I found the following excerpts from Melissa Mashtonio, writer for Manta.com, extremely helpful on the benefits of Social Networking for business.
“Social networking sites reach a number of people it would be impossible to reach otherwise. The days of social networking sites being “teen only” are now gone and thousands of people are using these sites for professional gain as well. Adding your business name to multiple sites will also help your organic search placement in Google and Yahoo, giving you more business.
Immediate Feedback. Social networking sites give you the ability to get immediate feedback about products and services your business offers. After a blog or forum post you can look back at comments and see what users think. This immediate feedback can be priceless as it will give your business less lag time between the creation of new products. The feedback gained on these sites can also lead to new ideas from users. Forums and blogs are a great place to bounce ideas off one another and come up with new ones.
Trust and Legitimacy. When posting on social networking sites, trust and legitimacy are most important. Stay away from using a fake name or having an impersonal script to use when posting comments in forums or blogs. If creating a blog, use original content or at least add commentary to articles or other posts you found. This will show your blog is not computer generated or simply a tool for gaining brand recognition.
Finally, don’t get carried away with adding yourself to sites. Try and limit yourself to two or three sites so you can make sure you put in the effort needed. Also, don’t try to connect with every users on every site. Doing so will be exhausting and impersonal. Look for the most influential users and try to create a connection there. This will give you more legitimacy within the community.
Well Worth the Effort. Although using social networking sites can seem time consuming, it is well worth the effort. This will get your business name out to a wide market and will help you build connections for the future when you promote new products or add special services. But the best part of social networking may be it is virtually free, granting only gain to your business. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start networking.”