A colleague of mine recently posted on her Facebook wall about the conundrum of social media. By spending a lot of time using social media as a marketing tool, it takes away time from actually doing project work. My friend happens to be a professional genealogist but you could insert the profession of any small business or self employed individual.
Independent business professionals will always have the challenge of wearing too many hats. When you are the business there is no one else to get the work done unless you hire a consultant. That means important decisions need to be made about how you spend your time. Spending too much time on project work and none on marketing could mean that your project pipeline soon dries up. Conversely, spending too much time on marketing could mean that you end up with more project work than you can realistically get done or you end up empty-handed if your marketing hasn't been done right.
The question that naturally followed for the people in the Facebook thread was whether using social media as a marketing tool actually works.
One person on the thread mentioned that he asked each new client how they found him. This is a good practice. This could provide the answer you need about whether social media works for you. You need some mechanism to determine where your leads and potential clients are coming from. After awhile you should see a pattern and when you do put more effort into the areas that are most beneficial to generating new business.
The key thing is not to focus on social media per se but to understand where your clients come from or where you want them to come from and have a marketing plan, whether traditional marketing or social media, that promotes a steady flow from that source.
My friend then asked if someone were to hire you from a print ad would they still expect you to have a strong social media presence so that you would appear as a "thought leader' in your field. This may depend on the particular field you are in but I would say this is more important in the technology and computer sector. I think that if a client found a professional genealogist through a print ad, they would be more interested in the quality of their research skills and abilities than how successful they were at attracting and maintaining an online audience.
The real issue of this larger question is what do you want to specialize in (i.e. what's your niche) and where are you likely to find the clients who want your service? Are your clients coming to you from online sources or traditional marketing? Perhaps a bit of experimentation is needed to find the right mix and the right client sources for your business. Once you determine that "sweet spot" then put more of your efforts into that medium.