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"How does anyone have time for this? Do these people do any real work, or do they just hang out on Twitter all day?" That is the question I got from a client scrolling through a Twitter feed.

His is a valid question. For some people, the time they spend engaging with social media is an integral part of their job description. For others, like my client, who's a senior banking executive, it's hard to envision how they might fit social media engagement into their overwhelming schedules.

But, I assure you, it is possible to capitalize on social media for learning and for supporting your career and business objectives.

1. The first step is to determine what you want to accomplish

Create one or two social media-related goals and focus on those. You might want to elevate your company's reputation as a thought leader. Or perhaps you're looking to network. You could be working to establish your own reputation.

Tailor your social media activity to those goals. Don't waste time following celebrities or watching kitty memes on YouTube when you should be engaging with industry experts and potential new hires for your company.

2. Go mobile

Once you have a goal, you still have to find time in your day to make it happen. Download the apps for the social media you want to use and check in when you are killing time—lingering between meetings, waiting to pick up your kids, or killing time before an event starts. You're probably accustomed to responding to email during such times. Just add a few minutes of social to your routine.

3. Share rather than create

Some people say they are challenged to create original content for social. One of the easiest ways to address that issue is to share other people's content. It's a slam dunk to retweet posts from your client or from your colleagues.

Sharing content from thought leaders and industry resources is another easy way to reinforce your own thought leadership. Be a good sharer and go the extra step of adding a comment or your perspective.

4. Get help from social tools

Don't feel that you have to be on social media 24/7. Some of those people you think are online all the time are really just masters of scheduling posts and coordinating their different social channels. Platforms such as Hootsuite allow you to manage multiple social accounts; they are especially helpful when you're responsible for your own and an organization's social presence.

If you use Hootsuite or something similar, you can schedule a couple of posts each day and then walk away; they'll go out on your feed automatically. It's like setting your coffeemaker to have a cup ready for you in the morning. Other social tools you might check out are Argyle and TweetDeck.

5. Recycle, repurpose, and remix

These principles apply to being environmentally efficient, and they also apply to being efficient in social. Think about how you can repurpose content. For example, this article started as an email reply to a friend who asked for advice on how to fit social media into a busy schedule. Sure, it took me a little longer to write than a regular email, but I have created something that will give my friend, as well as other busy professionals who think of social media as a time thief, a much better answer. Not bad for a few minutes of my Saturday morning.

6. Focus

Don't feel you have to engage on every social media platform. Do a little homework to determine which social media best match your goals, and focus on one or two channels initially.

If you are primarily looking to build a network for recruiting, you might look to LinkedIn first. If you're working to elevate your thought leadership, perhaps Twitter would be a good place to start. Once you've picked a focus, it's helpful to consider which channels feel like good fits for your style of conversation.

If you naturally gravitate to one channel, it's better to play to your strength rather than force yourself to be active in a channel that doesn't suit you.

* * *

So, yes, it is possible to fit social media into a highly productive, crowded schedule. Still skeptical? If so, I challenge you to eliminate one meeting each week (you know you need to do that anyway) and start to explore the possibilities of social media instead. Download one or two tools on your mobile. Spend time listening and learning. Set a couple of focus areas and goals. Then jump into the conversation. Commit to seven weeks. By then, it'll be a habitual part of your day and your business.

Let me know how it goes.

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image of Karen Albritton

Karen Albritton is president of Capstrat, a strategic communications agency. An advocate for the marketing profession, Karen also serves as president-elect of the AMA's Professional Chapters Council.

Twitter: @kalbritton

LinkedIn: Karen Albritton