It's been a while since we've talked about Social Media. You know, those crazy websites with cutesy names like Twitter, Digg, StumbleUpon and the less cutesy-named but growing powerhouse, Facebook.

But don't take our silence on the topic as a lack of enthusiasm or interaction with it as a valuable tool in the arsenal of a marketer and advertiser. In fact, an argument could be made that it's even more necessary today than it's ever been.

In the past, we've talked on this blog about how social media is essentially an online version of the most powerful advertising anyone can have...word-of-mouth. But what has struck me lately is that there is another, important value to it.

Remember how things used to be when the Internet first became popular and we got online for the first time? The picture that comes to mind is that of a child walking into a vast warehouse that was many times the the height, width and depth of any Costco you've walked into, with play equipment and books and other people all over. You could just walk around at your leisure and look at whatever you wanted and talk to whoever intrigued you. It was open and free to explore and enjoy.

As the Internet has grown up, one of the big things that became clear was that there was simply too much for anyone to take it all in, or even find what they were looking for as they sifted through. As a result, search engines became necessary and the battles between Yahoo, Alta Vista, Lycos and the eventual clear winner, Google, heated up. To a degree, things got easier on the web – especially with Google. As the amount of content on the web grew, Google's ability to produce search results that were actually what you were looking for was instrumental in making the Internet useful.

From there, it's gone even further. These days, if you pay attention, a lot of our online life is tailored to us and our online habits. Ads are displayed that show only because of websites we've been to in the past. Our previous purchasing decisions affect what items are featured to us in online stores. YouTube videos that are featured on my home page are displayed based on all the videos I've watched in the past.

While on the one hand, these are all helpful things as they generally ensure that our online experience isn't a frustrating waste of time and that we get content that's meaningful to us, it has the ability to remove that ability to learn something explore the warehouse so to speak.

Enter social media. Online properties where we connect with our real-world friends and family in a different way. One of those ways is by sharing content, products and ideas that are meaningful to us. The cool thing being that if you're friends with that person, there's at least a decent chance that the thing that they like, you might be interested in too. And so together with them and all their friends, we begin to explore the online world. To be sure, our experiences on the web are still filtered to a degree, but the brush is broader and we have more opportunities to come across something that will benefit others.

So, that all said, for a blog that talks about marketing, advertising, design, etc..., what's the point?

The point is this.

You can have the "if you build it, they will come" attitude as it pertains to your organizations online presence and offering, but at the end of the day, the truth is, with all the competing and filtered content that your potential audience has going on in their online lives, you're not going to get noticed unless you're in the right places at the right time, which is quite frankly, nearly impossible. For that reason, why wouldn't you increase the reach of your online presence by using the power of a Facebook "Like" or facilitating a Tweet on Twitter?

Of course, these strategies need to be part of a bigger approach to social media and hard questions about the commitment to, and ability to maintain, a healthy social media presence need to be asked at that level. But at the end of the day, if you're the kind of person who is still asking yourself questions like: "Why Facebook?", hopefully this post helps you get past that to focus on the how.

Andrew VanderPloeg
Andrew VanderPloeg Guest Blogger, Consultant

Andrew served at Bark for over 20 years before recently taking over the role of Vice President of Marketing & Communications at ShareWord, one of our favorite organizations.