Chris Penn had an interesting post on his blog today that boils down to this point:  It’s in the way that you use it.  Just like the Eric Clapton song says:

It’s in the way that you use it,
It comes and it goes.
It’s in the way that you use it,
Boy don’t you know.

And if you lie you will lose it,
Feelings will show.
So don’t you ever abuse it,
Don’t let it go.

Nobody’s right till somebody’s wrong.
Nobody’s weak till somebody’s strong.
No one gets lucky till luck comes along.
Nobody’s lonely till somebody’s gone.

Almost everything we use, from the most basic tool to pencils to computers and communication tools can be used skillfully or crudely.  They can be good or bad. They’re just tools.  It’s in the way that the tools are used that determines whether you have artwork or scribbles,  commercial success or failure, a masterpiece or mere scrap.

Whenever I run across someone who says “computers are bad for kids” or “social media tools are useless” or any other blanket statement against what i consider a tool, I try to get them to consider it’s not so much the tool, but the deployment of that tool that makes the difference in the end product.  For example, you can use a pencil to write the great american novel, or send a ransom note.  It’s not the pencil’s fault- it’s what the user does with it that determines the outcome.

Likewise, in the world of Social Media, there are many tools available.  For those who want to be truly overwhelmed, just go and look at the list on Go To Web 20– it’s a seemingly endless list of Web 2.0 tools that are being developed and deployed, used by communities all over the world.  All of these tools are meant for different purposes, have different features, and are adopted by different communities as their own.  Some will take off and become the next Twitter, and others will meld into obscurity.

Deciding which tools to use requires some knowledge about each of them, their communities, and how they might fit in your overall marketing or community outreach strategy.  The thing that currently separates Social Media Experts and novices on the web is that the Experts have more experience and have been using the tools at hand longer than most.  They have a good sense of what is possible and worth the time, and what may not be.

While no one yet (and this is about to change) has a college degree in Social Media Marketing, there are clearly people out there who have the most experience, have a deeper knowledge of the possibility of the tools, and a willingness to explore new tools, always looking for a better way to accomplish the task at hand.  Just like a master craftsman, the real social media experts have a pretty deep toolbox and are looking not to use every tool in the drawer, but use only the ones that will accomplish the job at hand.

The big social media tools like Twitter and Facebook are like a hammer and a screwdriver- they’ll get a lot of jobs accomplished for you.  They are utilitarian.  They are great, and you might not want to live without them.  But a good homeowner knows that sometimes, simple tools like duct tape, or more complicated tools, like a drill or power saw, are required to get the job done.  You also can’t use them all interchangeably- a hammer doesn’t make a good saw, for example, and you need the right sized wrench for the job, or you just don’t get the torque you need.

Whether you are using  more prosaic tools like email and newsletters, or the shiny new tools like Facebook, Mahalo, Friendfeed, or other social tools to communicate with others, the results you get will be determined by how the tool is used, not what it is.

It’s a simple concept, but still one a lot of people seem to miss.