Today I want to demystify what social networking entails and how you can use it to your business’s advantage.

Social media, web 2.0, social networking. These terms are mentioned in just about everything business owners read and hear, but the majority still don’t completely understand what the buzz is about. Yes, keeping up with emerging trends can seem daunting, but social media is one trend business owners need to keep on their radar.

Basically, there are two aspects of social media. The first aspect encompasses things like blogs, podcasts and videocasts, which many businesses have readily adopted. The other, more social aspect includes applications like MySpace, YouTube and Twitter.

Using the social side of social media to market your business can be tricky. Recently MySpace has gotten a bit of unfavorable attention from the media because of sexual predators taking advantage of the site. And while YouTube has become a favorite way to share videos online, you can never be sure as to what kind of video the service will show after yours plays. Some of them may be highly inappropriate for your audience.

So, as a business owner, how do you determine which sites to target, how to approach them and what returns to expect? Here are some nuggets for you to keep in mind as you consider leveraging social media in your own company.

Examine your target market. Are you marketing to finance types or Gen Y’ers? The more social aspects of social media may not be the best place to find and communicate with your audience if you want to do business with stock brokers. Yet if you’re marketing to a more casual customer, social media may be just the carpet ride your business needs.

Focus on the return and the investment. Because social media has garnered so much attention, many have gotten caught up in the hype of stories about businesses seemingly going from zero to 60 overnight. As a result, some companies have become much more focused on their return than their investment. Figure out well in advance what you’re willing to invest to get the return you want.

Set and measure your digital yardsticks. As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Establish some basic goals for metrics that you’ll monitor regularly. If you’re starting a MySpace page, set a goal for how many friends you want to have within a certain period of time.

Contribute to the social network–don’t just market to it. I suggest you first listen to the community and understand what the issues and who the influences are. Don’t just try to push your wares.

Protect your brand. The sad truth about the more social aspects of social media is that there are some not-so-savory characters that’ll be using the same medium to get their message across. Examine where you’ll be placing your brand and what types of companies are going to be sharing that space with you.

Social media can have a positive impact on your business, if done right. You already understand the importance of networking; now it’s time to take it online.

All the best,
Mark Jackson (MJ)

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