Just a few short years ago, social media networks were known primarily as a way to find long lost friends – people you went to high school with and wanted to see what they were doing currently. Kids caught on to the potential even faster and use social networks in place of phones. While it has grown well past these purposes for personal pages, the role of the fan page has evolved even further, becoming an important part of a business branding strategy and a way to reach new customers. Big businesses were quick to jump into the picture, but it has become even more important for the little businesses. There are so many things that can be done with a fan page today, from offering coupons, collecting emails for newsletter distribution, answering customer questions and giving a human voice to a business.

Looking forward, social networking promises to play an even larger role, affecting how your website ranks. Since it does take a considerable amount of time to build a fan base, there is no benefit to delaying the process. Your page will grow slowly at first, but the sooner you get to a few hundred fans, the sooner your page will be shown to more new people.

Today, when starting a business, it makes sense to incorporate social networking right from the onset. Many companies are concerned about not having the staff or funds to operate multiple social network pages. But, there are enough tools to make the work easier, from the ability to plug an rss feed into your Twitter or Facebook page, to managing message to multiple pages from sites like Hoot Suite.

The earlier you plan for social networking, the better off you are. Not every business name will have a social handle available. If you secure your social handle at the same time you buy your domain, you have those pages secure to work on as soon as you are ready. On Facebook, your page won’t even show up in results until it has 25 fans, so you may as well start off by sending your friends and family to it just to get it visible in the search results. You also have the added benefit of being shown to friends of your fans in personal search results when a user is logged in to Facebook.

For local businesses, offering weekly coupons on Facebook is free as opposed to paying for ad space in a local paper. People are also now more likely to see your post than they are to open your email, making social networking the preferred method of communication with your customers.

Even if you start slow, getting started is the important step.