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We’ve all heard of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and some of us may even have our own blog, but the question remains — how do we effectively use these online communication tools and how can we start to apply social media as a revenue generating engine?

Social Networking has exploded in recent years and now business leaders everywhere are incorporating the “online engagement” tactic as a part of their advertising and go-to-market plans.  But what’s driving this phenomenon of social media — and where did it come from?

LinkedIn was launched first in 2003 as a social network for business professionals, although one of the first, the social network that’s gained the most headlines since its launch in 2004, clearly is Facebook.com.  It’s typically the social network that connects you with your friends, family and acquaintances from all over the world.

That said, it does depend on your target audience and customer base whether Facebook should be employed as a meaningful business application.  A recent article I read hinted that in the retail space one Facebook ‘Fan’ can produce, on average, a further 20 hits on your corporate website — but it doesn’t explain whether this will lead to additional revenues for the retailer.  This said, with most online strategies, the target is to increase traffic to your website and then once people have arrived at your website make it easy for them to transact with you; whether that is making a physical purchase or submitting an enquiry for your services.

Practical Tools for the Commercial Communicator

Another key player in the social media space is Twitter, the micro-blogging site that allows users to ‘tweet’ their latest status updates — within a maximum of 140 characters.  This social media platform has been a huge hit — particularly with the digerati. The well-known UK users include Stephen Fry and Duncan Banatyne.

And of course, blogs have proven to be a prime route to market for many businesses.  Blogging is already a mass-communication medium, with people now writing about every topic imaginable.

The act of frequent blogging has become a full-time job for some people, such as The Sartorialist -- a fashion industry author that has changed the way that people discover the latest fashion trends.

There are other social media websites that are more industry-centric; such as the Dribble, targeting the creative industry, Last FM for the music fanatics, instagram for avid photographers — all of which can be incorporated into a social media strategy for business.

Useful Skills for the Evolving Online Marketplace

This week, I was speaking to a current university student — who is studying Business and Marketing — about the power of Social Media as a marketing and revenue generating tool. I was surprised to learn that it’s not being covered in his University curriculum.

This scenario reminds me of a video I watched recently, by futurist Patrick Dixon, who touched on this topic. He claims that the top 10 demanded jobs in the business market today didn’t exist 5 years ago. Therefore, universities need to be more agile, preparing their students for near-term job opportunities – not merely the historical ones.

So, practically speaking, how can we use these social networks to increase traffic to our corporate websites and ultimately generate revenue for our business?  The topic of emergence of Social Commerce is one that I’ll explore in more detail, within another post.

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