Social networking is one of the most important online marketing developments in recent years as it is now a vital tool for thousands of businesses looking to connect with new and current customers and business associates. There are lots of things businesses can do with social networking sites in order to promote themselves. Today I will take you through a few of the most important ones. The explosion of social media has been enormous. This means that any business that is serious about marketing online is now making use of websites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The best thing about these networks is there free and easy to use. You heard me FREE! You will no doubt be aware that Facebook is a huge, extremely influential social networking website. According to Alexa it is the second most visited website in the world. The website allows you to reach a vast global audience or target specific demographics using tools such as pages and advertisements. It provides great opportunities for businesses looking to diversify their online marketing strategies and develop a good marketing mix. Tweets are a great way of keeping your customers up to date with whatâ€™s going on in your business and offers an opportunity to interact with them directly, which is a great way of building up your reputation and trust in your business. As well as using social networking sites to generate new business, they can be used to develop your business contacts. For instance, many businesses use websites such as LinkedIn as well as other, more industry-specific forums, to network with other companies and share mutually-beneficial expertise. Increasingly, face to face meetings are also arranged through social media, so keeping in touch is not only good for advertising your services, but it could also introduce you to new real world contacts that will benefit your business. In terms of boosting your business, the impact of â€˜word of mouthâ€™ marketing has not lessened with the onset of the digital age. People still look for recommendations from their friends when they are deciding which services to use or products to buy. Social media – such as Facebook groups, industry blogs and Twitter feeds â€“ can influence buyersâ€™ decision making processes as they provide opportunities for people to discuss services and whether or not they would recommend them to others. This can then help drive up website traffic thanks to positive, independent feedback from service users. Also, the ability to engage with businesses through social media can improve their perception by giving them more personality or approachability. This is something they might not otherwise have if people only know them as an impersonal slogan. If you still are not convinced about the benefits of social networking for businesses, then consider these statistics. In Australia, 43% of small businesses say that they have been able to grow their businesses through social media (Regus, 2010) and a growing number are setting aside specific budgets to promote their online networking activities. Over half of them also use it to organise or manage consumer groups (51%), find out useful business information (54%) and stay in touch with business contacts (58%). More businesses are now using social networks to market than ever. With web users currently totalling more than 1.6 billion and rising, marketing online is more important than ever. Facebook currently has over 500 million users and Twitter over 200 million. With audiences like this at your disposal, this is an opportunity that cannot be wasted. If youâ€™re not already marketing on social networking sites you should consider doing so as soon as you possibly can.