So what is all this noise about social media anyway? The other day, I spoke to a Texas construction firm owner who summarily dismissed social media as “that stuff teenagers use.”

Robert Brown

Is he right? Is social media just the current teenage fad? Is there any value in social media for your business? The answer is a definite yes.

Social media is about expanding your network. Just like your teenagers, who each have this ability to stay up-to-the-minute with a network of friends and know immediately know who is at the mall, you too can use social media to stay in touch with your colleagues, customers and prospects. And, it’s a two-way street. Once you’ve established an online presence via blogging, Facebook, Twitter or other social-media tools, the magic of networking takes over. You find your network growing as your contacts and their contacts start reaching out to learn more about your business.

While many of us know how social-media networking works, it is still startling to take a run through the numbers: Most people can start with at least 100 business contacts from their list of contacts. Assume that each of these contacts has 75 contacts that are not duplicated in the original list of 100. Right away, when you reach out to your 100 contacts via social media, that means that you have the potential to connect with 7,500 additional contacts. Now assume that these 7,500 contacts each have 75 contacts to whom you are not already connected. Your universe of potential contacts explodes to more than half a million contacts: 562,500. In the real world, not everyone is going to connect to you; but you get the idea.

“So what?” you say. “What does this mean for my business?” It’s time for a “Twitter Tale,” told to me recently by a well-known Texan corporate audit consultant.

A colleague of his was on a global junket earlier this year to visit clients. He likes to keep in frequent touch with his wife while he travels and had recently discovered Twitter as a convenient way of sending her short messages throughout his day. Shortly after landing at the airport in Dubai, he sent her the following tweet: “Hi sweetie, I’ve just landed. I’m in the Dubai airport and am heading to hotel now. Love, Honey Bear.” He gets to his hotel room, starts his computer and there are six new direct messages to him from Twitter. All of them start with “Hi Honey Bear!” Apart from the ribbing, all the messages are basically the same. All are associates, or associates of his associates, working in Dubai. Each message runs something like, “...didn’t realize you were coming to Dubai. I’d like talk to you about some audit issues we’re facing. Can we meet?”

This auditor got so much extra business from one tweet that he had to extend his trip. (A friend has since showed him how to send direct private messages in Twitter.)

The same example of leveraging the power of networking applies with other popular tools out there, such as FaceBook, LinkedIn, YouTube and blogs. Which you choose depends on your overall marketing strategy and goals. Here are some quick references for what to use when:

  • Blogs are a great way to increase your online visibility, enhance your professional credibility, provide useful information to potential clients and attract new visitors to your Web site.
  • Twitter provides a personal, one-on-one connection via tweets from you.
  • Facebook promotes a casual forum for interaction, almost like an online coffee shop.
  • LinkedIn is the “blue chip” forum for exchanging credentials and nurturing professional relationships in a more formal setting.
  • YouTube, one of the most visited sites on the Internet, is a venue for posting short clips on topics of interest to your clients. Make sure they’re professionally produced.

A marketing consultant can help determine the best strategy for your business. Keep in mind that social media does not replace traditional marketing efforts. It should be another component of an overall marketing approach.

Feeling better connected and in touch with your business community is empowering. Far from being a time waster, if used properly, social-media networking allows you to efficiently market your business in a few minutes a day.

And, once you start tweeting, get a FaceBook page up and maybe even post a video on YouTube, you’ll have earned some serious social-media street cred. Though they may not admit it, your teenagers will be impressed.

Social media is here to stay. It is not just for kids. Used strategically, it can become an indispensable tool in your business’ marketing kit.