Banks are institutions based on transactions and currency. You make deposits, withdrawals and even invest in your future using a bank. There are risks involved as well as pay-offs. Social media for business (and personal) operates in much the same fashion. The financial model of a bank offers up a relatively easy to understand model for comprehending the social currency the web is being built on.
This is where it all starts. Deposits. In a bank you make deposits with cash money. Dolla dolla bills y'all! In social media you make deposits of time and attention. You must spend time interacting with people in order to get to know them. You must spend time reading blogs and commenting. Engaging on Twitter through @ replies and re-tweeting others as well as connecting and interacting on Facebook, LinkedIn and others are great ways to make "deposits". You must make your presence known by giving of yourself in to the community. By depositing in this way you grow your net-worth and increase your balance.
Only after you've made deposits into the community can you really begin to take any kind of withdrawal. By withdrawal I really mean that it is hard to "get" anything out of social media until you have invested (or deposited) in building relationships. In other words, you must give before you can receive. Once you've built these relationships and increased your balance in the community, and only then, can you actually begin to make asks of your community. Let's be real - you wouldn't go up to a complete stranger and ask a favor right? This is NO different!!
When businesses talk about investing in social media they're right. In several ways. Social media is an investment. It's an investment in your reputation, your relationships with your customers, your long-term customer loyalty and many other things. The biggest similarity lies in the pay-off. Nothing about social media and its potential reward is instant, or even fast. Sure, you may have quick wins but the real pay off cannot be seen for some time. The true reward of all of that relationship building is only realized down the road. You are making investments in trust and showing respect for the time of your audience.
Nothing worth doing comes without risks. The thing about risk in social media, as with banks and other financial institutions, is that they can be mitigated. Successfully mitigating risk is completely possible but you need to be armed with the right tools in order to do so. In order to effectively mitigate your risk you'll need to understand it. Not only understand your risks, but your audience, their boundaries, your organizational position, your crisis plans (or lack thereof I suppose) and a myriad of other things. Bottom line - be aware, cautious and deliberate in your actions. (More importantly don't be dumb.)
The best way to approach your social media presence is just like you would your financial portfolio. You need generous deposits, healthy investments and a risk mitigation plan. And only then can you reap the rewards and take a hard earned withdrawal.