Let’s get right to the point: If not designed right, your engagement in social media may provide real returns for someone else at a real opportunity cost for you.
Let me explain this a bit.
If you are reading this, there is a pretty good chance that you are using social media one way or the other. The question is—have you got any real returns from social media so far? Most of you will want to say, “Yes” because if you say “No,” the next question will be: “Well then, why are you continuing to make to use social media?” You probably don’t want to face that question. You see, social media has become a part of your life. You need to justify the time you are spending on social media and the way you do that is by continuing to believe that you are either getting to you are going to get superior returns from social media.
The biggest thing you may be ignoring about social media is the opportunity cost. If you don’t plan well, social media robs your time from creating something valuable. It provides a compelling escape from the real action: Creating real value. And, the sexy label for that escape route—engagement. I am not suggesting that you run away from social media. In my mind, it's a great amplifier for your work (and for the brilliant work of others.) But, that’s what it is, an amplifier.
So, here is where this gets interesting. There is an exception to the above rule if your business is social media—that is, you directly make money from it—be it via consulting or education or community building for your clients. So when you are engaging in social media, you are actually working. Your product is to create engagement from others for whatever you are trying to amplify. You have an interest and an incentive to get a lot of “engagement” from others. It becomes your responsibility to design conversations that benefit all but if people today engage for anything and everything so that removes the incentive to design enriching interactions. But, the rules are clear: You get your returns when others engage on the topics that you want them to, irrespective of whether they get any returns from it or not.
Now, what if you are on the other side? What if you are not directly making money from social media and you don’t have anything to amplify? Simple: Your engagement is creating real returns for someone else at a real opportunity cost for you. It’s your time (and your life) at stake—so you have to choose where to engage.
I have had a direct, open and honest conversation about this with many people who are busy with social media. Their justification (or, defense) is that they want to help people, so they participate anyway. Their intentions seem noble and it seems like they want to be good social media citizens. I follow up with another question: “What are you doing to grow and become even more powerful to help even more people?” They don’t have a good answer. Many of them have not even thought about it because they are busy engaging with others.
Engagement for the sake of engagement will serve no purpose except you are now part of the statistics for someone measuring a particular discussion. How do you know you are engaged for the sake of engagement? One way is to imagine yourself absent from the discussion? Think about the impact of your absence. If there was no significant loss because of your absence, it is clear that there is no significant gain because of your participation.
The best kind of engagement is one that provides growth to every participant. In your case, you will experience growth or you will incur an opportunity cost. Social media is an open place so you are welcome in most places. However, it is your responsibility to choose the right conversations with the right people for the right amount of time. Rarely can someone force you to be part of the conversations.
Time is precious for you and for everyone else. If you are not “moving the needle” for others and for yourself as you engage in social media, it’s hurting you rather than helping you.
Image credit: Jen Stamps