The Opportunity Cost of Opportunity

by · June 7, 20132 comments

It would be great if we lived in a world where we had limitless resources, and were free to test out every great idea to come our way. Unfortunately, in our finite world of business (and life), every choice invokes an opportunity cost. When you choose to do X, there’s a Y that doesn’t get to happen.

Still, we try to fool ourselves with a mental sort of “creative accounting.” Instead of budgeting dollars, we’re budgeting minutes and hours of our time as if we were accountants for the mafia. We try to convince ourselves that we can “find” or “make” time for all the things we want to do.

Perhaps we can be excused for letting this basic math escape us, since most social media managers I know are writers at heart. But we’re also business professionals. Or we’re supposed to be. So if we consistently keep missing deadlines, breaking promises, or just have a section of our To-Do list that deep down, we know we’re never going to reach.

In some ways, social media has been the greatest thing to happen to professional wordsmiths. The content revolution has created a lot of new career opportunities. But with each new opportunity comes a cost.

Only so much content will go through the pipeline without protest

Adopt the attitude of a traditional media Traffic Manager

When you manage the company Facebook page, part of your responsibility is knowing when to say “I’m sorry, I can’t fit that into my editorial calendar this week.” Or even “That promotion/idea doesn’t work with my content strategy for this channel, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.” We have to be gatekeepers for the social channels we manage, which can be especially difficult when you genuinely want to be a resource.

In this sense, you have to adopt the attitude of a traditional media Traffic Manager. The pipeline is only so big. Only so much work can fit through at a time. The audience will only stand for so many ads during afternoon drive before they revolt. You can’t let things get to the point where your fans and followers start changing the channel. Playing traffic cop isn’t fun, but it’s a necessary part of the job.

You’re a finite resource as well

Social networks, and even the tactics within them, have a lifecycle.

There’s a similar dynamic at work when it comes to evaluating new and emerging channels, or experimenting with different promotions and strategies. Social networks, and even the tactics within them, have a lifecycle. If you’re not thinking about your post-Facebook strategy, you run the risk of getting caught unprepared when your audience migrates. But if you spread yourself too thin, you’ll end up with a bunch of half-starved, lackluster efforts and you’ll never really know what could have worked, given adequate focus and effort.

Your time and energy is a limited resource, too. Being unrealistic about how many different tasks you can manage effectively is like offering a product your company can’t actually deliver. It isn’t a sustainable strategy.

Give Yourself a Capacity Audit

Tracking your time diligently for a week can be a highly enlightening experiment.

People hate time tracking. But tracking your time diligently for a week can be a highly enlightening experiment that can help you determine if you’re working at peak capacity already. Assume the 50/30/20 ratio for your workday. In a perfect world, you’d spend 20% of your time concepting, brainstorming and ideating new strategies. You’d spend 30% of your time planning, coordinating and measuring your current strategy. And you’d spend 50% of your time executing the plan.

That’s a perfect world. So let’s be wildly optimistic and assume you only really get 75% of your workday, after you omit “unavoidable nonproductive time”: meetings you can’t get out of, administrative duties, and general miscellany.

If you find that you are currently spending 70% of that remaining 75% executing, 20% of it time reacting to the unexpected, and 10% of it fixing things that were broken because you were rushed, guess what your available capacity is? A negative number.

If you find yourself in this situation, it’s time to review your current efforts and decide what can stay and what must go. Like cleaning your closets, it’s not a pleasant task. But also like cleaning your closet, you’ll probably feel like a 100 lb weight has lifted with every item you eliminate. Ideally, what remains will benefit from your increased focus and attention.

And that’s an opportunity too good to miss.

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About Kat French

Kat French

Kat French is the Digital Operations Manager at CafePress. An exceptional writer both on the web and in other genres, Kat combines creativity with an agile, get-it-done attitude across a broad range of experience in community management, SEO/PPC, social media strategy and program management. She has worked with national brands like Maker's Mark, Daytona Beach Tourism, Optima Batteries and more.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://blog.socialmediahq.com/ Nick Robinson

    I usually don’t share links in the comments sections of posts, but time management in social media is something I take really serious, so I wrote a blog post about it last Sunday. I think the main takeaway from your post is that we need to start tacking a dollar amount to our time to determine the ROI of our activities, and you’re right on the money when it comes to time tracking. You can’t be realistic about how you spend your time unless you do so.

    From an optimization standpoint, I think tacking on a dollar amount helps put things in context as well. For example, we’re spending X hours on Facebook, and our time is worth $XX, But we’re only getting $XX in revenue, so let’s spend less time there. Simple math :)

    Anyways, feel free to read my post, and let me know what you think. Cheers!

    http://marketingcuriosity.com/what-is-the-value-of-time-spent-in-social-media-free-tool/

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