There are many benefits to social networking, but the one big bottom line benefit is, it generates leads.

Here’s how: Every time someone references your company on the web, it creates a link to your website. The more links to your website, the higher your company ranks with search engines. The results? Higher rankings bring more prospects to your website, generating leads and sales.

The best part of social networking is the cost. It’s completely free, but it does take time. You’ll have to do a little research and soul searching to come up with a social networking strategy that works for your company, but you’ll find it’s well worth the effort.

Most of us don’t have a lot of time for social networking, so it doesn’t make sense to try and be everywhere and not have a presence anywhere. Better to pick one or two vehicles that you can easily manage, and focus your efforts on those.

To develop a strategy, think about your company and what you have to offer. Do you have any marketing materials or content that you can promote? What social media vehicles are most likely to engage your customers?

Here are some examples of ways to use existing content to create visibility and links to your site:

Take some company videos, add some client videos and create a YouTube Channel.
Post PowerPoint presentations on Slideshare, tweet about them and share them on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Share articles, application notes, email newsletters, press releases, white papers and more.

The important thing is to offer useful information that will attract your ideal customer and share it in the appropriate social media vehicle. The goal is to attract prospects to your website and capture them once they are there. If all your messages are sales related, you won’t build trust and faith in your company. No one will follow you or “like” you or tweet about you.

Make sure your website is ready for social networking:

Create landing pages filled with great content with call-to-actions to lead them to the next step in the buying process.

Offer a white paper or other valuable resource in exchange for registration.
Put share buttons on your web pages with shareable content to encourage sharing.

Add links to your social networking profiles on your home page to make it easy for people to follow your company.

Once you’re social networking strategy is in place and your profiles developed, get busy and start sharing! There are lots of tools to make this easier, but you don’t want to automate the process too much. You’ll want to send slightly different things to different social networks, but you’ll find it’s easy to integrate social networking into your marketing strategy once your plan is in place.