too much of a good thing?Happy Friday, all!

When WUL resurfaced on Monday, I told you I’d do my best to answer any questions you about about While I Was Out. You haven’t really asked me any so far – though I do appreciate the warm welcome back, and the team does too, thank you!

So I figured I’d just share some of what I experienced the last several months… consider them reflections on a social media hiatus from a business point of view. And those of you who are small business owners yourselves might relate.

Once I “went dark,” I basically became a “normal person” (just like I did last year when I went in-house for a brief stint, except this time, it was due to a personal situation). I focused, with a laser-like intensity, on dealing with the S**t I was going through, and work. Some days were rough. Very, very rough. Work was a blessing in disguise, because I just had to get it done, which helped me take my mind off the other stuff.

All of which is not to be a drama queen, but to be candid about where I was.

The fact that I can at least sense coming out into the clear, even if I’m not as close to it as I’d like to be, is why I brought WUL back. Now, I don’t know if the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel is a steady beam yet, or still a bit of a flickering candle, but I do know that I can at least feel its warmth, if not see it completely clearly.

So what happens when you have to deal with “life” and work, and don’t have the time or energy to engage in online chit-chat (or eat the hugest hot dog you’ve ever seen, and doesn’t social feel like that sometimes)? Well:

1. If you’re concerned about your “standing” or social scores (cough, Klout, cough) in social media, then you have a panic attack. Because you realize that it’s important to post consistently, even if what you post is possibly mostly crap.

However, you might be surprised at which platforms make a difference. For the last couple of months, I was basically off Twitter, which I always thought was Klout’s platform du jour.

Turns out, because I have other platforms connected to it, notably Facebook which is where I posted online to purge share mostly personal thoughts but where I have a very engaged network, my inactivity on Twitter didn’t actually impact me that negatively.

So what’s important? As a business, you should concentrate on building an engaged community, not necessarily a huge one. I love this post from Debra Askanase on sharing “small moment” stories to do just that.

2. Speaking of “huge,” Social is really a huge time suck. H.U.G.E. The minute I was officially “off” social, I felt a sense of lightness that has to be experienced to be believed.

Because as my network has grown, so I have felt the pressure (self-induced? perhaps) to “keep up,” “be in the conversation,” etc. etc. etc. And that took all the fun out of it, which was horrid, because I used to luhv social.

And this is of no help when you know that a large part of your work (and generation of new business) has to do with being active on social media… because then your inactivity on such platforms is clearly going to impact you negatively outside of the “boo hoo” factor.

And I know this last bit because, as I’ve been getting more and more familiar with Streak as my current CRM program, I know which kinds of activities convert into leads and prospects. Kaboom!

So what’s important? Get familiar, and comfortable, with social media tools that can help you manage the time you spend in and on Social. Don’t try to automate everything – that will backfire – but give yourself breathing space when you can.

I did, and it helped tremendously, and now I’m starting to fall in love with social again.

3. If you have a strong community, they will be there when you come back.

This is what I’ve found, as you yourselves are evidence of. The catch here is the qualifier “strong.” If you haven’t been able to build a strong community, then falling off social is pretty much suicide… assuming social is a critical driver for your business (see #2 above). And even if it’s not, disappearing from your publics in any way is never good.

So if it is, figure out your backup plan before such a situation arises. If not, you’ll just have to deal with it as and when you can, and the results might not always be to your liking.

For me, it was telling the WUL team what was going to happen before it went public. Then it was telling all of you that we were going dark for a while… not just leaving you in the dark. It was having my Girl Friday aka Karelyn Lambert maintain the official SBC Facebook Page, etc. at what I call a “subsistence” level – just enough to make sure we didn’t fall off the radar screen completely.

At one point I had to reschedule a client engagement at the last minute – which I have never done before – but this was truly a crisis situation. Fortunately the client was extremely understanding and we were able to reschedule the engagement… and it went off perfectly. But had the client not also been a part of my community, I doubt they would have been as understanding.

So what’s important? Tell your community, your stakeholders, what’s going on. You don’t have to go into the gory details if you don’t want to (or can’t, because of privacy or other concerns). But let them know your situation, and they will appreciate your honesty.

What about you?

If you’re also in startup/entrepreneur/small biz mode, as I am (and it’s really neat to think of my business as a startup, but of course it is one!) then you go through these same peaks and valleys. You struggle with time, with your social “voice,” your footprint, your engagement … you know you have to do social, but it’s just so hard to be social. But Social Rules!

The biggest lesson I learned, these past several months, was that the minute I started letting social rule my life, it started sucking the life out of me. Because I started feeling obligated to respond, so I started becoming a machine. And that’s just no fun at all.

Once I reclaimed and readjusted my time – even though the circumstances that led me to do so were far from optimal – I started to get my life back. And once I started to get my life back, social started to again be a place I could talk, play, learn, discover, and grow… both personally and professionally.

I’m not back to my crazy, send-out-100-tweets-a-day level, and honestly don’t know if I ever will be (except when I’m doing a Twitter chat or at a conference… that’s different). But I do think I’m getting back to the true value of social media… which is the joy of connection.

That’s some of what I learned. Over to you. Does it make sense? Have you been through something like this? What do you have to share?

Please tell me your stories, you know the floor is now yours!

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke