Enough with the hype already!

A recent Wall Street Journal  article offers this perky teaser for an article by Kelly Spors:new and improved

Use Social Media to Bond With Consumers Social-media technologies can help small firms to better connect with and market themselves to consumers and others in their industries, and they’re often free.

Spors’ article is a decent survey of current tools, including Twitter, Ning, Facebook and MySpace, with some examples of how different businesses are using them. But it is, as most such articles are, pretty light on examples of proven boosts to profitability from such efforts.

This is, of course, why businesses are being slow to adopt these tools. It’s very nice to have 800 followers on Twitter,  but the time it takes to create that following is anything but free, and in the end, the goal is to create and retain customers, not “followers” — to improve the effectiveness of collaboration with colleagues, not just create a large number of “connections.”

The new tools make it possible to cheaply broadcast an organization’s voice all over the place.  Actually connecting with people, however, requires time and attention on all sides of the communication.  That I take the time to carefully craft this blog post does not guarantee that it will have any particular utility for you, my valued reader.  That you find it valuable may raise the esteem in which you hold me and/or my organization, but that’s a pretty long way from your signing a hefty contract to secure the services of my fine employer.

There is real value, measurable in dollars, to be gained from using these tools. But even when the tool is free, there are real costs in spending the time up front to determine the suitability of the tool for the task to which it is being put, and to evaluating on the back end whether the implementation of a new tool is in fact creating the anticipated value.  There is no free lunch. But there are some pretty great meals for those willing to make a reasonable investment.