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Social media is the next step in the evolution of the internet.  This is important because it closes more gaps between individuals, eliminating the old hurdles such as distance, cost of communication, age, gender, stereotyping.  The internet is slowly bringing many of these barriers down.

Whether or not this is good or bad may be argued, but in the eyes of an internet marketer (such as you and me), there is much good because of this.  Social media establishes a means of communication unlike anything else.  And the reason it differs so much is because of the personal level is introduces.  Through social media, you meet *individuals*, not companies, not groups, but specific people.  People socialize best by meeting individually, not by reading a statement another person wrote, or by listening to a recording made.  Social media is all about getting closer to specific individuals.  This allows a closer relationship, trust is endowed, many opportunities arise.

To get started with social media, there are many options.  You can set up a Twitter account, the one-line version of blogging.  You can go a longer route, set up the oldest version of what could be considered social media, a blog.  Create a Facebook account and find contacts.  Whichever way you choose, the key is to initiate a connection point.
– If it’s a blog, it should be one that has a very open invitation for comments, it should link to other blogs or other social media sites you are using.
– If it’s Twitter, find other contacts.  Find people whose tweets you are interested in, follow them, then find who they’re following.  Eventually people will start following you, as well.
– If it’s Facebook, search for people who are like-minded.  If you’re specifically wanting individuals knowledgeable in your market, search for the authorities for your market.  You’ll find a lot of people use Facebook – you should find many.

The key is to use more than just one social media source.  And it’s good to try getting into as many as possible, not just for the benefits of social media marketing, but also to establish your name in each of these sites.  If you’re a big name in internet marketing, especially, as other people will take advantage of using a well-known name in social media if you don’t do it first.

To get a good idea of what social media sites to hit, here are some of the major ones:
Facebook.com
Twitter.com
MySpace.com
LinkedIn.com
YouTube.com
Blogger.com
WordPress.com
Friendster.com
Classmates.com
LiveJournal.com
Flickr.com
Flixster.com
StumbleUpon.com
Keep in mind, some of these are very specific to market types.  You will not use Flixster in the same way you would use Classmates.com, but for internet marketing, they all have their uses.  From a marketing perspective, the key to using social media is to select the appropriate one for YOUR MARKET.  There are plenty of social networking sites, you can find many more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites

And this is the best way to get a good amount of followers for any one particular website.  Use the social media site in the way it was designed.  To get a spike in followers, viral marketing is key.  To get a gradual growth, you must establish yourself as an authority figure for something specific within your market.  For example, for YouTube, for viral marketing, you would need to create something that has immediate attention capture ability, something that viewers would want to pass on.  For the gradual growth of followers, be consistent.  Put quality videos out that handle questions for that market, and do it consistently.

Realize that to get a good number of followers, you can’t be limited to just one social media network.  If you use Twitter, link to your Twitter page from your blog (Eben Pagan is a fan of this technique), from Facebook, from MySpace, from YouTube.  Put your YouTube video posts in your blog, put them on your Facebook account.  The key is cross-linking social networking sites.  This is one of the most effective ways to grow your business online.

Now in order to turn this into a money-making machine, the marketing must be done in the same way you gain followers – by using the social networking site as it was designed.  If you put up raw sales copy on Twitter, you will likely have a lot of people unfollowing you.  That is abusing the system.  For Twitter, talk about how you’re excited about your new endeavor, and the landmark accomplishments you complete as you finish them.  If your excitement is genuine, it can be contagious.  If you have anything to share related to your progress that is linkable, post it!  When you finish, share it as though you are sharing it with your FRIENDS, not with your market’s customer-base.  This can also be done on Facebook, MySpace, and even YouTube.  Use YouTube to make a video log of your progress.  Post the videos on your blog.

To cross-link different social media sites, keep your eyes out for relevant “widget” apps, or “plugins”.  In this way you can have your last tweet on Twitter show up as your status on Facebook (Twitter plugin), or have a blog entry appear on your Facebook page (using Mirror Blog).

To see how effective social marketing can be, look at any of the major internet marketers.  Jeff Walker used Twitter to follow his PLF 2.1 launch and answered questions about it on Twitter (a nice tie in with use of social proof) (http://twitter.com/JeffWalker).  Frank Kern uses his blog heavily for his product launches, and uses the comments section for social marketing nicely (http://masscontrolsite.com/blog/).

Keep in mind this is only for the internet marketing market – these techniques can be used for ANY market to make contact with individuals, and communicate directly with them.

Other resources to help your social media marketing:
Flock: The Social Web Browser – makes it easier to have the major social networking sites quick and handy
Delicious – Been around, but a quick way to see what people are looking at
Technorati – Essentially a bookmarking site for blogs
Digg – Still one of the internet authorities – shows sites that are socially approved, or “dugg”
Reddit – Similar to Digg, another social networking biggie
OnlyWire – Sends links of your choice to several well-known bookmarking sites and social networking sites
Ning – A free online service to create your own social website
Squidoo – A very powerful site to connect to several different sites/resources, either personal or business, using “lenses”

Social media marketing is still growing.  Learn to use it in the way it’s intended, and you can have social marketing grow your business in a huge way, as well as connect directly with many people involved and interested in your market.