Twitter, Facebook, YouTube: Wherever you go, you’ll find people discussing their activities on these Web sites ad infinitum. Those social media tools, and others like them, have become a major part of people’s lives and are fast becoming the chief method of reaching and connecting with people. These tools are also viral in nature, which means that it is extremely easy to share information you like with other people using these sites. These are the main reasons why these tools are also becoming indispensable for marketers and business owners and why social media marketing is all over the place today.

Social media marketing simply means using social networking tools to market your business and build and establish its brand. Though social networking tools were initially used by people for personal networking and socializing, they are now increasingly being used for promotion as well. But there are a couple of things you should keep in mind before you take the plunge.

o The first and foremost thing you have to do is to ensure that you are willing to commit the time and energy to regularly update your blog, Twitter, Facebook or whatever other tool you are using. Creating an account on a social networking site and not updating it regularly is worse than not creating an account at all.

o Limit conversations about yourself. Though this might seem like a paradox considering that you want to promote your business, you have to remember that people have short attention spans that tend to get shorter if the content does not interest them. The best thing to do is to provide regular information about a specific topic or about the industry that your business is based in.

o Don’t get into it blindly just because others are doing it. Make sure you have a definite set groupe followers of goals before you start. Plan every step and plan the various ways you can make the information on your various pages as interesting as possible.

o Contribute quality content. Posting information just because you have some does not work. Readers can sense when you actually mean something and when you are doing something just for the heck of it. To make it easier for you, choose a topic that interests you or that you are passionate about.

o Social networking tools are very informal in nature. So whatever you write does not have to be formal or stiff. In fact, it will help your business more if your posts and videos are laid-back and fun. This is your chance to show people that owning a business does not automatically equal being stuffy.

o Try to use as many social networking tools as possible. The more exposure your business gets, the better for you. So make use of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, podcasts and anything else you can think of. Just remember to update them regularly. If you don’t have the time to personally do it, you can hire someone to do it for you. Jut make sure that you hire someone who is extremely knowledgeable about them.

o Contribute to other people’s blogs. Make comments for their posts either offering some advice or tips on something they have written or just providing some new information.

o Once you have everything in place, extensively promote your YouTube videos, your blog posts or your podcasts on social bookmarking sites such as Technorati (for blog posts), Digg, or StumbleUpon.

You have to be very careful while using social networks because if your plans backfire, then the bad publicity you get will be greater than any good publicity you might have received if all had gone well. As mentioned above, social networking tools are viral in nature. You know the old saying, “bad news spreads faster than good news.” You can be sure that any fiasco by your business will reach thousands of people within minutes. For example, when KFC started their line of grilled chicken, they used online coupons to promote it. Each coupon allowed the holder to get two pieces of free grilled chicken, two sides and a biscuit over a two-day period. KFC made use of Oprah to promote the coupons but what could have been PR gold turned into a disaster. The offer made KFC the No. 1 topic on Twitter and it was talked about on blogs everywhere – but there was so much demand that the company was unable to hold up their side of the bargain. So the chain had to end the promotion and give the customers a rain check. Saying that the customers were unhappy would be an understatement! KFC could have avoided this if they had had more control over their promotion and a stronger PR team.

Having said that, utilizing only social networking tools to build your business and brand is also a bad idea. You should have an entire marketing campaign to publicize your business, which should include more traditional media such as T.V and newspaper ads, radio spots, newsletters and promotional giveaways. And sometimes social networking tools, or the entire concept of social media marketing, may be wrong for your business. For example, if your business caters to a niche audience that you know for sure are not avid users of these tools, then using these tools will not make much difference to your business. In such cases, you will be better off using more traditional approaches that you know would reach your audience. The key to social media marketing is to fully understand how it works and then to determine how to best make it work for you.