How to save time on social media: applying the Pareto Principle & Parkinson’s Law

Let’s be honest here. The best way to save time on social media is to stop doing half of the things we’re currently doing there. Maybe more. This post isn’t about being more efficient or learning to multi task. It’s about giving yourself permission to stop doing a lot of it. We need to assess effort versus rewards. While it may be odd to hear this advice from someone in marketing, the real question about social media should be, “Are you being productive? Or are you just being busy?” By the way, being ON social media (scrolling!) doesn’t mean you are WORKING on social media. It likely means you are being busy.

The 2007 SXSW talk that questioned how we spend our time

I was listening to a Tim Ferris podcast while walking the dog this week. It featured a recently discovered recording of his SXSW talk from 2007, which later launched his runaway hit “The 4-Hour Work Week.” I devoured that book when it first came out, and fantasized about putting the concepts into action. Realistically, there was no escaping the busy life of a Mom at the time. But flash forward to 2020 and the early stages of the pandemic, and I found myself re-reading The 4-Hour Work Week and it’s guiding principles around time, income and mobility with renewed interest. With much of the world now having shifted to enable a remote work model, and my kids as young adults, it’s been rewarding to execute what Tim called “lifestyle design.”

But there were two other interesting concepts in his talk, which can be applied brilliantly to marketing today. And that’s the insight I want to share with you here.

Pareto Principle

Often referred to as the 80/20 rule, the Pareto Principle says that 80% of results come from 20% of the effort. It essentially allows you to figure out what actions are worthwhile to work more efficiently.

Parkinson’s Law

A task will swell in perceived complexity and importance in proportion to the time allowed to it.

In the recorded SXSW talk, Tim was applying these principles to email, suggesting ways to eliminate, batch and automate. But as I listened to the recording, I couldn’t help but substitute “social media” as the new time draw. While email was the ball and chain in 2007, social media is the new crack addiction in 2022. “How to save time on social media” is now a top Google search query.

Understanding the use of time relative to results

Putting these two principles to test, I decided to dive into Google Analytics for my other online brand a travel writing site. I wanted to measure the ratio of time devoted to posting against the results – quantified as traffic generated to the site.

What I found in crunching the numbers was actually quite shocking. Organic search and direct links accounted for 86% of site traffic. 10% came from referral sites, and only 4% of traffic came from social media. In disbelief, I sampled several different months, and the results were all similar. Within social media, Facebook and Pinterest had the biggest impact, with LinkedIn popping up strongly the month I shared about the G Adventures sustainable tourism film interview with Bruce Poon Tip. The Pareto Principle was staring me in the face as I reflected on the time and effort to create, schedule and post to social on an ongoing basis, versus the up-front effort to write content that ranked in SEO, which continued to deliver far more traffic over time – with no ongoing effort. The same was true for YouTube videos embedded in posts . Once created, they continued to drive search results and traffic via Google.

I then reflected on Parkinson’s Law and thought about how the complexity and importance of social media had grown, as I devoted more and more time to it. Quite simply, it’s easy to get wrapped up into “HOW to do social media better”, when the real question should have been, “WHAT, if any, social media should I be doing in the first place?”

If we don’t measure it, we can’t fully understand it. I’ve always monitored analytics, but I hadn’t really interpreted the results from a personal time and effort perspective before. It certainly was enlightening. But then I realized there was a need to go deeper…

Identifying objectives

So far this post could be seen as dismissing time devoted to social media as wasted. Far from it, but I do think it’s important to recognize objectives and identify the right tools in all of this. Your approach may well differ from mine, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. The objective for is to drive traffic to the site, where people engage with the content, become informed and inspired, and along the way they quite likely will click on an affiliate link for a company I partner with and believe in. When they do that, my site generates a % of sales profit from their purchase with the supplier. It’s a transparent exchange for informative and engaging content. The objective right from the start has been to generate passive income while I’m sitting on a beach, surfing, hiking or doing something else fun – gathering even more content for a future post. Along the way, collaborations and paid articles fit into the scenario, but really it has always been about doing two things I love (travel and writing) and not trading hours for dollars, while having a mobile lifestyle. The project started off modestly several years ago, but has increasingly fed my soul, as well as offered speaking and consulting business at the intersection of travel and marketing – where my two brands collide. I’ve been invited back to speak at the Travel Agents Forum in Vegas again this year in June, which is a direct outcome of positioning meeting opportunity. While using as a vehicle and brand to open up speaking opportunities in the travel industry wasn’t initially an objective, it’s certainly been a welcome outcome.

Understanding where social media fits

The reason why it’s important to identify an objective, is to realize where social media fits in. Platforms generally want users to stay in their feed, and penalize content that takes eyes to another site (like a website). So my objective for social media (primarily Facebook given the demographic being targeted) isn’t directly related to generating traffic to the site, but more about storytelling on the platform, and developing a brand narrative, and personality there. Pay to play through ads and boosted content to selected audiences can certainly drive traffic to a landing page or website, but so far, I’ve restricted how much money I’m willing to pay to generate that kind of traction. Whenever I’ve played with it on Facebook and Instagram, it has generated traffic, but not what I would call quality traffic. The time spent on page has been much lower than SEO traffic, and multiple pages visited next to non-existent compared to search traffic. So far, I haven’t seen a business case for financial return that can touch what I generate for free through SEO and discovery. But I may revisit that as I look to further scale website traffic. SEO also has the added bonus of mindset. People are actually “searching” for something. Rather than being passively scrolling and exposed to interruption, they are looking for content to solve a problem – to become informed or inspired. That’s the kind of reader I want. And that’s why understanding objectives and platform use is so important.

How Pinterest and YouTube are different

That’s another reason why I identified Pinterest as one of the platforms worthy of time. It’s a visual search engine more than a social media platform, and the mindset of users is focused on search, not passive scrolling. Pinterest is also one of the few platforms which allow and encourage you to take users off to your linked website post, or save it and even share by pinning with others.

I also noted earlier how the creation of YouTube videos which are embedded in posts, function to boost SEO. Google owns YouTube. It’s in their DNA to serve up well matched video content for a search. For example the video for 25 Things to See and Do in Caye Caulker rocketed to page 2 in search within 3 weeks, and has fed traffic to the accompanying post. Several other videos (Blue Hole tour, and Snorkeling Glovers Reef ) in the Belize series are also driving traffic ahead of the actual posts after only several days. The most extreme example is an older video about Surfing the Wedge in Western Australia, which has 1,200 views and consistently drives traffic to both that surfing post, but also Biking Rottnest Island and Learning to Kite Surf in Queensland. In fact those posts alone likely account for the fact that 10% of the website traffic is from Australia. That’s pretty telling when you consider that Canadian traffic accounts for 15%, and US traffic for 51%.


Referrals and back links from other sites also play heavily into my objectives. Back links from highly rated sites with a lot of traffic in their own rite can really boost the SEO visibility of your site. For example, I write for Travel Awaits – a travel content creation site in the US targeted at the over 50 traveler. Their site and newsletter consistently deliver readers each month. Published articles on well-respected news sites like the Globe and Mail, or features on CBC are also powerful back links for SEO.

Obviously, every business needs to consider their own position and objectives. But applying the Pareto 80/20 Principle and Parkinson’s Law when evaluating the time spend on your approach is in itself time well spent!

Questions to ask

1.What is my objective? (drive traffic to a page or site, increase awareness, increase engagement, audience capture – email or pixel for retargeting)

2. What is the best tool/tools to accomplish that? (is it social media? SEO? Email? Hosting a public or private group on a platform? Podcasting? Earned media publicity? Or some other form of promotion?

3. Who is my primary audience? (what platform are they on?)

4. What type of content will drive your objective and resonate with your target audience? (video, live video, posts, stories, reels, direct messaging, groups, podcasts, live audio, traditional print or broadcast media.

We need to know how we define success, and then figure out what to measure as impacting that. Once we have the desired output, we can identify inputs which are  important. And eliminate the rest. That’s the Pareto Principle and Parkinson’s Law at work. It’s definitely a worthy exercise to interpret results from a personal time and effort perspective.

If you’re curious to see SEO and affiliate links in action on a couple recent posts, check these out. And be sure to watch the embedded YouTube videos to get a feel for how they are used to stack SEO.

Island Expeditions Belize Kayaking Adventure

15 Fun Facts About the Great Blue Hole in Belize

25 Things to See and Do in Caye Caulker

Mary Charleson

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