With all the talk you hear about Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+ and other social places online – you name it, people talk about them when they mention social media – it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to think that social media is all about Facebook, Twitter and the others.

Yet it’s not. Social media isn’t about the tools and the channels – the software or the technology. It’s all about what people do with the technology, the software, the tools and the channels: sharing pictures and video, writing product reviews, collecting content, connecting with old friends, sharing with new friends, collaborating in the workplace.

Social media is a collective term that describes the means of communicating and engaging with people. It’s something many people see as evolutionary if not revolutionary in helping people connect with each other in ways that are genuine, authentic and natural.

However you see it, social media usage is increasing rapidly and dramatically in all levels of society and in more countries around the world. And businesses of all shapes and sizes are embracing it.

Introducing social media into an organization usually means change: change in the way everyone understands how the organization works. It often means change in the ways people relate to and connect with others, inside and outside the organization. And change in their roles and responsibilities where what seemed clear to everyone perhaps isn’t any more.

For the organization, social media can be hugely disruptive, challenging established orders, hierarchies and cultures. You can’t stop disruption, but you can embrace it and make the introduction of a new way of doing things a less painful process than it may initially seem.

The benefits of taking a calculated risk to embrace social media as a legitimate business tool are clear and compelling to many companies who have taken the first steps. For them, social media today is an integral element in their marketing, public relations and overall approach to building business relationships.

The key word is calculated. The stakes are high: everything you do should be considered against objectives you can measure. You need to see a new way of looking at your organization and the people it comprises, and create the environment that lets them get things done effectively and with confidence.

These are five tips to point the way.

1. Recognize Change

The web is rapidly evolving and is having a big impact on millions of people’s behaviours in countries around the world. Little more than a decade ago, all you could really do was read static content on web sites. Today, you can create rich and interactive content on web sites from anywhere in the world where there’s a network connection, on almost any kind of device, wired or wireless. Anyone can do this, not just the big companies in the past decade.

This society-level change means we’re seeing disruption to traditional business models and new ideas springing up on how people want to communicate and connect using social media – the new tools of the web – whether for personal interests or to get things done at work.

From giving a concise opinion on Twitter, checking in on Foursquare, to saying ‘Like’ on Facebook, there is a dramatic shift in people’s behaviours, which manifests itself in the changes in how we communicate online, with whom, where we do it and when.

Another way of looking at it is to consider changes in our social structures in which easier technology puts power in the hands of individuals and communities instead of only organizations and institutions.

Why should we care? Because social media is changing how marketing and communication works and how people want to connect with brands. It presents an organization with an affordable way to get measurable results quickly when it’s employed effectively. It’s rapidly growing, and customers turn to their peers for answers increasingly using social networks and other online tools and channels – precisely the places where today’s organization needs to be present, too, in the right way.

It’s an unmistakable trend. You only need look around you to see it happening right in front of your eyes.

This content is excerpted from the first chapter in The Social Media MBA: Your Competitive Edge in Social Media Strategy Development and Delivery, a collaborative book by Christer Holloman, which I wrote in 2011. Published in the UK in January 2012 and in the US in February, the book features actionable insights by 15 thought leaders in 4 continents together with additional case studies.

You can buy the book from Amazon. A Kindle edition is also available; you can download the complete first chapter of the Kindle edition including Christer Holloman’s preface and introduction as a free sample to help you decide whether you’d like to buy the actual book.

Calculator image courtesy of Social Maximizer.

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