By Nikki Pilkington

Without doubt, I’m sure most of you know what Social Media is. For those of you who are still snoozing from Christmas, Social Media are the tools and platforms that allow people to share and express a viewpoint and opinion on any issue with other people anywhere in the world via the Internet.

Throughout 2008, Social Media established itself as a dominant element in people’s lives in the UK. Ten percent of the UK’s population regularly read a blog — that’s more than six million people. Over twelve million people regularly interact on social networking sites such as Facebook or BEBO. Social Media is growing and in 2009, more businesses will use Social Media to build their brand online.

Social Media isn’t about ‘making friends’, it’s about expressing an opinion, it’s taking part in forums, it’s rating and reviewing products and services online and it’s contributing to the critical mass of blogs that exist on every topic under the sun on the web. Social Media is popular because it is fully interactive and that’s why it has become the place where businesses are building their brand online.

Building a brand online using Social Media is a two step process:

The First Step: Building Recognition

On the Internet, brand recognition tends to revolve around your website. This usually involves Search Engine Optimisation to build Search Engine Rankings and Online Advertising and Article Marketing to build links to your website.

Dedicated business-oriented social media spaces such as BT Tradespace allow you to blog, advertise and sell your product/service all at the same time. However, social networking spaces such as Facebook and BEBO now offer the chance to take traditional advertising opportunities and optimise them for Social Media. Due to membership profiling, social networking sites allow direct ad targeting on the basis of age, gender, education, job and interests.

The Second Step: Building Feeling

However, within Social Media, building brand isn’t just about advertising, it’s about connecting and communicating. With Social Media, you’re not confined to influencing potential customers through one or two portals; you can develop your sphere of influence across hundreds of pages, all with the same great SEO value, the same high value backlinks but all without the cost of advertising.

Building feeling on Social Media means being personal. When you promote your business using Social Media, the best way to succeed is to interact on a human level. This can be as simple as using a personal profile photo rather than using the company logo, or perhaps choosing a personal profile username.

Consider Twitter, the micro-blogging site. You can quickly develop a following on Twitter, because people become interested in the content that you post, but by calling yourself ‘WeSellBlueWidgets’, you’re unlikely to even get the initial interest.

Building feeling is a personal process that involves activities such as reviewing, recommending, blogging, posting articles and interesting links (not to your own website). Building feeling requires that you post high quality original content that in turn builds credibility and attracts potential customers. Building brand feeling is a slower process, but combined with brand recognition yields greater results.

What are YOUR Social Media plans for 2009?

To talk to an expert about building your brand and customer base with Social Media Marketing in 2009, drop Nikki a line on nikki@nikkipilkington.com or follow her on Twitter.