Traditionally, the content and frequency of marketing programs was the exclusive domain of external agencies such as advertising and marketing research firms. However, with the advent of social media, it has become possible to use web-based technology to encourage interactive communication. This is often referred to as consumer generated media, because it is driven by end-users. Social media marketing is therefore, the method by which businesses utilize social online media channels, to connect with their target markets.Social media marketing also involves social media optimization or SMO. It is referred to in this way, because its emphasis is on achieving website optimization, which is the process of improving a site’s visibility on the web. Social media includes social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, blogs, video sharing such as YouTube, social bookmarking sites like Digg, Reddit, presentation sharing, photo sharing and the ever popular Meetup website. It is also synonymous with Social Network Marketing. This involves the use of social networking sites to market products and services, as well as to engage in public relation activities.By using a technique known as viral marketing, marketers are able to use these websites to improve product sales, and increase brand awareness. This marketing method is referred to as being viral because in essence, it is passed from person to person, via the social network sites. Text messages, images, video clips, and games, are just some of the tools used in viral marketing promotions. The success of a viral marketing program is dependent on targeting and focusing on people with large social networks, who have a significant influence on their network. This will ensure that the advertising message gains optimum visibility.Social media marketing is increasingly being seen by business owners, as an important part of their integrated marketing program, which can assist them in growing their business. Studies indicate that business owners, who commit a minimum of 6 hours per week on social marketing programs, have been able to generate at least 50% more exposure for their business. Along with this, they have been able to attract more traffic to their website, gain qualified leads, and create new business partnerships.To get started with social media marketing, you will of course have to join one of the top social media sites. In an April 2010 Social Media Marketing Report by Michael Stelzner, experienced marketers identified Twitter as their number one social networking platform, with blogs following closely in second place. For beginner marketers, Facebook is ranked as their number one choice closely followed by Twitter and LinkedIn.One important way in which you can maximize the benefit of using a social networking site, is to build relationships. If you are using Twitter, for example, you can start seeking out the top tweeters in your niche and even in your local area. Having identified these people, you can then begin participating in discussions, and become involved in the promotion of important events and products. Also make sure to respond to tweets, and encourage retweeting as much as possible.Other benefits to be derived from social marketing effectively include getting marketing feedback, as well as linking with key players in the industry. These links will of course be cross-cultural, as well as international and will therefore extend your market penetration.Social network marketing is very consumer focused. Through the use of social media, it is possible to put the spotlight on what people need, rather than on persuading them to buy something that you have already produced. The feedback you get is able to guide your product development, and focus your marketing efforts on what is important to your bottom line.