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Sometimes Facebook, as well as other social networking media, is annoying. Narcissism pours out of the screen, and it’s all I can do to stop myself from de-friending people who seem bent on sharing every last mundane detail of their lives with the world.

My frustrations with the medium aside, evidence suggests social media is becoming a marketing Mecca. Solution providers looking to expand their reach, or at least stay in touch with existing customers, should take notice.

A recent survey of 8,500 local merchants by MerchantCircle reveals that Facebook has toppled Google as their marketing method of choice. Seventy percent of merchants polled said they use Facebook for marketing, up from 50 percent a year ago. That compares with 66 percent who said they use Google for promotional purposes. Google Search, meanwhile, is under threat as well, with 40 percent of respondents saying they are using the engine for marketing while 37 percent are betting on Facebook instead.

Facebook’s wide reach, ease of use and low entry barrier have propelled the site to the top of the list of online marketing vehicles. While on a grumpy day I might dismiss Facebook as nothing more than a high-tech vanity plate, clearly small businesses are finding real value in using the site.

Facebook’s “stay in touch” factor is key. Marketing is becoming more interactive, and short of talking to people face to face, there is no better way to reach customers than social media. You get a window into your clients’ lives – what they like and don’t like – which can prove valuable in marketing.

Just think of all the effort and expense that has gone into SEO in recent years. Had you known search engine optimization may take a backseat to social media, you might have spent your energies elsewhere. Then again, SEO’s lessons remain useful. You still need to now how to properly use keywords and identifiers in social media pages.

You definitely want to make sure you use social media right. Be tasteful and don’t waste people’s time. A social networking site provides an easy, efficient way to cultivate client relationships. This is especially appealing in the age of managed services, when face-to-face contact has been greatly reduced.

There is at risk in managed services that clients forget what you are doing for their business. Out of sight, out of mind, right? But you can stay in your client’s sight through social media.

What you don’t want to do is clutter up your Facebook page with inane ramblings or constant updates of where you just had dinner and stopped off for coffee. The customer doesn’t care about that. The customer wants information about events about the technology and services you provide. The customer wants to know whom you’ve hired lately and whether the person will be in contact with the customer. Or whether your CTO or CEO just delivered a speech at a trade conference that might be of interest.

As many businesses already have figured out, Facebook is also a decent recruiting tool. If you have staff openings, post the listing on your wall. Your Facebook friends will pass it on to their friends and, who knows, they might introduce you to your next star. There is a marketing aspect to this as well: You are telling the world your business is hiring, an indication of health and – possibly – growth.

Social media, argues Gary Vaynerchuk in his book “The Thank You Economy,” turns even the largest companies into corner shops by replicating the kind of interaction online that small shopkeepers have with their customers. Small storeowners know their customers and their families, their likes and dislikes, and what is going on in their lives. Social media facilitates a cyber version of this kind of intimacy.

So, yes, social networking sites can be a colossal waste of time, but they don’t have to be. It really comes down to how you use them. And for solution providers, it comes down to using them to nurture long-term client relationships.

Pedro Pereira is a columnist for Channel Insider and a freelance writer. He can be reached at