For larger organisations, understanding the importance of Social Media for engaging with their customer has a simple response - employ a dedicated Social Media Officer! However, for small businesses such as sole traders where one person fits all roles, time saving is essential.

So how can you join in the conversation when you are already feeling time stretched, and where should you begin?

1. Social Media Traffic Lighting - This is a concept I have been drumming into the vast majority of my clients of late. The World of social media can seem overwhelming, so it is important to drill down to where you have a presence, what you do on there are why rather than rashly signing up to every site going and leaving them lacklustre.  Taking a step back to research and consider where your customers are hanging out online and and what strategy you can employ to reach them is essential. When you have given yourself this head space you will be able to consider which social media site is:

GREEN - the one where your customers hang out most, and makes most sense to your marketing strategy.  Green = Go! This is the site you should start with. Commit some time to updating it regularly, and read around how other businesses are using this channel for marketing.
AMBER - these are the social media tools that could add value to your marketing, but should be considered as your business progresses and you find you have some extra time to commit.
RED - Avoid these at start-up stage. These may be sites you could justify to yourself using as marketing tools, but they are not an immediate priority. Ditch them for now and put them in your business plan under 'growth strategy'.

2. Automate Activity - If you can't be online daily, don't let your social media channels die a death just as you have got them going.  Use a tool like Tweetdeck, or my personal favourite hootsuite. With these tools you can log in when you get chance and schedule messages to go out through your social media channels at a selected time and date. You can also link your social media activity together using tools like Networked blogs, or the Twitter and Facebook apps on the respective sites. A small warning here though - it's important to not automate ALL of your activity. It's called 'social' media for a reason, so make sure you commit at least some time to live interaction.

3. Finding Content at Your Fingertips - Google Alerts is absolutely your best friend for narrowing down hours of thinking through "what on earth can I post about".  Set up Google alerts for key words and phrases around your industry to receive daily, weekly, or 'as it happens' updates showing new web content on the topic.  Then follow these links to use them as posts you can comment on via your social media channels. Simples!

Whatever you decide to do to save time, don't go for the "I'll just leave it altogether" option. If your business hasn't got a social media strategy it is getting left behind - fact! Every business needs marketing, so think of it as swapping the time you would have spent on another part of offline marketing rather than an extra chore.  And if it all becomes too much, consider using the services of a freelancer until you grow big enough to have dedicated marketing staff.