As the owner of a social media consulting/implementation company, questions about the value of investing in social media keep me up at night. They wake me up in the morning.

I want my contributions to clients to be valuable and worthwhile. I want to sell services that are valued and useful. I want my work to make a difference for others.

So I ask myself: Is the advice I offer useful and helpful to people? Do the implementation efforts we expend on behalf of clients make a difference? Is our time well spent? Will the money our clients pay us bring the results they desire?

Is it enough to offer a set of services and deliver on providing the service we’ve offered? Or should we also make promises about the results of our work? Do we bring value? Or are we all (me, my team, our clients, and the millions of people using social media channels) wasting our time and money? If there is value in social media, where do we find it? How can we capture it?

Though I do consider these questions thoughtfully, both late at night and early in the morning, the truth this: my life and choices demonstrate my belief in the value of building online influence.

I can say, without a doubt, that my own investment in social media channels has been of inestimable worth for my life and business. I measure that value by the quality of the relationships I’ve formed online. And through those relationships, this abundance: learning, growth, encouragement, opportunities, joy, love, and support.

We each define value for ourselves, and the value we find is likely related to our willingness/ability to see finding value online as a long-term investment, rather than a get rich quick scheme.

You can’t make money in the stock market until you invest in the stock market. And you are unlikely to realize a return on your investment unless you play the odds over time.

You cannot realize a return on an investment you never make. With social media (like the stock market), you must choose to invest before you will see a return. The value is with you. What value can you bring? What value will you add? How will you make a difference?

If your focus starts with what you can get from social media and on the return you hope to realize, you will be paralyzed from the start. Value from social media is realized most fully when we are willing to give first, going all in with the intent to add value for others with no expectation of an immediate return.

We must add value through social media channels before we can extract value. In that way, social media investments are like any other investments. First you invest, and then you see the return — not overnight, not instantaneously, but at-the-right-time and in proportion to what you invest.

What returns can you expect?

You Will Be Remembered – If you consistently share value and show up to relate to people, you will create an online brand that is memorable and recognizable. You will become known, online, for your real-life expertise. You will be find-able, relatable, and top-of-mind to your current customers and potential buyers.

You Will Be Relevant – Increasingly, potential buyers size us up online. Even if your customers are not heavy users of social media personally, they will leverage Google to learn about you before hiring you or your company. What information will they gain from viewing your online profiles? Social media channels allow you to show display your expertise and relevance to your prospects.

Your Messages Will Be Amplified – When you make true connections online, and when people find value in your content, you will create a community of supporters who will re-share your messages. Over time, you will see your content read and shared across social networks, exposing your message to a growing audience. Your ideas will make a bigger difference by reaching more people.

You Will Create Possibilities – When you connect through social media, you’ll connect with new people and create possibilities for yourself and others. Every relationship you build represents possibility and opportunity. You can’t predict the growth and opportunities you will create when you show up to add value online.

Tell me something: How do you assess the value of the time/money you spend building your online influence?