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Finding time for social outreach online

Photo courtesy of fdecomite via Flickr

Photo courtesy of fdecomite via Flickr

I talked with a lot of PR professionals at the PRSA International Conference this week, and one of the big themes of discussion there was that old, not-so-social technologies are still taking up a lot of the time that we’d like to be spending on new, social tools. I talked to a college student who said she was learning how to put together snail mail press kits in an introductory public relations class. And I spoke with more than a few PR practitioners who would love to set up Twitter and Facebook presences for their clients, if only they could climb out of their nightmarish email inboxes.

Taking part on a social site takes time, especially if you’re doing it well. While a Nielsen Online study [PDF] earlier this year pointed out that people now spend more time on the social Web than using email, for many people, the crush of incoming emails is just one of many pressures that keeps them from maintaining a more robust online presence. According to an August 2008 study by the Radicati Group, the average inbox receives 140 emails per day. Throw in a few meetings and all of a sudden tweeting and blogging are all but squeezed out.

There are two sides to this time-crunch coin: first, we need to carefully evaluate which communities are most active and truly warrant our time, rather than being somewhere just for the sake of being there. Syndication tools often look robotic and can even do more harm than good. But on the other side of the coin, we need to evaluate where we’re investing effort in traditional outreach methods that aren’t yielding the fruits they used to. As the media industry contracts, we’re seeing more of the journalists we’ve long worked with become independent bloggers and freelancers, and social sites are great places to interact with them.

So in one sense the tension between email and the social Web is a false one. As influencers move to social sites, savvy communications professionals are adapting their time management strategies in kind. Many people set aside a few minutes two or three times a day to see what’s happening on blogs and social networks. If you set a reminder for yourself, it soon becomes a habit. 

If all else fails, you can even remind yourself by email.

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