04/03/2011 08:54 pm ET Updated Jun 03, 2011

Social Media Is Your Job

I'm going to tell you the secret of social media success for your small business, movement, or personal brand.

By divulging this secret, I risk being labeled a heretic and cast out of The Divine Order of Social Media Gurus. If I suddenly disappear from the Internet tomorrow, you'll know why. But you need to know the truth.

Don't hire a consultant to post your Facebook updates. Don't outsource your tweets.

Social media is not advertising. It's not marketing. It's not PR.

Social media is a direct conversation between you and your customers. And that means social media is your job.

I will now predict and address your objections in advance:

I'd rather just pay a professional and then forget about it.

Think of social media like a giant, rowdy cocktail party. Your most interested, enthusiastic customers are at the party. Your most irate customers are there, too. They're all talking about you.

Who do you want listening and talking to those people? You -- or a consultant wearing a mask of your face?

No one knows your business like you do. No one is as passionate about the work you do. No one can respond as effectively to customer concerns. Your audience wants to hear your unique, authentic voice.

Recently, one of Chrysler's outside social media consultants accidentally tweeted an offensive comment about Detroit on the company's official account. No one who was personally invested in the rebirth of the Motor City would have ever made that mistake.

It's too complicated.

Here's another trade secret: Facebook and Twitter are really not that hard. Especially compared to running a frickin' business. If you can send an email and browse the web, you can master social media.

I don't have time.

You don't have time to maintain and grow relationships with your most vocal, enthusiastic customers? Isn't that the most important part of whatever you're doing?

If a customer came into your store and wanted to talk to you, would you tell them to call your PR firm instead?

I really don't have time.

Ok. Maybe your organization is so massive that you honestly don't have time to respond to the overwhelming Twitter and Facebook traffic about you. Maybe.

In that case, hire a social media manager who is almost as passionate about your work as you are. Train them to think like you, and give them the authority to solve problems for customers. Trust them and talk to them frequently about their online conversations.

They still won't replace you, but with time, they might come close.

I don't know how to creatively engage my audience.

And that's why you should hire a social media consultant -- as a coach who can bring out your most engaging content. An editor who can help you hone your unique voice. A strategist to guide your creative process.

The best social media consultants help you define your goals, show you the tools to get there, and work with you every step of the way.

Social media is your job. Fortunately, you don't have to do it alone.

But wait! My extremely specific situation negates all of your general advice!

OK. You got me there.

Note: An earlier version of the opening paragraph referred simply to "business" and not "small business." Larger organizations have more complex communication issues for which outside help may be necessary.