When you read a news story about social media or come across a job posting for a ‘social media expert’, chances are the tools of social media will be front and center.

Twitter, Facebook, MySpace. If you had no exposure to social media, you’d probably assume that these popular services were the end all and be all of social media.

They’re not. For businesses, social media is about enabling customer interaction through online technologies. The tools are important but a strategy that’s focused on the tools isn’t a strategy at all.

If your company is evaluating or using social media, here are some of the broader social media considerations that you should be giving thought to before you even think about tools:

Goals. If you’re using social media but don’t have any idea what you want to get out of it, you’re wasting your time. How you use social media and which social media tools you use should be based on your goals, not simply what’s popular.

What sort of voice you want to give your customers. Social media can be used for different things. For instance, some businesses may use it as a customer service channel while others may decide to leverage social media as a pure marketing channel. There’s no right or wrong answer but what you’re looking to use social media for will help determine which tools you need to use and how you use them.

How you leverage the voices of your customers. Once you’ve decided what you’re using social media for, you have to be in position to execute. If you’re using social media for customer service, for instance, you had better be sure that the tools you can use are suitable and that the people within your organization who are going to be asked to perform the work understand how to provide that service know how to use them. Or, if you’re using social media for product development, you’ll need to figure out which tools enable you to capture that feedback in such a way that the feedback can be efficiently incorporated into your existing processes.

Who needs to be involved. Like most things, social media is a holistic undertaking and chances are that you’re going to need to involve different individuals or groups within your company. They should be brought to the table while you’re developing a strategy, not after you’ve already decided what needs to be done.

What sort of metrics you need to measure. You know what your goals are. You’ve decided how social media can benefit your business. Now you need to determine how you’re going to measure whether your efforts are bearing fruit. Since different social media tools enable the collection of different kinds of metrics, you need to figure out which metrics matter the most and make sure the tools you’re considering allow you to capture them.

Only once you know all of these things can you really figure out the tools you need to use to get the job done. Simply saying ‘We need to be on Twitter and Facebook‘ is lazy.

In social media, the tools are the sizzle. Without a steak to back up the sizzle, you’re bound to walk away still feeling hungry.

Photo credit: TheBusyBrain via Flickr.