What does social media have to do with me?

The rapidly changing terrain of the Internet has its peaks and its lows, its fads and its one-hit wonders. Yet, as the role that this medium plays in our society changes on an almost daily basis, the newest relationship to technology rocked the boat enough for Time Magazine to name us people of the year – social networking.

Maybe your teenager has a MySpace account, and you’ve heard blogs talked about in the political elections, but really, what are the implications of this social technology on your business? Is the so-called “Web 2.0” just a bunch of hype? And if it isn’t, what can you do to take advantage of it?

Most businesses have a website nowadays, but often, especially for smaller and local businesses, this website is a brochure-style website that provides basic information about the business: hours, contact information, product information, maybe even the ability to buy online. However, the business owner still feels that the website could just do more for their business. Often there is a disconnect between the amount of investment the business is willing and able to make and the amount of return that can conceivably be generated through the website. For some businesses, the brick and mortar experience is so important that by using the website the customer loses an essential part of the buying experience. After all, you’re no longer able to personally greet that person who steps into your shop, be available to answer their questions, or humanize the experience of buying a product… or are you?

While social media won’t necessarily replicate this experience, it does present the opportunity to talk less business with your customer and appeal to the proven browsing habits of consumers. A company blog, for example, allows you a platform for discussing your product in a more conversational tone, provide your musings on your industry (thus affirming your role as an expert), or pitch new products, offerings, or items you find of interest. The technology at the back-end of a blog is extremely search-engine friendly, and if you diligently update it (or hire us to) you will soon find your search rankings growing in unexpected directions. And if you’ve tied your site into Web 2.0 where relevant – maybe with Digg, del.icio.us, or by blogging about it on your own site – you may find yourself plugging into unexpected audiences.

On the bigger scale, Yahoo! is developing their entire strategy around making every web tool interactive and the idea of building user-defined searches may determine the outcome of the next round of search engine wars. And while the Internet deconstructs countless traditional media revenue models, newspapers find that their websites still succeed in the role they have held for decades: a shared source of information for a community (and are using that to build new revenue streams).

While hopping on the band wagon isn’t the first thing every mom and pop should do, and certainly not the first priority from a marketing perspective, having a grasp of this new technology and considering its long-term value it can add to your business’ identity is one trend that should not be overlooked.