Author’s Note: This article is part of a Tech Topics column I write for a small print publication focused on helping small business owners become more comfortable with technical topics.

You can’t walk down the street or visit a web page without seeing Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace or some other site calling for your attention. Like it or not, social networking is here to stay. The World Wide Web is evolving; it started out similar to traditional media with a broadcast style. Someone would post information on a website; others would read it with limited interaction.

Now, the web is evolving into a far greater social experience. The social web is a two-way street. When you talk to your customers, they can talk back, for better or for worse. The old broadcast style is losing out to conversations. This can be great for your business. Instead of talking at your customers and hoping they hear you, you can now talk to them and the feedback you’ll get will tell you whether your message is working.

Social Networking is not hard. In most cases, it requires an email address and five minutes of your day. The real difficulty is how you use your social networking presence. Just as everyone can put up a web page, everyone can set up a Facebook account or Twitter feed. Driving your customers to them is the challenge.

How do you get people there? You engage them. Remember, the web is a conversation. Have a friendly tone. Remember yo’re talking to people, not at them. Run offers and specials for those who see your page. Give people a reason to keep coming back. You have an opportunity to capture their attention like never before. In the case of Twitter and Facebook, if a customer chooses to “Like” or “Follow” your page, every time you post they will see it in their stream of other updates.

The effectiveness of your social media marketing depends entirely on how well it’s planned. Creating a Facebook page or a Twitter account doesn’t guarantee results. You have to put a public face on your company. Make yourself likeable. Provide value to your customers. For instance, if you’ve recently had a large job canceled with an odd color or size of paper, let your customers know. “50% off all prints on lime green paper. Supply limited, get it until it’s gone!” Demoing a new machine? Tell them about it! “See our new XYZ 1000 demo, save 20% on color prints using the new machine. One week only!”

Just as you would in traditional advertising, you should give people a call to action. Get them into the store and keep your current customers up to date with new savings or machinery announcements. Where you’d never run a print or radio ad about having 5,000 sheets of lime green stock from a canceled job, you can post to Facebook about it for free, and a bargain-hunting customer could take it off your hands quickly. Social networking gives you the freedom to reach out to your customers in ways they may not have previously expected, and the connections you build with it can benefit you both.