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Today’s entry is a guest post featuring the insight and savvy of one of our favorite social media experts.

 So, by now, you’ve accepted (reluctantly) that the concept of “social media” is not fading into some distant memory like your 1988 acid wash jeans. But you still need a little convincing that it is more than the pursuit of high-schoolers  and a lot more than a productivity drain.

You’ve come to right place. Here we show you why social media is sticking and why you might want to take heed.

Before jumping on the ol’ soapbox, here is the first line of Wikipedia’s definition of social media: “Online content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies.” While this definition is accurate, for a moment let’s forget Twitter, Yelp, Facebook and Linkedin — a few of these “highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies.”

The underlying importance and momentum of social media is not technology – though it would be non-existent without these innovations. The underlying importance and momentum is the same fuel that propels grassroots, populist movements: the chance for the masses to steer the boat.

Grassroots movements tend to generate an extraordinary amount of enthusiasm and support (think Civil Rights Movement and the New Deal) because the people involved feel able and empowered to effect change and be heard by others. This same genre of excitement is the force behind this new wave of information and interaction, and individuals and organizations alike are clamoring to get on board because they want their turn as influencer.

Before, information was a one-way street, flowing from the few to the many, the affluent to the masses. What we knew and felt was dictated to us. Now, all things flow in 3-D, from the masses to the elite, from the elite to the masses and from peer to peer. More importantly, we get our news from the voices of real people who we know and trust.

Every individual, politician and business now has an equal shot at disseminating knowledge, ideas and calls to action. So, social media for businesses is not only fertile soil to make yourself heard, but the rare chance to listen to the groups that matter to you: customers, investors and the media. It is a priceless opportunity to engage in effective dialogue with these groups and become top of mind – a smart goal in any communications strategy.

While, in some regards, the barriers to entry are low in this new medium and the opportunities are almost limitless, the space is also filled with potential minefields if not navigated correctly. It’s a powerful tool that, in less than 140 characters, allows you to transmit your message to hundreds or thousands of potential new customers, and, in the same breath, alienate or offend them. I have watched first-hand at least one competitor suffer irreversible damage in the blogging world due to an under-researched and poorly executed social media strategy. I highly recommend spending time and possibly resources on learning the rules and how best to engender trust before jumping onto that ship.

Olivia Loy is a public relations and social media-savvy consultant who has managed to half-way endear her way into the hearts of bloggers, traditional press and users of other social media outlets. She is the acting Marketing and Public Relations Director for Esmeralda Distillery and has spent time on the writing and pr agency side of life. See if she is worth her salt on Twitter (handle: oliviamloy) or send her an email at oliviamloy@gmail.com.

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Your online presence is an extension of you and your business. It should be an intersection of form and function and above all else, a well-managed reservoir of expert content. Once you have a great online presence in place, you probably want some people to see it! If so, you will need to know a little or a lot about html, linking, SEO and even marketing/public relations to increase your visibility. Below are two quick checklists to raise your site a few notches and help you avoid some of the common pitfalls.

 On the Web side:

  • Is your website easy for customers to navigate and find information quickly?
    • Create organized and intuitive categories, tabs, and links
  • Is your company’s branding strongly emphasized on your site?
    • Invest in non-template graphics/logo
    • Make sure themes and logos are consistent on all pages
  • Does your website encourage customers to stay and learn more?
    • Brainstorm ways for creative interaction
    • Ensure content is useful and updated
    • Use multiple forms of content: video, photos, text, podcast
  • Does your site encourage visitors to develop a relationship with you?
    • Create engaging and astute content
    • Enable comments and feedback forums
    • Ask for comments and feedback
    • Entice visitors to opt in to a regular e-newsletter
    • Mention or praise your visitors — and their business

 On the SEO side:  

  • Do you know the most important ways to optimize your site for Google and boost page ranking (the order in which your site appears in a web query)?
    • Get high-traffic sites directing to your site (this is where marketing and pr can come into play)
    • Use powerful, creative SEO terms and tags
    • Make your site the “hub” for your multi-tiered online presence
    • Create valid, transparent content and publish it on the Internet

Did you know that employing “black hat” techniques could be hurting (not helping) you in search results? Here are some “don’ts” to help you stay on the “white hat” side of the web.

  • Don’t create blogs whose main purpose is to link back to your site
  • Don’t use “hit boosters” or link farm services
  • Don’t use non-related keywords to boost ranking
  • Don’t use sites like Wikipedia unethically or against the terms of service

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