Now that epic cyclist Lance Armstrong has embraced Twitter to promote his LiveStrong Foundation with the same enthusiasm he brings to leaving people behind on the Alp De Huez (http://twitter.com/lancearmstrong), it seems right to borrow from the title of his best selling book “It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life” (http://www.amazon.com/Its-Not-About-Bike-Journey/dp/0399146113) as a way to make a critical point about the approach many communicators and businesses are taking to social media.

It’s not about the tools… No matter how enticing it can be to jump into Twittering, blogging or posting videos on YouTube, embracing these tools without understanding or addressing three realities about the social media is pretty sure to lead to problems. Taking time to understand and respond to these issues will pay big dividends.

First—Social Media Is About Embracing a New Communication Channel — It’s about using social media to protect your brand and to reach out and engage groups of customers and prospects. Only after you have identified customers that you want to target, understand social media, and have a plan, should you launch your blog, client chat room, Twitter account or Facebook page.

Reality number two — You’re Already Playing Catch Up — Customers and employees in every age group and industry are already using social media to decide who they want to work for and who they want to do business with. The longer you wait to get on board, the harder it will be to make the adjustments you will have to make to keep up in this new world.

Third — Embracing Social Media Requires a Significant Change in Thinking — The explosion in social media has created the need for change, and using its tools is one of the best ways to respond.

Addressing these issues requires setting priorities and focusing on the most critical items first. It’s time to start by preparing your plan, making your list, and getting started. More on some specific steps to address these issues in our next post.