1. Social media is the 21st century Town Hall.People do not meet the way they used to. Sure, we all still attend meetings at church and at city hall and at our children’s teacher conferences, but more and more people are congregating online. Did you know that, according to iStrategyLabs, Facebook’s United States’ user base grew by 144.9% in 2009? Some estimates put all Facebook activity worldwide at as high as 20% of all internet traffic!Facebook, and increasingly Twitter, are the places people are going to find out what is happening in the lives of their friends and family. Furthermore, with the explosion of fan pages, users are seeking out news from businesses, organizations, and causes that they support.Friends and family meet regularly on Facebook. Colleagues and like-minded people use Twitter to share ideas throughout the day. Professionals are connecting on LinkedIn. Flickr and YouTube stream photos and videos to the world eternally. And blogs are maintained for topics as varied as pro football officiating and crocheting. All this is going on 24 hours a day, every day of every year. Is your business connecting with people where they are now?2. Yours is a small company.You own a small business, perhaps a local party store or an independent insurance agency. Social media is intriguing, but you cannot see the benefit to a business of your size. Let’s say you own a small party store. You check out the largest chain pharmacy’s Facebook Fan Page. They have 433,000+ fans. Do you have 433,000 customers?Or say you are an insurance agent. After spending some time on a national insurer’s Facebook fan page, you find you’re joining 16,600+ others. Do you have 16,600 clients?Small businesses need revenue streams more than ever. One cost effective way to generate business is through social media marketing. People who become your fans and see regularly what you post on your fan page are more likely to do business with you than a larger company with whom they might not share a connection.Social media does not have to be a daily task, but it certainly should be something used weekly. A small business might post community news, events in the lives of staff members and their families, cross-promotions with other local businesses, and content related to its products or services.3. Yours is a large company.You are a president of business development for a large, globally-known company. The board of directors has asked you to find new ways of connecting with prospective customers. Let’s go back to the example of chain pharmacies. The number of fans is staggering – 433,000 – when you consider how few fans Competitor #1 has (5,967) and that Competitor #2’s page (88 fans) is apparently created by someone outside the company. If you are in business development for the competitors, do you think there is an urgency to use social media effectively?Social media is essential to large companies in the 21st century. Modern consumers are discerning and intelligent. They want companies to be responsive and transparent. Social media allows your company to hear from and speak with customers, address their concerns, and generate positive feelings about your brand.4. Your client base is mostly local.Your company is successful on the local level; it sustains your business and you’ve reported moderate growth for several years. But lately you have wanted to drive business on a larger level.Social media is a place to go “remote” while never leaving home. The beauty of platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter is that you can reach a global audience from wherever you are. These sites will allow your business to be seen and known by thousands and thousands of people who might otherwise never know it existed.Your business can promote its products and/or services to these new potential customers. You can inform them of your past successes and current specials. You can tailor orders easily without having to spend time on the phone or meet in person. Social media will introduce you to new people and render services to them more efficiently.As well, local support will grow for your business so long as you focus some content on items of local interest. Producing social media content about civic news, high school events, community fundraisers, and the like will keep your base loyal and growing.5. Your client base is mostly remote.Your company sells mostly to customers who are remotely located from you. You engage people mostly through your website. Business is good, but you haven’t made much progress with local customers. Perhaps you are a new business in a region that has long been faithful to a competitor. Social media is a way to bridge this gap. Your company may simply suffer from a lack of exposure. A strong presence on social media sites is evidence to prospective customers that you are interested in their ideas and that you are responsive to their concerns. These platforms of “open conversation” can showcase your business as part of a mutually-supportive community.6. Your friends (and their friends) are your best advocates.Who are you more likely to trust when he says you should buy a car from a particular dealer – someone you just met on the street or your friend of 20 years? We hope you chose the latter. If so, you are like 99% of the people in this world who believe the word of their friends because they share a common past and have trusted them in other situations.A company needs friends or fans or followings (depending on the social media platform). You need not fear that you are breaching a social contract with friends so long as your social media is about your customers, their needs, and conversations driven by them. Strangers don’t want to be “sold” anything and neither do your friends.Social media is about conversation and community and relationships. Developing strong relationships does not mean you cannot promote your business, but it does mean you have to listen more than you talk.7. Money goes where people go.You can’t afford not to participate. The perception of social media is that it is for young people. Sure, Facebook and MySpace began as platforms for college students and high school kids. However, according to iStrategy Labs, Facebook users of the age 35 and older are now 30% of the entire user base. Additionally, in 2009, users who are 55+ grew an astounding 922.7%. In fact, every demographic grew in 2009 except college users.So everyone and their brothers are using Facebook and other social media platforms. Grandmothers are sharing pictures of grandchildren on Flickr. Auto dealerships are bringing the showroom to the customer’s home with videos of cars on YouTube. And the local coffee shop is “linked in” with a new coffee bean distributor with lower shipping costs. People are taking their lives and their money to these virtual worlds. Are you there to meet them?Getting Started YesterdaySocial media, while not ubiquitous to business, is by no means still a mystery. There are thousands of businesses of all sizes who “get it”. Is yours one of them? If so, that is great and we’d love to share insights with you. If not, how will you get up to date? Where do you begin?Facebook is the proverbial tip of the social media iceberg. The best advice we have is: choose one to three platforms and commit yourself to producing content on each one consistently. If we had to suggest three, we would probably choose Facebook, LinkedIn, and a company blog. However, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and many other sites have their merits. Depending on your size, time constraints, and budget, you may want to hire an outside agency to handle social media content. Whichever path you choose, we welcome you to the conversation.iStrategyLabs is a social media solutions company. Their Facebook research can be found by searching their name in a Google search.