Social media, web 2.0, social networking. These terms are mentioned in just about everything business owners read and hear, but the majority still doesn't completely understand what the buzz is about. Yes, keeping up with emerging trends can seem daunting, but social media is one trend business owners need to keep on their radar.

Basically, there are two aspects of social media. The first aspect encompasses things like blogs, podcasts and videocasts, which many businesses have readily adopted. The other, more social aspect includes applications like Gather, MySpace, YouTube and Second Life.

Using the social side of social media to market your business can be tricky. Recently MySpace has gotten a bit of unfavorable attention from the media because of sexual predators taking advantage of the site. And while YouTube has become a favorite way to share videos online, you can never be sure as to what kind of video the service will show after yours plays. Some of them may be highly inappropriate for your audience.

So, as a business owner, how do you determine which sites to target, how to approach them and what returns to expect? Here are some nuggets for you to keep in mind as you consider leveraging social media in your own company.

Examine your target market. Are you marketing to finance types or Gen Y'ers? The more social aspects of social media may not be the best place to find and communicate with your audience if you want to do business with stock brokers. Yet if you're marketing to a more casual customer, social media may be just the carpet ride your business needs.

Kathy Cano-Murillo, founder of CraftyChica.com and author of Art de la Soul, hit the virtual nail on its head. She first started a MySpace page to keep an eye on her teenage son who had a page on the site. She also had her first major book coming out and knew she had to do well on sales. "Once I created my MySpace page, I found people who were exactly in my target market who hadn't yet heard of my website," she says. "So I started introducing myself to people and making friends. I thought to myself, 'This is magic.'"

Focus on the return and the investment. Because social media has garnered so much attention, many have gotten caught up in the hype of stories about businesses seemingly going from zero to 60 overnight. As a result, some companies have become much more focused on their return than their investment. Figure out well in advance what you're willing to invest to get the return you want.

"I spent the whole month before my book came out introducing myself to people on MySpace," Cano-Murillo recalls. "I didn't just contact anyone, though; I took the time to specifically connect with women, other artists and writers. Yes, it takes a little bit of extra time but, I would rather do that than put money in expensive advertising, because I can't afford it." Cano-Murillo says she now has 6,500 friends on MySpace and that her website gets 1.8 million hits per month.

Set and measure your digital yardsticks. As the saying goes, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." Establish some basic goals for metrics that you'll monitor regularly. If you're starting a MySpace page, set a goal for how many friends you want to have within a certain period of time.

Contribute to the social network--don't just market to it. When Text 100, a global public relations firm, decided to launch a presence in Second Life--for which they subsequently won an award--they really didn't have a marketing agenda. As a PR firm, they wanted to scope out the scene and mitigate any possible risk for their clients by being early adopters themselves.

"Second Life is not a game," says Georg Kolb, Text 100's EVP of innovation. "It is a virtual world, and you need to have a strategy to move in there. Success in Second Life is less about first-mover bragging rights and more about contributing to the good of the overall community." He advises participants to first listen to the community and understand what the issues and who the influences are. "Don't just try to push your wares," he says.

Protect your brand. The sad truth about the more social aspects of social media is that there are some not-so-savory characters that'll be using the same medium to get their message across. Examine where you'll be placing your brand and what types of companies are going to be sharing that space with you. If you discover that YouTube is not for you, try services like blip.tv or ListenShare.

Social media can have a positive impact on your business, if done right. You already understand the importance of networking; now it's time to take it online.