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Can You Really Make Money Via Social Media?

Social media may give the illusion of spreading the wealth around, but for the vast majority of entrepreneurs, it's hard to justify the time.

Everyone is involved in social media, these days. But the real question is do you really benefit from a business standpoint? I mean, who actually makes money on social media?

Now, when you bring this sort of thing up, it inevitably creates a stir on Twitter. That certainly works for me. The media clearly benefits from social media exposure. So do entertainers: professional athletes, actors, comedians, musicians, and pop culture icons.

Likewise, anyone involved in either side of the job hunt equation benefits from LinkedIn. It's great to have a one-stop-shop for pretty much everyone who works for a living.

That said, I'm of the belief that a very small group of people actually derive what I would call material financial benefit directly from social media. And I'm not alone in that opinion.

As a social media pioneer and founder of LinkedIn's hugely popular Social Media Marketing group of more than half a million members, Michael Crosson is definitely an expert on the subject.

And while he believes that social media has changed global communications forever and agrees that it's the best way to find a job, he admits that few people make money at it. In a candid email exchange, he said:

"Social media as a business itself is essentially a B2B service ... if it is not used for a commercial purpose, then it is not generating revenue and therefore [is] not a viable alternative form of employment.

There are a limited number of people who are doing very well providing social media training and social media management services, including those employed full-time in companies, but the average citizen would have a hard time of making a living at it."

Now, I doubt if those comments will lead to anyone cancelling her Twitter or Facebook accounts anytime soon. Crosson may not get a dime directly from LinkedIn for all the time he spends moderating an enormous group, but it is a source of speaking engagements, consulting gigs, and traffic to his own website.

But the question for the vast majority of entrepreneurs and small business owners out there, is simply this: Is it worth the time? Besides the networking on LinkedIn and the occasional business lead, does it really help to have a lot of Twitter followers, for example?

My guess is that you'll have a hard time justifying and monetizing spending a lot of time posting, updating, sharing, liking, and retweeting. Which begs the question, if you're not an entertainer, in the media, or paid by your company to do it, then why do it?

The truth is that we're addicted to the distraction and instant gratification. But from a strictly business standpoint, my answer has got to be, "I have no idea."

Last updated: Apr 3, 2013

STEVE TOBAK | Columnist

Steve Tobak is a management consultant, an executive coach, and a former senior executive of the technology industry. He's managing partner of Invisor Consulting, a Silicon Valley-based strategy consulting firm. Contact Tobak; follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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