Thinking about taking the plunge and joining one of the social networking sites (SNSs) or boosting the ROI of your current online networking efforts? Here's some solid benefits soloists can gain from social networking sites, and advice on ways to make the most of your SNS presence.

1. Expand your business development.
For soloists who don't have the resources of a larger company, social networks can be an effective way to reach a broader base of potential customers and partners. To be successful, you'll need to spend some time researching which sites best fit your business objectives, says Patrice-Anne Rutledge, a California-based online communications expert and author of The Truth About Profiting from Social Networking. "Identify the target clients you're trying to reach, then find which site will deliver that audience," she advises. The B2B focus of LinkedIn may serve some soloists while the B2C emphasis of sites such as Facebook or MySpace may be a better match for others.

2. Leverage your brand.
SNSs enable soloists to create microbrands for themselves and their companies. "Social networks allow every user to become a brand advocate and messenger of brand messages," observes Ellen Leanse, a Silicon Valley business strategist who focuses on the economic value of social networks and online communities. They are a potent influence, she explains, because "they allow very simple touchpoints to be amplified across a social grid." Leanse, founder of Social Power Advisors, believes that these networks are transformational, and that they're redefining business and economic conversations among companies of all sizes in ways not seen before. By using SNSs, businesses can streamline current marketing activities, and in the process leverage their brand-building power to reach new customers while strengthening bonds with existing ones. Both Leanse and Rutledge caution soloists to be attuned to details such as online tone and voice, so you create a consistent, professional presence and personal brand. "An executive audience is going to have a different tone than dog-owners or new moms," says Rutledge. "Be clear on how you wish to present yourself."

Next week, in Part 2, I'll talk about how social networks can help to accelerate your sales cycle and provide much needed social interaction. I'll also share the trick to not getting addicted to social media.

Terri Lonier is founder of, and has been networking in both analog and digital modes for a very long time.