I swear, if I get asked one more time how to do social media so that it takes the least amount of time and effort possible, I’m going to snap.

Here it is, straight up. If you want to do social well, it takes time. And a good chunk of it. There are no shortcuts.

The other question I get asked all the time is, “How long does it take to be successful in social media?”. The fact is, there’s no cut and dry answer to that question. What is true, is that it won’t happen fast. There’s no overnight success. What I’ve learned, from watching the most successful people in the social media world, is that it takes months and years of working at it, every day. It takes getting up every morning and just hitting publish. It takes hours and hours of reading and thinking and trying things. It takes doing a bunch of stuff that doesn’t work for you, to find the few things that do work for you.

Maybe this isn’t what you want to hear. Maybe you want to hear that technology will solve all your problems, that if you tweet the right way or leverage Facebook just so, or become a blogging superhero, then suddenly the cash will start rolling in and you’ll be able to rest on your laurels as your social media fans worship the ground you walk on at every unconference whose presence you choose to grace.

It doesn’t work that way. I’m sorry.

Actually, I’m not sorry it doesn’t work that way. You know why? Because, when I was a kid, my parents told me that nobody ever really achieves anything in this life without working for it. And they are living proof that hard work pays off, so I’m going to take their word for it.

So, if it’s going to take all this hard work, then how does one start? Well, let’s assume that you’ve already figured out what you want to get out of social media (e.g. more business leads, career opportunities, social interaction, etc.).

I don’t believe in a magic, one-size-fits-all formula for social media. Everyone’s situation is different. We all have different amounts of time, different levels of motivation, and even different personality traits that dictate, at least to a certain extent, how we approach this stuff. Some of us are writers. Others of us are talkers. Some fit right around the middle. Some of us are shy. Others are happy to shout from the rooftops. So, you need to sit down and take a good look at what you want to achieve, how that fits with who you are, and how you’re going to structure your time and effort to match that.

Once you’ve determined how many hours a week you need to spend, multiply that by at least two. Because that’s what it takes to do social well. If you think you can pop into Twitter and Facebook for 10 minutes every couple of days and stay on top of what’s really going on in your communities, then you’ll be missing out on a lot of stuff. If you figure that updating your blog once in a blue moon is enough to get people to really know who you are, then, well, people will likely not notice much of what you’re doing there.

Social media is about more than just pushing out content and hoping people show up. “If you build it, they will come” may have done the trick in 1998, but in 2011, it ain’t gonna fly. No, what it really takes to get ahead using social media is one thing, and one thing only.

You need to show up.

And by showing up, I don’t mean calling it in. Showing up isn’t just hovering in the back of the room. It’s sitting in the front row, sticking your hand up to answer a question. It’s being the one who eagerly participates when the teacher asks for a volunteer. It’s giving someone else a hand when they really need it. And it’s offering something of yourself in every interaction you have.

And that, my friends, takes time.

So, where are you at with this? Ready to dig in, spend the time? No more excuses. Let’s get our hands dirty, starting today.

Who’s with me?

[image credit: ladymixy-uk on Flickr]