Make no mistake, the proliferating social media channels out there can waste a whole lot of your time. It’s all too easy to get sucked into the updates and videos and retweets and more, a fun diversion perhaps but not always the best use of your time.

However, there are several ways social media can actually save you time. The trick is to know what you’re trying to accomplish, how you’re going to do it, and to then get in and out quickly. Here are seven specific uses of social media that can save you significant time in the process.

1. Research
Trying to find something? Ask your social network. It’s almost better than Google. Fast response, personalized feedback, automatically filtered based on what your network already has tried, used or preferred. Search in real-time by asking a question, or search the past by using keywords in the search fields of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and more.

2. Resources
Let’s say I need on-demand IT help for my business (seriously, I do need that). The social Web, and my network specifically, can help me find that. What’s more, if you do a search or make a request with keywords or hashtags, service providers and others who can help with your request are increasingly trained to see your request and respond in kind.  I’ve found that most providers who do this well also have their act together and can successfully help with your problem or opportunity.

3. Drip marketing
The passive but frequent nature of social media makes it a great drip marketing tool. Plus, if you’re sharing content that’s as good today as it will be one week from now, you can queue up your social media updates for days at a time. I do this with Twitter, using timely.is to post three articles on sales, marketing and productivity a day to my followers.

4. Remember birthdays
I have historically been awful at this, but thanks to both LinkedIn and Facebook, I don’t have to remember anymore. Easy to give a quick “happy birthday” post on someone’s wall, or look at upcoming birthdays once a week to decide who should get a card, or a gift, etc.

5. Stay in touch
By watching updates from your friends, you can more frequently share a quick congratulations, note of support, or just a “thumbs up” on a great photo or announcement or update. It’s shallow, yes, but it’s a much faster way of staying connected with more people you care about in a shorter amount of time.

6. Attend events from home
I can’t tell you how many events, conferences and more I’ve been unable to attend, but that I’ve been able to watch virtually through Twitter hashtag feeds. It’s like buying a used textbook from someone you trust, who’s already highlighted the most important passages. Don’t worry about following the feed in real time, either, you can always check in at the end of the event (or just at the end of the day or a particularly interesting session) and read quickly (and all at once) what people thought was most valuable and worth sharing.

7. Meet new people
Who else is writing about B2B sales & marketing? Or a topic you care passionately about?  I find new people worth meeting and knowing almost every day by using the social Web. I don’t believe social network-only relationships are nearly as valuable as when you get to finally meet someone and get to know them, but the social Web enables a significantly higher number of relationship “starts” that can bloom over time. I’d never know half of the people I’ve gotten to know the past few years in the B2B sales & marketing world if I hadn’t been able to find, nurture and convert on relationships that started on Twitter, LinkedIn, Focus.com and more.

What are your social media time savers?