After recently attending a social media event with like-minded professionals who believe in the value of wide-ranging communication, it’s clear to me that the business benefits of social media are indisputable. Sure, it’s challenging to measure the precise ROI of all your efforts. You can’t monetize a tweet or a blog comment, but there’s no denying that social media offers affordable and effective ways to connect with your audience, build relationships and create brand awareness. And, as a business, isn’t that what will ultimately increase your sales? (Along with your great product or service, of course!) The old adage, “if you build it, they will come,” no longer holds true in today’s world, considering the abundance of competition out there. It’s important not only to differentiate your brand, but also to create loyal customers who won’t be distracted by the next big—or shiny—thing. Social media tools enable you to connect directly with your customers and get a clear understanding of who they are and what they want, which is the key to any company’s success. After all, where would you be without your customers? Developing a good social media campaign can help you form trusted relationships that will go a long way. Forming connections is important, and listening to what people are saying (both good and bad) while participating in two-way communication is key to forming a bond with your audience that will help you give them what they really want. Learning to use social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, YouTube, Digg and WordPress properly can open new channels to increasing your visibility and creating brand awareness. With that said—don’t spread yourself too thin by trying to participate everywhere. Yes, there are lots of social media tools available, but that doesn’t mean that using every one of them will be beneficial to your business. The first step is to set your goal. What are you hoping to accomplish? Do you want to generate leads? Increase traffic to your website? Engage your customers? Whatever you choose to do, it’s important to build your plan around achieving specific goals. Do your research and figure out which tools will best suit your needs. Then focus on being a dominant force in those areas. Social networks offer endless opportunities to connect with your target audience and attract new fans. Without a doubt, if you put effort into engaging, interacting with and informing your audience, you’ll add value to their lives and create loyal followers who trust your brand.