If you've got a great site, social networking should be one of your primary methods of promotion.
It will put your site in front of the people who can spread it throughout your niche, and help your SEO efforts tremendously.
Social networking involves much more than setting up a Facebook page and a Twitter account. In fact, other methods like blogging, building an email list, and participating in relevant forums can lead to even more traffic and conversions.
It's also not something that's easy or wise to outsource. If you're an expert in your niche, and you should be, you'll likely be better at promoting your site to others in your industry than a hired individual or firm.
When most people hear the phrase social networking, Facebook and Twitter are the first things that come to mind. While these networks can be great for reaching out, becoming well known, and communicating with potential and existing customers, the other methods below may provide even better results.
Should you participate in networks like Facebook and Twitter? It really depends on your business, where your customers congregate online, how they communicate, the amount of time you have, and the alternative uses of your time.
If your website is in an industry where everyone is on and participating in social networks, there may be value in joining them. Before you do however, you should have a clear understanding of what's acceptable and what's not. Social networks are places where people go to share information with friends or contacts. Constant or pushy marketing is not acceptable, and is more likely to give you or your business a bad reputation than increase your sales. If you're going to participate, you need to do so as a peer instead of as a marketer.
My biggest problem with social networks is opportunity cost. With limited time, I'd rather add value exclusively to my own business. I'd prefer to communicate with visitors or readers who tend to be more engaged and/or on a more personal level. You can read more about why I prefer not to use these networks here, realizing I'm likely in the minority on this.
If done right, blogging is probably the best form of social networking to promote your site, business, and brand. It allows you to be as creative as possible, where you control every aspect of your message, and to interact with engaged visitors.
Blogging gives you the opportunity to write in-depth posts of great value to your readers, impossible on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Each valuable post is on your property, and when other people link to or mention it, you not only get the value of the link, but also a stream of new visitors to your site. And by linking out to other bloggers in your niche, you're passing real value to them, getting noticed, and increasing the chance of them linking back to you.
Your blog is also a place where you can interact with visitors. While it does take time to build up followers who leave comments on your posts, once you do, your blog will become a place where people go to read interesting discussions. If you do have people commenting on your posts, be sure to respond to them!
Getting your readers to subscribe to your blog should be a primary goal. Especially if they're subscribed via email, blog subscriptions are a great way to communicate with current and potential customers. They're even better than common social media contacts due to the greater likelihood of them seeing, reading, and taking action on your posts.
If you're writing great posts, your visitors may want to subscribe to your blog. Are you making it easy for them? Here's a tutorial that will show you how to enable email subscriptions, and how to place them in the best places on your blog.
In addition to working on your own blog, commenting on relevant blogs is also a great way to network in your industry. By adding constructive comments and engaging in dialog, other blog owners and commenters will notice you and your site. The more you comment on other blogs, the more likely it is that you'll get comments on yours.
Building an email list is second to none when it comes to social networking. People who like your site enough to leave their email address are people who want to hear what you have to say. If you're selling a product or products, they're more likely to buy. And communicating with your visitors via email will be more successful than other forms of social networking due to the lack of noise and more personal form of communication.
If you've got a quality website or business, especially if it sells or promotes products, you should be building an email list. Here's an easy to follow tutorial on how to build an email list, create forms, and add them to your site.
Are there forums where people in your niche go to communicate? If so, they may be a great place to network. As with social media sites, it's important to know what's acceptable and what's not. If you're only going to drop links to your site, forget about it. To network in forums you'll actually need to join the conversation and provide useful content to members.
Like with social media sites, opportunity cost should be considered. Would you be better off posting content on your own blog or on someone else's forum? Among other things, it depends partially on how known or unknown you are. If no one knows who you are and you've got very few visitors to your site, it may make more sense to spend some time on forums. If you've got a really popular site everyone is already visiting, posting on your own site is probably a better use of time.