‘It’s the friends you can call up at 4 am that matter.’

– Marlene Dietrich1

I often get cornered at networking events or conferences by someone I don’t know who wants me to tell them what the ROI will be on social media for their business. They are looking for excuses not to get into social media, so they demand proof from the outset that the return they are going to get on all this effort will be worthwhile. This is never an easy question to answer. Without knowing anything about that person’s business, I can’t exactly look him in the eye and say, ‘Your sales will be up 20 per cent next year.’ I’m sure that’s what he’d like me to say. But that would be to undervalue his return by reducing it to purely a bottom line endeavour. The truth is that the value we extract from social media might be better than that. It might be something money can’t buy.

Like many investments, building strong relationships with a community isn’t about the short term. Sure, we can make social media about how many sales conversions we can generate per tweet. There is no reason we couldn’t track such things and make them key performance indicators if we want to. Just as long as we are also thinking about the long term, and saving for a rainy day.

Social media have brought new opportunities and new risks. Social media tools have made collective action by the masses easier than ever. While that action has been credited with playing an important part in unseating more than a few dictators, ...

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