When we talk about Social Media we usually talk about private usage, we see people "hanging around" in networks for hours and ages. They update their friends on daily issues via mobile phones, notebooks and netbooks from work, school, home. This is a huge amount of information, especially modern companies need to deal with, if they want to offer good and up to date costumer support these days (e.g. SixtUk, Dell, Blackberry).
Now small and mid size enterprises get nervous: "How do I achieve this kind of support without spending hundred and thousands of Euro/Dollar each month on social media customer support?"
Before you start to think about a solution, answer this question: is it really necessary to offer immediate support? Is the traffic your company/brand creates really that big? Are people writing, having problems/questions about your product and trying to contact you via social networks (if so, please improve your product or support-site immediately!!!)?
After that, stop getting nervous. Social Networking should become another channel for communication. But definitely not the most time-consuming one! It's like checking emails: if it's the only way you communicate, something went wrong!
Therefore I want to offer you several suggestions to handle your Social Media Time Management:
1) Take one hour doing some research on Social Networks: what is it about? Who uses SN? What possibilities do I have? I know it sounds really basic, but it is important!
2) Spend half an hour and think about why Social Network is important for you (and your company) and what the main goals are. Set up 5 or 10 principles for your SN-usage (e.g. newest information about products, more direct communication with consumers, no spamming with hardcore advertisement etc).
3) Structure your search bots! (important keywords, brand names, hash tags, competitors)
4) Define time periods in which you are going to update your community and look up your search bots (e.g. spent 20 minutes every 2 hours on networking)
5) Keep it short and specific especially in direct communication with customers! Don't have big discussions. Get to the point in order to find out what's right (or what's wrong) and offer fitted help! It really saves a lot of time.
6) Structure the importance of your information, news and updates! This is going to have two impacts: first, your fans wont get spammed every 5 minutes with rather unimportant news. Secondly, it decreases time you are going to spend winning new fans/followers/readers. Relevant information is definitely more interesting and attractive to read!
7) Structure consumer requests! Build up a scheme and start from "very important request from very important influencing client" to "rather unimportant mention". You don't have to answer everything at the same moment it hits your inbox! And: importance first!
8) Last but not least: Social Media works 24/7. Thus it is important to be active and communicative regularly, if it's necessary even on weekends (let it be another 20min in the afternoon, during your sunbath by the pool).
You are asking why? Information comes in all day long. Even on weekends consumers are notably active. It is going to be a mess and awfully time consuming to check and answer your Social Network Inbox on Monday morning together with your email inbox, phone calls and colleagues having questions about the monday morning meeting!
And the most important message you will provide: you care about customers!
To cut it short for you: run with (time) structured and efficient rules/proceedings. It will notably magnify your efficiency and success using Social Networks.