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A few years ago, if a business or organization wanted to promote itself online, all it needed was a website. But these days, there are many alternatives to reach your audience. Companies and nonprofits may feel the need to blog, participate in social networks, and more just to keep pace with the competition. But how do you find the right mix of technologies to fit your business, particularly if you’re starved for time and resources?

To figure that out, start by understanding the online behavior of your target audience. Where do they go online? What tools are they using? And, how do they want you to communicate with them. As recent as last year I heard a small business pundit exclaim, "All businesses should have blogs!" Well that’s simply not the case. Rather, all businesses who’s customers and prospects want to read about them and their opinions on a blog should have one, but everyone else … not so.

One tool that I have found useful to explain "social media" to business owners is the Ouija board–like chart that you’ll find below. It maps many of the alternatives on a scale of the amount of content that needs to be created as well as the frequency of interaction needed by you to make it effective for your business.

I like comparing this to a Ouija board because the relative position can change by business type, audience, and for a given business over time. Once this is married up with your target audience’s behavior, you will have a good perspective on the areas you should focus on to maximize the impact of your online investments.

Looking at the graphic, services such as Twitter — used for staying top-of-mind with interested parties — require a higher update frequency with little depth to the content posted (after all, there’s not much you can say in 140 characters). With everyone updating their social networking sites frequently, they can generate a lot of noise that can muddle your messages. But, the reward also can be high if your content goes viral.

On the other hand, if you spend all your efforts on Twitter and none of your customers or prospective customers do then you may be wasting precious time distracted and chasing Tweets that could have been spent elsewhere online attracting customers. It is the primary driver used to attract new customers.