How many times has somebody asked you “are you on Facebook?”. Or inquired as to how many times a day you “tweet”?

To use myself as an example: I joined Facebook in 2007 after I started in SEO. I also joined MySpace, and eventually Twitter. I thought each was a silly little fad, and would just give me something to do during lunch breaks and avoid the cost of multiple text messages to a close circle of friends. How wrong I was…
Being a member of a social networking site is becoming a kind of requirement – as much a sign of being alive as having a heartbeat or brain activity. We can often find distant relatives, near-forgotten colleagues and classmates and future friends on these sites. My grandparents are in their eighth decade and are both very active on Facebook. We hear stories of schoolchildren joining these sites (suffice it to say that I don’t see that as a good idea though).

As an individual, social networking sites allow us to share photos with friends and family quickly. We can inform either a small circle of friends or extended network that we are enjoying our holiday, watching an interesting TV show or read a funny or important news story.

As a company, social media can let a retailer share a special offer or discount code in seconds. Large and formerly faceless corporations can reveal a human side to their operations, and interest in industry innovations in general can be broadcast to interested parties.

Having worked with many companies, I know that social media is a very polarising aspect of online marketing ops. Sceptics often see it as a tool for staff to waste valuable time, or as something that only really applies to teenagers and party-goers. To counter this, I explain that a quick 140 character update on a sale, special offer or industry development is cheaper, quicker and easier than organising a mailshot or e-shot – and bear in mind how many leaflets get binned (Reader’s Digest, anyone?). Plus, other members of social media sites end up helping every time they mention your website, join your fan group or add a comment to an article you publish, as this will create further little adverts within cyberspace.

From an SEO perspective, if your main keyword is “SEO beginners guide” for example, in an ideal online world, when somebody searches for that phrase, you’d want the main website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, LinkedIn page for your company to dominate the first 10 results. Why? – because you’re stopping your competitors from occupying those positions.

And how would a company achieve this? The theory is very straightforward – target your social media tools to your chosen keyphrases. It is quick, cheap and your target audience are guaranteed to be on some social media site.