The Globe and Mail ran Ryan Caligiuri’s ep-ed piece The sad truth about social media in last Thursday’s edition. Ryan’s core argument is social media is a relationship building tool rather than a lead or revenue generating tool. He debunks the notion of tactics meant to generate instant sales using examples of restaurants and golf courses looking to make a quick buck.

I’m already subscribed to the point of view that social media is a long term investment in creating and strengthening credibility, trust and confidence. The type of work I do focuses on that approach, and my own social media activities have been built around that belief. However, I don’t dispute the ability of social media to have a profound and meaningful impact on sales. In fact, I would argue, done well, social media can do both at the same time. Talk to Chris Penn about that and you’ll get facts, not conjecture.

One scenario I offered in a recent talk in Edmonton involved air travel. I frequently use Twitter to thank air carriers for a safe flight after the plane is parked at the gate. An astute competitor might acknowledge such a message and reach out to me to try their service. While I appreciate the Twitter reply from my own trusted carrier, I’m very likely to consider following up on “Glad you had a safe flight. We’d like to invite you to try our service. Contact me and I’ll fix you up with 20% off.”

I believe the problem is too many people have been over-hyped on social media. They’ve been led to believe it’s as simple as creating an account and everything else will take care of itself — no assembly required, self cleaning, permanent press. A similar phenomenon in the computer security world resulted in the proliferation of  network firewalls that were properly plugged in and never maintained. You can only imagine the problems that followed.

Social media is definitely a tool for lead and revenue generation. You just need to be creative and committed to the process of making it work because social media isn’t a broadcast channel in the way businesses are familiar. And, you need to use the most appropriate social media tool to achieve a specific goal. As Ryan points out, a butter knife doesn’t replace a screw driver (I hear a Simon & Garfunkel song coming on).