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In July 2010 Facebook passed the 500 million users mark and continued to grow throughout the remainder of the year, whilst Twitter more than tripled its users, from just over 50 million at the start of 2010 to around 170 million by the end of the year.
2011 will undoubtedly prove to be another huge year for social media, with both newer platforms like Quora and older platforms continuing to increase in popularity.
What's more, at the beginning of last month both Google and Bing confirmed that 'links shared through Twitter and Facebook have a direct impact on rankings', proving what the search marketing community has long suspected: that the major search engines are beginning to take social media presence into account when deciding where to rank a given website.
If your business is not using social media, now is the time to start considering how you're going to take advantage of such a huge potential audience. Before you begin, you'll need to consider:
The TIME it's going to take: Establishing a worthwhile social media presence for your company will be time-consuming. It takes a few minutes to set up accounts on Twitter and Facebook, but it can take months to build a following of users with a genuine interest in your product or services. What's more, Twitter and Facebook are not the be-all and end-all; you'll also need to spend time researching and establishing accounts (where appropriate) on smaller, niche and emerging networks like Quora and Posterous.
The MONEY you'll have to spend: According to the CMO Survey, in the US within 1 year social media spend is expected to be 10% of overall marketing budgets, a figure that is predicted to rise to 18% within 5 years. Because social media is time-consuming, it costs money. Whilst social media ROI tracking is in its infancy when compared with sophisticated tools like Google Analytics, it is becoming easier for social media marketers to demonstrate positive engagement with your brand's social media presence - particularly when you consider the introduction of improvements to Facebook analytics and the touted Twitter analytics tool.
The CREATIVE approach you'll need to take: Certain social media marketing techniques are already beginning to look hackneyed - the Twitter-based ReTweet competition may produce a surge in follower numbers, but are those followers worthwhile or are they only interested in the competition rather than your business as a whole? If you want your business's social presence to succeed, you'll have to be creative. Think about what you want to get out of social media, your business's USPs and what your customers or clients want from you, and try and translate these things to your social media accounts.
Social media, whether it becomes fully-integrated into the search experience or remains separate, is the way it's going - the earlier you get in on it, the better.