Yes, it’s true. Social media is changing things.

One in four pages visited in the U.S. is a Facebook page, and Facebook gets more visits than Google.  You can take a poll of 1,000 Facebook users for $50, and the movie about Facebook, The Social Network, grossed more than $90 million at the U.S. box office.

Location-based social networks, take your pick, are now a billion dollar industry as we are enticed to strive for Mayorship of the local coffee shop, seek out and purchase coupons, and strangely, let all of our online friends know when and where we are having a mojito.

Viral videos tear through the Internet gaining hundreds of thousands of views in the span of a few hours, a boon to some and bane to others (bummer, Derek Anderson).

300,000 new Twitter accounts are opened every day, pushing the limits of Twitter’s network and making the “Fail Whale”, which appears when Twitter is over capacity, a ubiquitous online character that even appeared on The Simpsons and Conan O’Brien.

Social media is a massive wave of online activity that businesses and organizations dismiss at their own peril. The key is to get engaged with an impactful social media strategy that helps avoid the “fail whale” of wasted time and money.

Social media tools are decisively not for every business or organization to jump into head first. On the contrary, to ensure a return on the necessary investment of time and money, it’s critical to establish a goal and strategy, select the social media tools that best fit the needs, and then methodically integrate these applications—ideally one at a time—into existing communications initiatives.

Another common element to avoid or minimize with social media is fragmenting. A recent Harvard Business Review article by Patrick Spenner, “Why You Need a New-Media Ringmaster,” outlines the importance of having a social media czar, as well as key attributes required to fill the position: integrative thinking, lean collaboration skills, and high speed.

“Given these three capabilities,” Spenner writes, “what kind of background must ringmasters have? Beyond a clear passion for and knowledge of social technologies, they need an ear for stories that will play well, an instinct for developing external relationships, and a holistic sense of the enterprise’s communications priorities.”

“A holistic view of the enterprise’s communications priorities” effectively counters the common notion that social media is low on the communications/marketing/branding totem pole, trivial child’s play best left to an intern or junior employee to mess about with when there’s nothing else to do.

If your business or organization is going to engage in social media—and especially the broader scope of digital communications tools that exist today—it is critically important that these tools be integrated into the primary communications toolkit and managed by an employee, team or outside firm of experts with proven experience in understanding and communicating the long-term mission and goals of an enterprise. Only then can the value of social media be leveraged to enhance your business goals, and only then can you ensure that your strategy will set you on the correct course to avoid the fail whale.

Avoid the “Fail Whale” is Part One of a special ProBlog series on social media.