09/22/2011 06:14 pm ET Updated Nov 21, 2011

Social Media and Benefits to E-commerce Businesses

Pretty much anyone you ask will tell you about how powerful the social media are right now. They might also add how any respectable person or business must have a Facebook and Twitter account and how crucial these are for your business promotion and image building.

But is that really the case or are social networks just riding on the wave of unsubstantiated popularity? If you have just setup an online business do you really need to get a profile on each of them and start posting updates?

Let's just assume that you currently have none or very few followers on each platform, because you have only just started trading. Will it really have any impact if you start posting updates about your products and potential promotions? The answer is most likely no, because without an audience any messages are pointless.

It is arguably much more important that new businesses get their SEO and paid search campaigns right, before they get worked up about social media.

Purchasing adverts which appear above search results in Google, Bing, etc. can bring much more benefits to your business than any tweet or Facebook update. It will not be free, but if done well, can be much more rewarding.

Search engine optimisation is also crucial if your business is to receive decent organic traffic. This is when people search for certain words in any of the search engines, find your website in the results and click on it. Because you will be competing against millions of other websites, many of which try to sell products similar to yours, SEO is without a doubt a huge priority for any new business. It could be argued that social media is important in order to achieve the top level of SEO, as any links you or any of your consumers post on those websites will help your general rankings. But unless your actual pages are optimised, then no number of social media activities will rectify it.

When starting out it is crucial that you get the basics right, before you begin experimenting with social networks. This way you will be able to build substantial following much quicker.

Once people are able to easily find you in the search engines and are happy with what your website has to offer, they will then be much more likely to follow your Twitter, Facebook and other similar online profiles. It is essential that you build on any initial following as this usually snowballs into much bigger numbers.

Following this you will be able to take full advantage of social media, which can be a great platform on which to market your brand name.

Some experts say that the usefulness of social media is still to be proven, but most would say that if used properly they can be extremely useful to pretty much any type of online as well as offline business. Having social media presence is free, so even if you're not yet at a stage where you can use it as an effective marketing tool, the advice is probably to carry on building it up as much as you can without jeopardising other aspects of your business. Make sure that you monitor any benefits this brings and base any decisions on that information. This should help you avoid the trap of investing in an ineffective operation.