Believe it or not, I still hear lots of skepticism about the value of social media from people who just don’t see how time spent engaging on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter translates into results.

Never mind that the world now spends over 110 billion minutes on social networks and blog sites, according to Nielsen. For some busy and otherwise-engaged people all this time spent tweeting, chatting and texting is time lost to more important endeavors. There are, of course, lots of experts out there who can articulate how to measure the ROI of your social media investment. Their approaches are important ones to adopt. In short, it all distills down to two words: influence and engagement.

Organizations need to figure out who they want to influence and who are the important social media influencers of their organizations. They also need to get clear about what social media engagement means to their organization; what strategies to use; who is best suited to respond to them; which social media platforms work best for each key target audience …. It all needs to be carefully thought out before one can find success in the social online world.

Beyond the strict metrics of social media measurement, here are some important benefits you can and should understand and articulate when someone in your organization dismisses social media as a dalliance:

  • Benefit #1- Social media is a great platform for listening to what others are thinking; to hear firsthand new ideas, spot trends; uncover negative feelings. Wonder why more people are not joining your synagogue? Why teenagers prefer one summer camp over yours? Why one secular nursery school is preferred over yours? Monitor local blogs. Post a query or blog about your interests and get ready for some honest responses.
  • Benefit #2- Social media creates rich, unpredictable new content from people who actually want to contribute. Ever sat in on a good brainstorming meeting and left realizing that several new ideas emerged that you would never have envisioned without the group think? That is how social media works – a free and fluid exchange of ideas. Invite people to give you content. Ask their permission to use it. Then give them credit for their contribution.
  • Benefit #3- You can be present in the social media conversation space without much effort. No time to attend another conference? Start a blog, push it out and encourage comment. Comment on others’ blogs and reap the benefits of some very valuable perspectives – all for free. Tweet to those who share your interests and start building relationships that can become valuable over time. And you can stop gathering those pesky business cards that you lose before you get back to your office.
  • Benefit #4- Fundraise with and through people who care about you, their friends interests, and your cause and get the added benefit of expanding your base of connections. Have a special project that needs funding but no clear pathway to find likely supporters. Social media can help you find the right people who care about your work and/or the person telling them about it.
  • Benefit #5- Secure unsolicited (and therefore more trusted) endorsements for your organization from people your organization has socialized with online and who have good things to say about you. Caution: the reverse of this benefit of course, is that you also get the negative feedback spread virally when you fail to deliver value. Still, the value of knowing how you stack up is well worth the downside risks. Go outside your little piece of the world and start engaging in conversation with the people you want to like you and talk about you. You have to give before you get. So, start by offering them content of value, introductions to others, leads that are relevant to their interests.
  • Benefit #6-8 (and growing) – There are so many ways that social media is being used to make easier, faster, smarter and more trusted interactions. Did you know there is a social bank you can use? Zopa (according to Wikipedia) “is a British-based company providing an online money exchange service, allowing people who have money to lend it to those who wish to borrow, instead of using savings accounts and loan applications at traditional banks. The process is sometimes referred to as peer-to-peer lending.”

Want to advertise using social media? Try Zooppa, a user-generated advertising platform where people sign up to create ads for brands and the winning (most highly rated creative execution) creator gets paid for the work.

Need to hire a smart person with a special skill set? Social media word of mouth is becoming an important job posting/employee finding resource that puts people together based on trusted relationships and personal knowledge.

The world of social media is big and getting bigger. And, the many creative ways people are using it not simply to chatter about where they are having a latte but to create purposeful interactions that drive their business agendas is gaining ground. Like the New York Lottery slogan says, “If you want to win it, you have to be in it.”

Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional who currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.

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