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Thousands of followers on Twitter.

Klout Score of 99.99999.

Blog/PR/Twitter/Facebook/etc. Grader ranks you in the top X on the network of your choice.

All of these sound familiar, right? All of these sound wonderful, showcase your social media expertise, innovation, thought leadership, cutting edge, leading, luminary status. Fine and good.

How much power do you actually have?

BoatsWhen someone sends you a message asking for help finding a job, how powerful is your social media skill? Can you actually help them find a job with your network in a reasonable amount of time, or are your tweets, retweets, notes, and comments simply disappearing into the ether with no discernible results?

This is why I adamantly oppose anyone calling themselves – or calling me – a social media expert, guru, luminary, etc. I can’t guarantee that if you come to me, my network can provide you a new job opportunity in 24 hours. I can’t guarantee that if you come to me, my network can put together amazing amounts of business to restore you to profitability.

I would expect anyone billing themselves as a social media expert to have such great power and authority that they could do exactly that. Need a new job? One hit to the network and you’re all set. Need customers? A blog post on your super-authoritative blog instantly brings new success. I can’t and won’t make that promise. I know that I can’t fulfill it. Very few people can.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to have conversations with hundreds of people about social media, and a lot of people are passing the pitcher of Kool Aid and drinking too much. Social media is important in that it does help you expand your networks, your horizons, and your ability to connect with colleagues, consumers, professionals, and customers in new and different ways. Direct to consumer communication and interaction is unquestionably one of the continuing trends and people need to stay in front of what’s happening. That said, social media is not a panacea or a magic wand and far too many people are piling on incredibly unrealistic expectations of what social media should be able to do for them.

If you have solid business practices and revenue models, don’t you dare give them up in the hopes that a shiny object can improve them. Continue what you know works while you test new things. If you have a broken business model, a broken revenue model, you need to fix the foundations of your house first before delving into social media. No amount of Tweeting about your company will shore up bad fundamentals. If your product, service, idea, or company is unremarkable, social media will only communicate that fact broadly and quickly.

Participate in social media, but don’t expect it to be a lifeboat if your ship is going down. At best, it’s a fine oar that requires you to already be sitting in a solid boat.

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