"Social media marketing is here to stay" could very well be chalked up as the understatement of the year. Social media marketing has been on the rise for the past several years. Unfortunately, many small businesses, corporations, and independent freelancers have been slow to get on board the social networking train.

Saying "no thank you" to social marketing opportunities reminds me of the new commercial out for PS3. The advertisement begins with a disgruntled girlfriend who can't wrap her mind around the fact that her boyfriend has indeed purchased PS3, but will not (for whatever reason) proceed to the next logical step: connecting to the internet. The girlfriend is speaking to a technical advisor with PlayStation who brings to her attention the fact that without connecting, he can't possibly make use of all the wonder that PS3 offers, such as movie downloads, online gaming, and so much more. The final line of the commercial says it all, "What is wrong with him?"

The same goes for social networking. In a virtual world where products and services are now sold more through the "virtual word of mouth social networking" than high dollar corporate advertisements, why wouldn't you want to engage with online communities? The answer to that is most likely, because you just don't know where to begin. Here's a brief but extremely valuable overview that will bring you up to speed on two powerhouse players of the social media marketing scene.

Facebook: The Competitive Edge

If you're in business and not on Facebookyet, you should really ask yourself why. Facebook is the boy wonder of social marketing.  A site that started as a side project/hobby for a couple of Harvard guys now has over 200 million users and ranks as the number one visited site in the world.

Everyone from the small business owner to corporate giants is realizing the viral power of Facebook to drive traffic to their websites and connect with new clients.

Facebook has a friendly and welcoming atmosphere where most individuals won't ask why you've sent them a "friend request." Most are all too happy to have the attention and will gladly "friend" you right back. On Facebook, friends have access to each other's walls, pages, photos, videos, blog streams, and any other posted content.

The emphasis of Facebook is on socialnetworking. These people are your friends. Even if you are a Fortune 500 business, you are going to have to let your hair down a little bit in order to fit in with the Facebook crowd. No constant self promotion allowed. If a new friend feels that the only reason you befriended them was to peddle your wares, you will eventually find yourself friendless.

Facebook is an excellent marketing tool, but just be mindful to build relationships first. The unique thing about this social network is the fact that your "friends" reflect your real life. Your list is a mix of college friends, co-workers, peers, neighbors, family members, and clients.

Groups and Pages

Facebook offers two distinct ways to market your business: creating a group or building a fan page.

Groups are organizations of people who are interested in whatever topic the group is associated with. Florida Real Estate could be a group. This group could include agents, mortgage brokers, investors and other clients. A group will require you to commit some time to moderation and monitoring of the discussions within the group, what goes on, what is said, etc.

A group can be used to bring together like-minded individuals who can later become potential clients. Starting an "Orlando Area Real Estate Investment Group" is a perfect way to educate individuals who may have the desire to invest, but are unsure where to begin.  Offering tutorials and discussing hot or controversial topics are excellent ways to "grow your group."

On the other hand, creating a Facebook Page requires zero monitoring or moderators. A fan page can include a monthly newsletter, a virtual magazine, special offers, contests, your blog stream, polls, question and answer sessions, and more. A fan page can easily be integrated to stream your blog posts and post your tutorial videos or power point presentations.  

Getting visitors to your group or fan page can be accomplished by promoting them to your friends and networks, or by getting additional exposure through advertising opportunities offered by Facebook.

Twitter: Business Micro-blogging at its Finest

Twitteris a lot like Facebook, stripped down to the basic necessities. The question Twitter poses to its users is simply, "What are you doing?"

You can literally begin using Twitter (or tweeting) after a simple sign-up, the upload of a profile picture, a short bio write up, and maybe a background design to match your corporate presence. The essence of Twitter? Find out what's new with others, and share what's going on with you. Twitter, like all social networking platforms, can be used solely for recreational purposes, but it has huge potential for smart businesses.

Quick Twitter Tips for Business:

  • Use the search to look for certain key phrases that target your potential clients. Remember, Tweeters talk in 140 characters or less, so you'll need to be concise. Type in phrases such as "need a mortgage" or "comparing mortgage rates" to find people that are currently conducting research on mortgages. When you find these individuals, follow them. Most of the time the people you follow, will follow you back. This is a good start.
  • Don't spam. As with all social media platforms, Twitter is not a free for all. Use the same social etiquette common sense that you'd use at a business after hours. Yes, you are there for business connections but no, you are not there to overwhelm potential clients with pushy, uncomfortable tactics. Twitter users are quick to "unfollow" those who are there for shameless self promotion.
  • What should you tweet? One of the best things to tweet is a helpful article or blog post you've just created. By tweeting this, you are offering information to those who are looking for it, without being overbearing. Blogs and Twitter complement each other very nicely.
  • What's a re-tweet? If you have offered a bit of advice, a link to your latest blog post, or announcing a promotion, your news can go viral very quickly if your followers share (or re-tweet) your original Twitter message.
  • Be real. Ultimately you are branding yourself on Twitter for business purposes, but don't forget to be real. Sprinkling in a few tweets about your dog, a crazy driver you encountered on your way to work, or news about your latest restaurant discovery will keep your followers engaged.

Twitter to Go

One of the greatest advantages of Twitter is that you don't need to be tied to your computer, or even own an iPod for that matter, in order to send and receive tweets. There are a few different mobile phone apps available, but as long as your cell phone can access the web, simply visit http://m.twitter.com/login and you're all set.

Twitter Tools

Honestly, there are thousands of twitter apps, plug-ins, and tools. Here are three valuable picks for business tweeting:

CoTweet:  Allows multiple users to tweet on the same account and also allows multiple accounts to be managed at the same time. Works well for a business that wants to allow several key individuals to tweet from the same account. Another feature is the ability to monitor keywords to watch for trends or mentions of a product or service.

Twellow: An excellent way to increase targeted followers by looking up fellow  tweeters by geographical location, occupation, interests and hobbies. Easy to use and completely free. Register according to profession and area so others can find you as well.

SocialOomph:  Formerly known as Tweetlater, this tool has both a free and paid version. The free version includes scheduled tweets, (although according to a recent Twitter ruling, duplicate tweets are no longer allowed), keyword tracking, reusable tweet drafts, automated DMs sent to new followers, automated following of those who follow you, as well as automated un-following of those who drop you.

The paid version includes an entire list of additional benefits. A few worth mentioning include spam filters according to keywords of your choice, mute or hide annoying tweets without un-following them, and the ability to broadcast an important DM to all of your followers at once.

A Final Note

This introduction to the social media scene is just the basics. Start with what you've learned here and get your feet wet in the social networking scene. Look for future updates and short tutorials on social media strategies and best practices.