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Resolve to get your business in social media shape!

Last January, we'll bet you resolved quite firmly that 2009 would be the year to get your business involved with social media.

Well, it's January 2010, and somehow you've managed to avoid our polite nudges to dip a toe into the social media space all year.

Clearly, our friendly advice hasn't worked. So this year, we thought we would try tough love instead.

For most businesses, if you're not on social media, you're losing out on lots of potential growth. 2009 was the year that sites like Facebook and Twitter became mainstream -- and the growth of people depending on social networks increasingly for information.

We get that it can be intimidating to get started -- and you don't have the time to do it. So here are some tangible, practical resolutions that will help incorporate social media into your daily routine.

Make the time. Some people have a built-in social media reflex that's the same as e-mail: They're constantly checking their in-boxes throughout the day. We know that's not you. Start by booking five- to 10-minute chunks of time for social networks on your daily schedule. Make a resolution to do it three times a day: Check in with an account first thing in the day, right before you take a lunch break (or during your lunch break if you work through your lunch) and again sometime around 4:30 p.m. -- right before people leave for the day.

Find your audience. If you're selling a product, you can use a Facebook Fan Page to interact with potential customers: The best way is to talk about sales, coupons or new products, or give shoutouts to die-hard fans. The more interaction, the better chance you have to show up on someone's news feed and catch more eyes.

For Twitter accounts, you need to start following accounts that may be good fits for the audience you're trying to reach. For example, if you're a restaurant in Miami, search for people with "Miami" or "South Florida" in their location. A site like http://twitter.grader.com/search will help you find the most active Twitter users who fit the keywords you are searching for.

Use tools: We'll bet the major reason you haven't dived in is because you find social networks to be a hassle. Using Twitter on the Web is messy. Familiarize yourself with tools that make using Twitter easier and help you manage your time better. Free programs like Twhirl or Tweetdeck provide notifications when you have a message so you can leave them on all day.

Tweetdeck also allows you to set up specific search columns and be notified anytime someone says the name of your company or mentions the service you provide, so you can be there to respond.

Finally, in everything that you do, remember to be genuine. Whether it's Twitter, Facebook or another social networking site, learn how to talk -- and listen. Remember that it's about making human connections. Communicate the same way you would with a friend, instead of using formal corporate speak. Listen to what your customers are saying and respond. In short, conduct yourself the same way you would if you were face to face with a customer or client, and you'll be fine.

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