Just over a year ago, the magazine I was editing folded and the majority of my income disappeared instantly. I live in a rural town without much access to in-person networking, so I panicked about job prospects. My worries, however, were soon alleviated when a friend added me to a secret Facebook group for women writers. Suddenly I had connections and resources at my fingertips, and my career flourished.
At the same time, the delicate line between work and home became even more blurred. As a work-from-home mom, I was already used to checking my emails while nursing the baby or sneaking in a few hours of work after my daughter went to bed. But with my career success directly tied to a social media group, I became even more enmeshed with work 24 (or 32!)/7. I would soak in the bathtub checking for new job postings, not wanting to miss an opportunity. I began thinking of the other women in the group as friends, so I turned to the group for the social engagement as well.
However, I soon realized that my new, more intense relationship with social media wasn’t healthy. The work group was the first thing I checked in the morning and the last before I went to sleep, so I was living with no time “off.” I was thinking about work constantly, and I realized that if something didn’t change I was speeding toward a massive burnout.
For women who work from home, especially freelancers and entrepreneurs, social media is an essential career tool. It facilitates connections with customers and colleagues, and can lead to career opportunities at the click of a button. But the nonstop pace of social media can also make the elusive home-work balance even harder to find as women feel on-call to the demands of their social presence. We talked with mothers and experts about how to balance social media as a work-from-home mom. Here are their tips:
1. Think About What Social Media is Doing for You
“Most small business owners and women working from home can do all their social media in about half an hour a day,” says Anita Kirkbride, a social media consultant at Twirp Communications.
That may seem like a tiny amount, but Kirkbride says that too often we confuse the business and fun sides of social media. Making a list of what business items you need to accomplish on social media each day can keep you on track without falling into the distractions.
“It’s really hard sometimes to focus on just the task you need to do on social media without getting drawn into the fun pieces,” Kirkbride says.
2. Learn to Say No
Amanda Park founded her accessory line Park and Buzz just as social media was really taking off. Facebook and Instagram became an essential part of her branding strategy, keeping her product on the minds of consumers. Although that constant branding is essential for business, it is draining for the person behind the screen.
“There is no quit time,” Park says. Because of this, Park intentionally puts her phone in the other room to spend time with her kids, who are 13, 14, and 15. That way social media can be out of sight, out of mind.
“I do put my foot down on certain things because it can wait until tomorrow. I mean, nothing is that important usually,” she says.
In fact, setting boundaries has become a critical part of balancing work and home. Park is not on Twitter because she feels that platform requires an even more immediate response. Although unplugging can be stressful, Park focuses on her ultimate career and personal goal: balance.
“I really started this business out of wanting to be home with my kids and be available for them. It has grown bigger than I have ever imagined with no slowing down,” she says. “I have to be watchful of where I put my time and I have learned to say no to things. So do I work normal hours at set times. That’s both a pro and a con.”
3. Embrace the Social Side
For many work-from-home moms, social media provides a much-needed social outlet — a break from rushing to finish projects or prepare lunch for a yelling toddler.
“Social media increases my job satisfaction,” says Annaliese Allen, founder of Honeybell Waterwear. “Being a work-at-home mom can often be socially isolating with no adult company or office banter. I turn to social media to fill this void!”
At the same time, Allen is careful to be sure that not all her networking and social interaction come through social media.
“Social media is a good substitute for face-to-face interactions, but it does not give me personal fulfillment,” she says. “There is nothing like connecting in person.”
Many times, Allen has connected with other work-from-home mothers who she met on social media. Those social opportunities are good for your career as well as your mental health, says Kirkbride, the social media consultant.
“You can network from anywhere at any time,” she says. “There’s an ease with which you can build that reputation that can further your career.”
4. Experiment With What Works for You
Fatima Ward-Johnson, mom of five and founder of fashion company Accessory by Binx, Inc., isn’t someone who is naturally drawn to social media.
“I was a non-believer in the impact social media had on relevant things,” she says. However, since launching her business she has been on social media more in order to promote her business and network with other business owners, and she is trying to use social media more consistently.
“Sometimes I have to force myself not to respond when I am cooking dinner or at a social event for the kids,” she says. “Social media can consume most of your time if you allow it to, forgetting the other responsibilities of the day.”
However, Ward-Johnson has only been using social media more consistently for about six months, and she is monitoring whether increased engagement actually affects her bottom line.
“I have to put more time into it before I can really say that is or isn't a benefit to my business,” she says.
Taking time to evaluate the impact social media has on your career and adjusting for changing priorities can be a critical step.
5. Use Automation, With Caution
One way to try to tame the non-stop world of social media is to use apps that automate postings. But Kirkbride says that this has to be done very carefully.
“You have to be super careful if you choose to go the automated route that you’re doing responsible scheduling,” she says. For example, don’t schedule posts about an event if you’re going to be out of touch when it occurs. If you tweet about how great the Super Bowl is but the lights have gone out in the stadium, you’ll look pretty silly.
However, evergreen posts that are relevant at any time can be a great way to get some social media relief.
“It’s perfectly ok to schedule tweets or posts to go when you’re going to be eating supper,” she says.
I now have two Facebook profiles: one for work, and one for play. Social media is still an important part of my career, but so is time away from work. During weekends and evenings I log in to my personal account to post a cute picture of my daughter or catch up with cousins — the things that made me love social media in the first place.