you need to decide what time and resources you can commit to it, and then build a realistic plan for:

  1. What you can accomplish with what you have 
  2. Where you’ll focus your efforts 
  3. How you’ll measure success (realistic KPIs for the time and resources you’re investing, aka what success looks like)

Once you’ve established how much time you can invest, set expectations with your stakeholders on what you can and can’t accomplish. A 90-minute-a-week investment will look different than a 10-hour-a-week investment than will a 20-hour-a-week investment, and so on.

Hootsuite’s 18-Minute-a-Day Social Media Plan

I know it looks like I’m picking on Hootsuite, but that’s not my intention. I love them and their product. Not only that, but the team managing their social channels does an amazing job, and they have a fun brand personality. Their “18-Minute-a-Day Social Plan” post is also filled with some great recommendations on how to tackle social each day, so definitely check it out. 

It’s just the time associated with each step is unrealistic, and there are a few steps missing:

  • Social listening: 5 minutes
  • Analyze and plan: 5 minutes
  • Check your content calendar: 2 minutes
  • Schedule: 1 minute
  • Engage: 5 minutes

What’s missing from the above list? 

Two things, both of which can take a good amount of time, but one of them is mandatory: creating content. If you don’t create content, there’s nothing to schedule nor to check in your calendar, and there’s less to analyze.  

In their article, Hootsuite notes they hope you already have a social media marketing plan and content calendar in place, and if you don’t, to set aside about one hour each month to brainstorm and prepare ideas and fill in your calendar. But…creating content takes more than 1 hour per month or 2 – 3 minutes per day (more on that below under “Writing and Scheduling Posts”).  

The other is reporting. Yes, you can leave reporting off, but if you have a boss, chances are, they’ll want to know the fruits of your labor. It’s rare someone doesn’t have someone asking them what’s up, be it a manager, a client, or the board.

A More Realistic Social Media Plan 

Most people and companies are managing multiple channels, but for purposes of this post, we’ll keep it to two: Twitter and LinkedIn.

Below is a 5-hour-a-week plan for managing both. While it’s possible to move the needle with this investment, (I did it for a small startup client), it’s a much slower process. But really, I don’t recommend less than 10 hours a week if your business is B2B. 

This plan is also assuming that someone else is creating stuff for you to share (white papers, blog posts, videos, eBooks, product sheets, customer stories, events, etc.), and that your 1 hour a day is focused solely on the items below. And if I’m really being honest, nowhere below do I account for the communication that takes place with your content providers and stakeholders—which can eat up a large chunk of time. So, make sure to factor that into your planning

And if you have more than two channels, you need to add time accordingly. 

Checking Your Content Calendar: 2 minutes

As Hootsuite recommends, it’s always good to look at your content calendar each day to make sure everything is good to go. Check the visuals and do a final proof to check for typos. While you can edit a LinkedIn post after it publishes, Twitter has yet to implement an edit button. So, your choices are leave the typo up or delete and repost. 

Looking at your scheduled posts is also a good practice to make sure that what you have doesn’t conflict with any major happenings that weren’t taking place when you scheduled them.

Writing and Scheduling Posts: 20 minutes*

Scheduling posts with a tool like Hootsuite is definitely easy, but it takes more than the 1 minute Hootsuite suggests. Figure on spending 30 seconds a post (that’s assuming you’re just copying and pasting from another resource and that you have no difficulties). If you aim to publish 3 – 5 original tweets and 1 – 2 LinkedIn posts each day, that’s 2 – 3.5 minutes. 

That gives you roughly 17 minutes a day to plan your editorial calendar AND CRAFT the posts you see in that calendar (something that Hootsuite didn’t include in their 18 minutes). Trust me, that’s not a lot of time to:

  • Check your content sources daily, such as third-party publications and your company blog, marketing calendar, and other new materials, like eBooks, white papers, and case studies
  • Write the copy for the tweets and LinkedIn posts—short, clever/interesting posts that capture readers’ attention take time
  • Create or find associated graphics—whether you create your own with a tool like Canva or you use stock photography sites like Dreamstime or even the built-in image libraries in Hootsuite and Canva, it takes time to find the right graphic (easily a couple of minutes per post minimum and that’s being optimistic)

And this is just the daily stuff. It doesn’t include developing social media campaigns for special activities like events and product launches.

*Note: You could just as easily spend 29 minutes (or more) here and 20 minutes (or less) on listening and engagement. It really depends on the day and what’s happening. Really, with just an hour a day, you’re likely doing writing, listening, and engaging simultaneously.  

Social listening and Engagement: 29 minutes

I group these together, because social listening and engagement are two sides of the same coin. 

Social listening is monitoring social media channels for mentions of your brand, products, and competitors, as well as keywords related to your industry. For example, if you’re company is in the customer service space, your dashboard would include:

  • Columns for Twitter mentions, retweets, and direct mentions
  • A Twitter list or two (priority peeps, competitors) 
  • 3 – 4 hashtag searches (#CCTR, #CX, #CustomerExperience, #CustomerService)

And engagement is responding to and joining in the conversations you see during your listening. The more you play in other people’s sandboxes (e.g. engage with them), the more they’ll engage with you. Plus, responding to mentions and questions shows your audience that you care and are listening to them. 

If you’re lucky to have active channels, just looking at the mentions will take more than 5 minutes for 2 channels. But, let’s pretend you don’t, and you’re just looking at your Twitter lists and hashtag searches in Hootsuite.

It takes time to peruse 6 columns of activity, especially if the people and hashtags you follow are active. Besides taking note of the things you see for later analyzing and planning as Hootsuite recommends, you also want to be liking and retweeting (ideally with comment). 

In the dashboard below, I have a few example hashtags that I captured on Friday afternoon (a typically slower time), and even then, there are multiple posts per minute. So, a lot to scan over a 24-hour period.

Before you like or retweet something, you need to read it. That’s easy, if it’s just a quote, but if the tweet links off to an article, for example, you need to at least scan that article before engaging with the content to make sure it aligns with your company’s positioning and doesn’t reference any competitors. Then when you retweet, you should also add value, by sharing your thoughts via a retweet with comment. Adding value takes time.

And this is just for Twitter. To do the same thing with LinkedIn, you need to hop over there to check activity and hashtags, because you can’t access these actions via Hootsuite. Is 29 minutes starting to feel like not enough time?

Analyze and Plan: 5 minutes 

Hootsuite’s gives a nice list of things to examine: sentiment, feedback, trends, purchase intent, and updates. It’s a good list, and I left it at 5 minutes. But, that’s because we only have an hour a day to work with and the tasks above are more important. 

Don’t get me wrong. This step is pivotal. It helps you understand your audience, what they like and what they’re thinking. It’s also key to improving your social media activities. But your first priority must be listening, engaging, and communicating with your audience. 

After that, you need to analyze the results of those activities and what you’re hearing. You simply can’t shave any more time off those areas and expect any real success. 

Reporting: 4 minutes/day (1.5 hour a month)

You may be asking, “Isn’t reporting the same as analyzing?” They’re closely linked, which is why I have them next to each other, but they’re different. 

Reporting is taking the analysis you’ve done and sharing it with others. It also includes all the social media metrics that you’re tracking, such as: 

  • Reach and impressions
  • Followers
  • Engagements (shares, likes, comments, etc.), mentions, and clicks
  • Top-performing posts

Also included in here is a bit of analyzing. In addition to reporting your metrics, you should also examine why your top posts performed better and share that as well. 

Closing Tip

The above estimates are just that…estimates. Some days, you’ll spend more on writing and scheduling, and some days you’ll spend more on listening and engagement. And there may be times when you’ll have to throw any thought of analyzing and planning out the window, because you have a special event you need to support and an hour a day is simply not enough. So, use this timeline as a guide for how to approach your day and not a cookie cutter stamp in which you shoehorn your activities. 

And remember, once you determine how much you can devote to social media, set expectations with your stakeholders on what you can and can’t accomplish during that time. If you/they want more, you/they need to invest more.