The majority of us, particularly the younger generations, have felt the ‘pull’ of social media. In our personal and professional lives, the positive implications of developing a ‘personal brand’ are evident – as are, many would argue, the negative.

Whatever your standpoint, it’s pretty hard to dispute the fact that social media has revolutionised the way in which we interact with one another, both personally and collectively. As the dust settles on the social media landscape, hierarchies are emerging and, as we know, at the top of every hierarchy there are individuals that have greater influence, command more respect and – in certain circumstances – wield greater authority than others.

A great deal has been written about the various means by which we can attain, retain and capitalise upon seniority in any given context – though I can’t attest to the quality of most of it. So it seems surprising that so many people – in particular business figures that wield seniority in the real world – are yet to capitalise upon the positive implications that would follow reconciling seniority in the real world with an active social media profile.

Every field has individuals that – regardless of their seniority in the ‘real’ world – have managed to climb the social media ladder and establish themselves as ‘leaders’. Indeed, a great many individuals have built careers around it.

In her book, Talking to a Brick Wall, Deborah Mattinson said that political blogger Guido Fawkes drove Gordon Brown up the wall with his unrelenting panning of government policy during the New Labour years. Those among you who tuned into BBC News to watch the student riots may well have watched Guido commenting on the matter live from the BBC News studio, which gives you some idea of just how far social media can take you these days.

In the UK and the US, all of the political parties stepped up their social media activity in an effort to engage voters at the last election. This might go some way to explaining why the Tea Party, who as of yet have failed to galvanise any social media support, fail to appeal to young voters – though I can think of a few more reasons to accompany it.

That said, cynical use of social media – solely for personal or corporate gain – is easy to spot and can damage a brand or a cause as much as enhance it. Consumers are naturally wary of being openly marketed to online, and understandably so. Imagine if you were talking to a friend and a guy in a suit pulled up in a flash car beside you and screamed with a megaphone: “What do you think of my brand?” or “Why don’t you buy some of this stuff I have?”

This issue is actually larger than it may seem. You see, indelicate, misguided campaigns actually have the potential – cumulatively speaking – to ruin social media. Imagine there’s a nice coffee house where you and your local book group like to meet up. Now imagine that every time you get together to discuss your passion, a sleazy publishing exec turns up peddling his latest product. How long would you put up with this before you go elsewhere?

So you go to another coffee house, but the same thing happens. Suddenly, all the hangouts seem to be full of these people: single minded marketing automatons with a unidirectional agenda.

This is bad news for all of us. For the people that enjoy social media and use it honestly and responsibly you are trashing something that they feel passionately about for your own personal gain. And equally, for marketers, when the online consumer stops listening, the social media cash cow will drop dead.

If you treat the online populous as the world’s largest focus group or social media channels as free advertising spots you’re going to alienate potential customers and drive existing customers away. But, if you actively engage them, are responsive and actively  contribute to the discussion, you will reap the rewards. And who knows, you might even enjoy yourself!

A common complaint is the relatively intangible nature of the return on time invested in social media. Measuring the ROI is difficult and measuring the conversion rates from your collective tweets or blog posts is a pretty mind bending task. Far better economists than me have done so in the past. Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics, kindly uploaded a video offering a fairly comprehensive run down of various reasons to get involved in the social media boom to Youtube. I would have embedded it but Sony have prevented anyone from doing so, but feel free to follow the link – and I apologise in advance for the hideous music.

Click here.

A common response I hear from social media detractors is that they have ‘better things to do’ than spend their time conversing with strangers online. A fair enough response, until you think about the facts of the matter. Consider the increase in site traffic that the video above consistently reports. Then consider the advertising and PR expenditure that it would take to generate a similar increase in traffic. Then consider the marginal cost of creating a social media profile. Then consider the time cost – £X per hour – that is incurred uploading a blog post a day or a few tweets. Then compare these two figures…

When you consider the potential monetary saving or the time cost saved in raising the funds to finance the comparatively massive advertising or PR expenditure needed to achieve a similar return on investment, to say that you have ‘better things to do’ suddenly seems quite absurd.