Social media is what you make of it.

Back in my salad days, journalism students were required to
read Marshall McLuhan's the Medium is the Message, and understand the
difference between hot and cold media.

Today, I can't find a single communicator under the age of
50 who knows what I am talking about. 
I find that mildly amusing because that understanding is crucial to
being able to "get" social media.  Especially if you are between the age of 30 and 50 and are
trying to figure out what social media is "for."

Let me explain: 
A cool medium is something that requires an action on your part.  Print is a cool medium because you have
to physically pick it up and put your brain into gear to absorb the
information.  A hot medium is
something that allows you to sit, disengage your brain and let the medium fill
your head.  Movies are hot.  TV is hot.  Radio is kinda lukewarm because at least you have to imagine
what is going on.  Podcasting,
however, is cooler that radio because you actually have to search to find the subject
matter you want and, at times, input comments.

But social media, for the most part is a cool medium because
it requires an enormous amount of interaction from the audience to have any
value.  If you are waiting for
social media to "be" something all on its own, you are going to be

Twitter, blogging, Facebook and all the other incarnations
of social media are going to be whatever you make them to be.  Do you want information?  Then engage in the online community and
have them feed you information, but you are going to have to give them
something that they need,  Do you
want to sell your product?  Then
you need to engage in the online community, find the people that need your
product, and then tell them about it, often on a one-to-one level.  Do you want leads?  Then engage the community and find out
who is looking for what.  Sometimes
you may have to direct them somewhere else.  Sometimes, you may have to talk about something other than
your business to get your business attention.

But social media is not an end in itself and that may be why
some people have difficulty getting their heads around it.  It used to be that the media and other companies did all the work for you.  Other companies took out ads,the media dug out the stories, agencies threw parties for networking.  Maybe you did a little direct mail, set up a couple of booths and berated your own agencies but you got a result of some
sort.  Now, you start a blog or a Facebook account and you stare at the screen and say, "now what."   Well, that's up to you.  You may actually have to contract with someone to help you.

We have to get used to the fact that nothing is automatic
anymore.  Relationship requires
work and social media is all about relationship.  It is going to take more effort and thought, give and take
and … guess what?… more investment to make this work.

See, media doesn’t work without some sort of revenue
stream.  The ONLY reason
traditional media is dying is because it's revenue stream dried up long before
the recession.  People still read
print.  People still watch TV.  People still listen to AM radio (fer
cryin' out loud).  But fewer and
fewer companies are supporting it. 
Right now, social media is being supported primarily by the venture
community and other corporations. 
When they don’t see a profitable exit potential, that will dry up too.