When it comes to operating a successful online business these days the key is traffic to your website. In order to generate traffic there are a number of sources one can tackle. The first and most obvious is an increase in your search rankings over at Google. But what about all those social media websites floating around out there – are they worth your attention?

According to a release at Nielsen Online (PDF), social media is eating up more and more user time online and is truly becoming one of, if not the biggest online activity. According to Nielson, “In the U.S. alone, total minutes spent on social networking sites has increased 83 percent year-over-year”. In the past 12 months Facebook has seen the total time spent in minutes on its social networking platform grow by nearly 700% compared to April 2008, pushing it far above second place’s MySpace.

In April of 2008 MySpace saw usage around the 7.2 billion minute mark with Facebook trailing at 1.7 billion minutes. In April 2009, MySpace dropped by 31% down to 4.9 billion minutes with Facebook growing incredibly to 13.8 billion.

When it comes to Social Media there is no denying that Facebook is occupying more and more users time. Relative newcomer Twitter came in at around 300 million minutes for April 2009, up nearly 3700% from 2008’s meager 7 million.

So how do these numbers impact the average site owner? Well, with this high injection of internet users flocking over to social media platforms, you have to ask yourself – why aren’t you there? Top search rankings at Google still dominate when it comes to search and traffic delivery overall, however, with so many millions of potential customers loitering around these social sites, you need to get your site into the action.

By becoming an active member in networks like Facebook, Twitter, and the others, you can drastically increase your online exposure resulting not only in more traffic to your site and possibly increased sales, but also increasing the chances of people linking to you – which in turn, will result in higher search rankings and even more traffic.

There are a number of things I recommend to just about anyone with a website. First, get a good grasp of what your competition is doing, and do the same, but better. Often I will recommend to a client that they create a blog, and I will get the response “but my competitors aren’t doing it”. That right there should give you the incentive to be the first in your industry. If you competitors aren’t doing something, and it’s a known contributor to rankings and a healthy website, then you need to do it to put yourself one step above them.

The same goes for Social Networking. Blogs have become a mainstream way for companies to provide information to their users and Social Networking is starting to take this over. The beauty of these social media websites is not only the speed in which you can communicate with your customers, but also the interactivity and relationship you can start to develop. It’s much like going to a mixer through your chamber of commerce, but at a much larger scale.

It’s not too late to jump on this social media bandwagon. While the user base on these platforms is growing considerably, the number of businesses taking part is still relatively small, at least in comparison to how many business based websites are out there. So if you haven’t already, go out there and open that Twitter and Facebook account, and if you have a stagnant account already existing, start increasing your activity. You’ll be surprised at the positive impact your efforts will have.