I gave a talk this past Saturday at Podcamp London where I shared a little bit about how social media influenced my decision to quit my job and strike out on my own in freelance design. The talk (which wasn’t as well planned out as I would have liked) sparked some interesting discussion amongst those in attendance.

During this discussion, I made a statement that I would now like to retract:

Social media will not make you rich.

What an ignorant thing to say! What kind of delusional, out-of-touch person says something like this? How did I get away with saying that with none of the 50 or so in attendance running up and slapping me in the head?

Rich

I’ve thought a lot about that statement since I made it, and I believe I need to clarify. In the context of the discussion — how to apply social media to grow your business — I still believe it’s a true statement. Social media cannot make anyone rich. You need to have substance, something of value, to share through social media. If all you have is a Twitter account and hope to make a living you better start reevaluating your business plan.

I believe social media can enhance your business. It can create and expand brand recognition. It can connect you to people in your industry and enhance your recruiting efforts. It can be a way to listen to your customers in a way that lets you affect real change in your business.

However where you really get rich, where social media begins to really have an exponential impact on your life, is when you begin to open yourself up to relationships. When you begin to interact with those you find through social media, whether through Twitter or your blog or Tumblr or whatever social media application you’re using, and you allow those people into your life, you will find richness beyond anything you thought possible could exist on the other side of those glowing pixels in front of you.

Value

The biggest influences I had when making the decision to go full-time freelance were the people I had met through social media. These were people in all types of industries, in all different stages of their career and life.

Some were working freelance on their own, while others had found joy in their employment. These people were creating amazing products, or were servicing customers in inspiring ways. Some just offered a word of encouragement while I was working on my own work, or gave some advice to make my work even better.

I have made true, lasting friendships through social media. Many of the people I have met online I have also had the privilege of meeting in person. Some people I have begun to make plans to meet in the future. Others I may never have the opportunity to meet offline, but that does not diminish the impact their words and presence have had in my life.

This is value. This is how social media has made me rich. It has infused me with a desire to make something amazing, encouraged to strike out on my own to achieve my dreams, and has blessed me with friendships I intend to carry on for years to come.