The marketing buzzword of the day is -Social Media.  Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and the professional social network, Linked In are growing at a dizzying rate.  Twitter alone grew 1,382% year-over-year in February. Is this a jump on the band wagon panic of Don’t-want-to-be left-behinds or is the impact on our lives so grand that we are drawn to it like rivers to an ocean?  I think it is the former.

The personal aspect of social media has obvious impacts.  Good and bad.

I spend a lot of time in airports, away from my friends and family.  I talk to my wife and kids everyday but I have no time to chit-chat with friends.  Facebook has changed that. I have reconnected and stayed connected with friends that I have not seen in years.  When we do hook up, it’s like we saw each other last week.  This is good.
Social Media is responsible for 22.7% of online activity. That is more than twice the runner-up, online games at 10.2%. Email is third at 8.3%.

Some people spend hours in cyber gatherings. Since our days have not gotten any longer, they do this at the expense of a clean house, time with the kids or their job performance.  Yes, they do it at work, 77 percent of workers who have a Facebook account use it during work hours.

As a small business owner you can’t ignore the impact of social media. But how are you going to embrace it? First you must decide if you are going to allow it in the work place or not. Second, you need to choose if you are going to make it a part of your marketing arsenal or keep your focus on what you know.

A lot of you have Facebook fan pages. If you don’t have a fan page yet, someone close to you has likely recommended it.  Be careful how you use them. Remember, this is ‘Social Media’ which translates to the real world as a ‘Social Gathering.’ View a post or a tweet as speaking up at a dinner with friends. Say something worthwhile that will make you interesting.  Don’t solicit your business. To do so is like pitching Amway at Thanksgiving dinner. You look like a jerk.

While everyone else is jumping on the bandwagon without regard to the investment of time involved or a plan on who they want to be in cyber space, a great opportunity awaits you. Use you creative genius to create an ongoing quiz game or offer interesting trivia. A friend of mine who lives in Africa during the winters posts African Proverbs. I always look forward to them.

Constant plugs of you business are a sure way to be defriended and likely push your fan toward a competitor. The best way to build fans and credibility is to serve your customers well and when a client does compliment you on your service, say “Hey, thanks. Could you spread the word for me by Tweeting or posting your thoughts?” You will be surprised at how many actually will. And then some will even look you up to become a fan.

It’s far more credible when others post about you.

A disgruntled employee or angry customer doesn’t tell just 25 friends, they tell 250. And they tell them all at the same time in the heat of their frustration. You are far more transparent now then you were just 5 short years ago. Be aware of your actions, good or bad, because people will find out.

Social Media is likely to become more entwined in our lives as more smart phones are sold and our kids get older. You can embrace it or become a victim of it, but you can’t avoid it.  It’s a part of our culture.