Social networking sites are not new. Some of them have been around for up to 20 years. They're basically ways of electronically keeping in touch with other people, be they good friends or simply acquaintances. Sometimes you can waste an inordinate amount of time on these sites, while at other times you can be tremendously productive and profitable. To the business marketer, the question is, how do we define "productive and profitable?"

When Facebook came along to redefine social networking it ushered in an era that was to change business marketing forever. Facebook remains the ultimate social networking site, at least by today's definition, but it has also been joined by other platforms, such as the ubiquitous Twitter, which many refer to as a micro-blogging outlet.

The leading question that has been raised is how social should social networking sites be and should anything which is deemed to be commercial, in any way, be taboo? Many people could argue that the majority of conversations that take place within these platforms could be construed as having some kind of commercial intent or relationship. We simply cannot get away from the fact that we talk about issues, plans, products, services, events and all manner of "commercially relevant" topics. We are often looking for advice in relation to one of these subjects within those social platforms.

So, we begin to understand that social media marketing - even though it incorporates words from two sides of the fence into its very title - has a definite place. For the small business owner, a larger question remains. Just how do you engage, commercially speaking, in these social circles? Many companies have found out to their detriment that if you go about this the wrong way it can backfire. However, that's not to stop an organization from developing a social media marketing platform, carefully.

Strategically, as "regular" people who populate these social network sites, we are now more used to seeing a commercial presence. We may be moving away from the strict "social only" attitude toward a position whereby we accept, within reason, advice and assistance from these companies.

Many organizations are finding it highly advantageous to create a Facebook business page. Other organizations are finding definite gain associated with conducting their customer relations work out in the open, via messages back and forth on Twitter.

We always have to remember that social media marketing must be based on relationship building and engagement rather than an out and out sales approach. If you like, it's not okay to make the first move in marketing terms within any of these arenas, but you must try to establish a presence subtly and be the organization that can help, at the right time.

This is where the virtual assistant can help to formulate a social media strategy, by amongst other things helping to create a Facebook page and that Twitter account. A concerted, steady yet careful process of interaction, over time, will help to build the client organization’s stature and reputation.

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