The two most important words in social media are “opportunity cost.”
The phrase “opportunity cost” comes from economics, but it has implications for just about every aspect of business. It means, very simply, that any action we take prevents us from taking all the other actions we could have taken with those same resources (time or money). The goal should always be to take the actions that have the greatest value given the resources available. For example, you’re reading this blog post right now because (I hope) you want to learn a little bit about social media and because (I hope) you believe there’s more value in that action than the other actions you could take right now. But in reading this post, you’re sacrificing other things: time on other projects, time with your customers, maybe sleep or time with your family. And that’s fine, as long as you find enough value here to make it more worthwhile than the other actions you should take.
This applies to social media in two ways. First, there’s the opportunity cost that comes with not using social media. If you avoid social media altogether, there’s a very good chance you’re missing the opportunity to connect with prospects, customers and others who can enrich your life, professionally and personally. There’s also a good chance that you’re involved in other efforts that don’t provide as high a return–things you’re still doing, for example, just because you’ve always done them. In that case, the opportunity cost inherent in forgoing social media is very, very high.
But opportunity cost also applies to the use of social media. We tend to think of social media as free or at least inexpensive, because it doesn’t (usually) cost anything to sign up, and it seems like it only takes a few minutes at a time to be social. The truth is, however, every time you start using a new social media tool, you’re starting a long term commitment. Those minutes will add up. Your time and attention will be taken away from other things. In that case, the opportunity cost inherent in using social media is very, very high.
As social media use becomes more common, and as we all try to decide which tools to use (Facebook? Twitter? A blog? Google Plus? YouTube? LinkedIn?), the opportunity cost inherent in using social media will continue to rise. The key, then, is to choose only the actions that provide the highest value and forgo the rest. If the opportunity cost becomes too high, then it’s time to log off–at least for a while.