Social networks and social tools have done wonders for our ability to share information quickly and easily, to the point of revolutionizing traditional media, as well as governments and society at large. I can wax philosophic about all the wonders and benefits social media brings to the world now, but I’d rather chat for a moment about the side of social media we don’t often consider; the true cost of ownership of online accounts.

While it is amazingly easy to create new accounts in social spaces, rarely is consideration given to what it really takes to be successful, especially from a social business perspective: time.

I’ve seen many a person start a new blog or Facebook page with intent to promote their business, only to abandon it months later once the shine wore off and the realization that maintaining these pages takes time and actual work. This is even far more common in personal blogging; and while the items below are also relevant for individuals blogging for fun, I’ll be focusing on this from the social business aspect:

First and foremost, before creating an account with any intent on using it for social business, stop and consider the time and effort you will be able to put in to maintaining that space and driving it to success. If, after this consideration, it all seems like too much to handle, then perhaps an individual blog or account isn’t the right way to go. Instead, look for a community, group blog, or page that might be better served by the time you can spend.

Here’s some quick ideas specific to blogging to help you see what level of effort it may actually take to show value:

  • Set aside a few hours to build your blog’s site with some customizations to help you stand out. (If you use a WordPress self hosted blog like I do, set aside 30 minutes per month for maintenance.)
  • For every blog post you publish, expect to schedule at least an hour to write it (more if you take a journalistic approach of fact checking and validating), another 30 minutes to promote it, and yet another 30 minutes to respond to any comments.
  • Build a pipeline of content to keep 4 or so posts ahead of yourself, and set a schedule for when you post. This reduces the probability that you’ll abandon the blog because “I’ll just post tomorrow” and also helps build your audience’s expectation for when to see a new post from you.
  • Consider posting at least once per week to retain your audience, fewer than that and they may forget about you. Frequency is critical. Most successful blogs post at least weekly if not daily.
  • Don’t forget to include the time it will take you to find the perfect image to make your post visually interesting and therefore more likely to be read. Sometimes this takes me 5 minutes, sometimes I spend a whole day, on and off, looking for just the right picture.
  • Make sure you prioritize time to respond to comments. Yes, I’ve said it twice in these bullets. It is just that important. Ignoring comments or actively avoiding them is one of the quickest ways to turn readers away from your blog. Take the time to reply to commenters wherever those comments may be posted. If you use twitter to promote your blog and you get a comment there, reply to that person via twitter. Facebook? Same story. Meet the conversation where it is happening.

While the numbers presented are VERY flexible, they are only a good starting point to understanding how much effort it will take to maintain your blog. All in all, a weekly post to your own blog could be expected to see a 2.5 hour commitment at a very basic, general level.

Of course all this is fine if you just want to maintain your blog. I’m guessing, however, that you may actually want to grow your readership… Then tack on an extra half-hour per post to comment on other relevant blogs and build your network of readers through building your own digital eminence. Just remember that social isn’t about constantly pushing your own messages, but engaging with others around their content. All of this works towards that larger ideal of open knowledge sharing and helping ourselves grow by helping others grow.

You can start to see how blogging may first appear as a simple, easy thing to do, can quickly become a burdensome and daunting entity to tackle if you were expecting wide success from only 30 minutes a week. Successful blogging is hard work. I should know. I run three blogs and multiple other social accounts. Of those, only one could be considered even mildly successful, and that’s the one for my full-time job; the one I put the most effort into. The more prepared you are at the start, the better off you will be in the long run to maintain the level of effort needed to run a successful blog or social business account.

A lot of the same concepts and effort above can also be applied directly to social channels like Twitter, Facebook, or GooglePlus. After all, every network is a living thing and requires care and feeding to stay vibrant. The moment other priorities take over and you don’t carve out the time to nurture your networks, those spaces will slowly stop providing the value you once saw when you did have the time.

Likewise, if you don’t have time to handle replies, comments, or mentions, you probably shouldn’t post in the first place. If you are going to use social spaces, and especially if you are doing so to build your personal brand or your company’s revenue, then you must make the time to engage with your network. At the very least address the reactions to any of your posts or comments appropriately.

Ownership of social accounts or blog spaces does not end once you press “publish”; that, in fact, is really where the work and the true cost of ownership begins. Take the time upfront to make sure you can devote the time on the back-end to be successful.