My job (the one where I make money, not the one where I tutor) is to blog, tweet and Facebook. Most people quickly close out of Facebook and Twitter when their boss walks by so they look like they're doing work. I do the opposite (joke- and I when I'm at work, I actually NEVER have Facebook or Twitter closed). It makes for an odd sort of reversal that makes it hard to explain to people, even my own co-workers, what it is I do. I spend all day talking to people I can't see about products they can't see, and they in turn talk to me, who they can't see.
So what makes it work? Well, it seems to me that its all in the name, and that its important to remember the word order: social media. The media we use to communicate, be it a blog, Facebook, Twitter, or any of the hundreds other options out there are wonderful, useful things. I can talk to people from all over the world in less than a second. I can press "share" and send a message to 1,600 people. I can create a forum for discussions between like-minded people. All of this is amazing, but all of it is secondary to the first part of the name. The media we use is a tool, nothing more, nothing less. What's truly important is how we use it.
Social media first and foremost is about socializing, about making connections. Many businesses link their Facebook and Twitter accounts, or use tools to automatically reply to posts. And while such features are useful, they overlook the main purpose of social media. If you reach the point where you can no longer personally interact with the people you are communicating with, then its time to cut back, or find a way to further that interaction. Social media needs to be personal. People want to know who they're talking to, and that someone is on the other end actually listening to what they say. Social media without the social is just media. And if thats all you have, then you might as well be running a TV commercial.
Does it take a lot of work? Of course. And its the kind of work that doesn't just follow you home, it follows you everywhere, on you computer, on your phone, on your iPod. But that's what it takes to interact with people in real time.
Ultimately, as convenient and useful as social media is (and yes, fun too), I believe it cannot nor will not replace genuine face-to-face contact. When people meet face-to-face, when the invisible hand typing at the keyboard reveals itself as an actual flesh and blood human being, that's where real socializing begins. And that's an important thing to keep in mind.
So next time you're watching your newsfeeds, remind yourself to take a break from the computer and go out and socialize. It will be good for you, and good for your business.