By Anna Nicholls, PR & Marketing Manager for IT solutions provider axon IT

The advent of social networking is undoubtedly a sign of our times. Even those who were opposed to the seemingly frivolous distraction in the early days are finding themselves involved in the revolution - and often, not through choice.

While Facebook and Twitter may have been created as a means for teenagers to share gossip and celebrities to show off, the trend has changed somewhat of late as businesses of all shapes and sizes use the social networking sites as marketing portals. The shift has been really quite dramatic, and what's more - it's working.

And if you're not interested in social networking and have decided that it isn't really your cup of tea, then you should probably think again. That choice may have been taken away from you as a never-ending stream of your competitors sign up and start networking.

Social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are changing the way we communicate and the way we do business. The round the clock real-time interaction that social networking provides, means it has never been easier for people to connect with like-minded individuals to share information, promote their businesses and make new contacts.

Facebook for example, currently boasts over 500 million active users, 50% of which log on during any given day. There are more than 900 million pages, groups, events and community pages with more than 30 billion pieces of content shared each month.* As of September 2010, Twitter had 175 million registered users writing an average of 95 million Tweets per day.**

My local paper has a circulation of 13,000...... where would you rather your message be seen?

Of course, there is a place for everything and social media will never be a substitute for traditional marketing methods, but it has certainly made us think. Social media has become an accepted and necessary tool of business marketing and communication. Fact.

So how far could these changes actually go? In 10 years time will there still be a call for email, for example? Or will all of our business communications take place via networking sites?

Well, as revolutionary as the social media storm has been, it could never replace our "old fashioned" methods of communication entirely. You wouldn't for example, want to send financial documents or confidential contracts to a customer through your Facebook inbox. Apart from looking unprofessional, social networking sites lack the security that has become so crucial to our business IT infrastructures. And apart from anything else, you need an email address to sign up to a social network in the first place.

You should think of social media not as a replacement for your business communications, but as a way to show your presence, boost your brand and market your business.

When you think about it, with the phenomenal rate that technology has developed in recent years this kind of a shift was almost inevitable. And this begs the question, as technology continues to change, what's next? What will our world look like post-social networking?

The time has come where social networking in business can no longer be ignored. You will look old-fashioned if you are not playing your part in at least some of this historical social media revolution.