Certainly it is mainstream knowledge that social networks encompass a majority of internet usage. Businesses are now capitalizing on these social sites, in particular Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and learning how to integrate their business processes with those networks.
The question for any individual business is "what" do I need to do in order to capitalize on those opportunities and "how" do I get it done. One simply needs to perform a simple search engine search to easily locate an overabundance of information concerning the subject; however, one must have the ability to determine which sources provide accurate and relevant information that pertains to your business needs.
The simply reading of a few "e-books" by some unknown author or unverifiable source is certainly not the way to educate oneself in the facets of social network marketing, or any factual subject for that matter, as anyone from anywhere has the ability to get information out on the web and many people do just that.
Realistically you can find case studies completed regarding how individual companies utilized social networking but, again, one needs to be cautious before implementing their strategies until it can be determined what the similarities and differences are between those case studies and your business. The fact is that the case studies that typically end up published are the ones from companies that have large marketing budgets and the staff necessary to carry out very large scale plans, and, in some cases, those case studies involve integrating current data systems in use by the companies which, no doubt, involve, not only a huge commitment by the company, but quite a financial investment.
Social Networking sites are constantly evolving and as they continue to rise in usage and popularity they will continue to evolve into, eventually (perhaps soon) into something that we, as business owners, cannot even comprehend at this time.
So, what is the answer to putting Social Networking to work for your business? The truth is that there probably is no one "set in stone" answer to that question and, if someone tries to tell you that there is, then one really needs to question, or at least verify, that persons sources of information.
I would suggest starting off with determining the questions to a few simple questions before deciding how to proceed. One question is whether your business is B to B or B to C, that question can assist in determining where, or what, Social Network to focus on. The second question is, are your products or services ones that your customers would be happy to promote the fact that they are your customers. Facebook is obviously the most popular Social Network site as it is now the most popular and most used web site period, and, Facebook is constantly evolving and adding new features. The "check-in" feature is one where customers update their status, actually post on their own wall, to tell their friends that they are at a particular location. This feature alone is, I believe, one of the most powerful features and the implications could have a very significant impact on gaining new customers for your business.
If one just thinks about the concept for just a moment, one can see there are endless possible benefits from this one simple feature. Let's say that one of your customers updates their Facebook account, from their phone, and posts that they are at your business. Assuming that the customer has friends on Facebook, then those friends will see, at some point that their friend was at your business location. In its simplest form, this action simply acts, in the first phase, as a trigger to those friends that see the post. Suppose your business is, say, a salon, and when the friends of your customer see that posting from their friend it will trigger some type of reaction. The question then becomes, what reaction does it trigger? The friend can simply have a thought based on seeing the business name that the post is linked to (as the business has to have a Fan page, which is where the link goes to) and maybe they think about the last time they had their hair cut. This does not necessarily translate into a physical reaction as they may simply just think about it, however, that, in itself, is quite an accomplishment for you as your business name was at least put in front of a potential customer that has never even heard of your business before.
What if they do make a physical reaction to that post? Just a few options are for them to comment on the posting, in which case they may ask about your business, another great accomplishment for your business, or they may already know your business and subsequently react by eventually conducting business with you again.
As I said, the potential implications are really limitless and one of the baseline marketing principles is to get your name out to customers and create brand recognition for your business. If that single customer of yours happens to have several hundred friends then the potential for some type of connection with new or former customers, is multiplied exponentially. To take it a step further, if one of those first level friends does actually respond to your customers posting then that entire person's friends will also have access to that original link to your Fan page.
Obviously I have simply touched on the surface potential of what Social Networking can have on your business; the key is developing the correct strategy that effectively promotes your business.