It was nearly 4 years ago when I took my first baby steps into the world of social media. Before that blustery February day in Toronto, I didn’t really even know any of this existed. Oh sure, I’d been around the Interwebz for several years – but it had been mostly work-related, in the high tech sector, working on internal web sites. I lived on the Web, but till then, the Web, for me, mostly existed inside a bubble.

When I first started blogging, Twittering, Facebooking, YouTubing and the like, I did it out of pure enjoyment. I was meeting some great people, making amazing friends. Blogging was exercise for me – I did it for the love of writing, the therapy of writing my thoughts down. I didn’t care if anyone read them. I was grateful when they did. I was surprised when they left a comment.

I used Twitter for the purely social aspects – I was meeting new people this way, at a time in my life when it was needed. Several of my close friends had recently moved away, and other friendships had simply ended for one reason or another. With Twitter, I discovered this whole network of new people to get to know, and get to know them, I did. What was most surprising to me was how many people in my own city I was able to meet this way – people like Stacey, and Joe, and Tom and Tracey, and Bob – and how many of these people I now consider close friends.

Facebook was a school reunion for me. People I never thought I’d hear from again were now poking me and sending me messages. I loved seeing what had become of my high school crush, or my best friend from 5th grade, or that girl I went to TV school with. Now that I’m reconnected with these people, my life goes on, and so does theirs – but it’s nice to know they are still here.

As a video nerd, YouTube seemed to me like the Holy Grail. The fact that anyone with 5 minutes and a video camera could now tell stories this way astounded me. I loved seeing the creative things people would come up with. I would spend hours on YouTube scanning through videos looking for hidden gems. It became my TV time.

I think if I asked you, you’d probably have some similar stories, especially if you came into this social media thing in the early days like I did. Creative expression, making new friends, and sharing stories was the driving force behind many peoples’ social media efforts back then.

But somewhere along the way, it all changed.

Once the world started to grab onto the fact that social media could be used to market and sell stuff, the focus shifted. We started blogging just to drive more traffic to our sites. We decided that tweeting about our stuff was more important than making friends. We set up Facebook pages to advertise our companies and products, and abandoned our high school buddies for more lucrative territory. We started to spend more time figuring out how to drive ROI and less time just saying “hi”.

Social media has become social marketing, and I don’t think that is such a good thing.

I know that this stuff works to build business – most of the new business in the doors of our company last year came from Twitter. That’s not a lie. But it wasn’t because I was tweeting up a storm telling the world to hire Jester Creative for their next web or video project. Nope. It was because I was blogging for fun, Twittering to make friends, and Facebooking to hang out with my school chums.

Nowadays, I advise people on ways to improve their online presence. I help them create better content, and tell better stories, to help them build trust and relationships and integrity online. I don’t teach people how to Tweet. I don’t train them on how to set up Facebook pages. I teach people how to tell their stories. It’s not unlike what I’ve done all along out here myself, really. I am grateful to be able to teach others what I’ve learned, and I owe a lot to those of you who have taught me.

We’re so caught up in click throughs and traffic and ROI nowadays. We go on and on about tactics and strategies that will get more people to come to our sites. If you’re in business, these are all good goals.

But what if, for just a while, you took a step back. What if your next blog post (or your next three) were just written from the heart, because you want to express your thoughts, without worrying about who was going to read it or retweet it or comment? What if you just spent some time hanging out on Twitter being silly? What if you DID talk about what you’re having for lunch today? What if you sent your high school crush a note just to say hi or happy birthday? What if you forgot for a while that you were out here to market yourself or your business?

I’m willing to bet that, not only will you have a better time, but you’ll have better results.

[photo credit steven depolo on Flickr]