The verdict is in. Social networking is more than a fad, and it's going to be around indefinitely. As more people wade in to social networks, correspondingly more companies misuse it's tools and waste money and resources seeking futile and arbitrary gains. To avoid being one of the many who misuse social networking, be prepared to do some homework, to experiment, and be patient.

Choosing which Networks to Utilize

I recommend that you start your foray into social networking with one method. There are quite literally hundreds of options, attempting to tackle them all at once is rarely helpful. Starting with one of the big 3, Linked In, Facebook or Twitter, is usually a good idea with one key exception. If you have a blog, newsletter, or if you regularly publish articles, start by exploring RSS and email subscriptions. These methods were the original way to share with friends and stay in the loop, and they still work great. If you don't regularly update content, choose a method that you are familiar with and already use. If you don't use any, start! Pick one, create an account and actively use it for a few weeks before deciding how to incorporate it into your marketing plan.

Getting your feet wet

Explore how other sites use networking, and take the time to understand how it works. What does putting a "Like Button" on your site actually accomplish? What's in it for the user? What's in it for Facebook? If you don't know these answers, you aren't ready! Try liking another business (one you actually like) and note how it affects you. Alternately, subscribe to a Twitter Feed, or network with others on LinkedIn. When observing, a healthy dash of skepticism is your friend. Find someones 10-a-day twitter posts annoying? Others probably do too. Sick of searching around social links to find useful content? You can bet others feel the same way.

Provide Incentives

Give people a good reason to keep tabs on you, or to recommend you to others. Social networking isn't an end, its a means to highlight what you are already doing well. If customers or visitors genuinely like what you do or offer, they may feel that referring friends is an act of kindness! For those not driven by altruistic methods, explore giving special deals or coupons, or let your loyal fans be the first to know about exciting new developments. Are you buzz-worthy? Are you doing something interesting, entertaining or worth talking about? If not, all the social networking in the world will do you little good. Start instead by doing something worth talking about, then use networking technology to make it easy for people to join the discussion and share with others.

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