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Over the past six months, Canadian companies have really started to embrace social media.

This new-found enthusiasm may have to do with the fact they are starting to get active again after slugging their way through the depths of the economic downturn. And it has become obvious that social media is not only here to stay but it's emerged as a useful and valuable communications, marketing and sales medium.

One of the biggest challenges facing many companies is figuring out where to start. Where should their social media efforts be focused? What should they be doing? And how do they make social media happen?

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These are questions that need to be addressed after taking into account their strategic objectives and goals. But perhaps the easiest way to get started with social media is to simply listen to what's going on.

Listening means getting an idea about where the conversations about your company, brand, competitors and industry are happening. Is most of the action taking place within blogs or Facebook or Twitter? Or is there very little chatter within the social media landscape?

By listening, companies can get a much better understanding and appreciation of the ecosystem, which will give them valuable intelligence for moving forward with a social media strategic and tactical plan.

For example, a company could discover that even though there are more than 400 million people on Facebook, very few of the conversations on the social network involve the company's brand, products or competitors. In this case, it would make little sense to invest time and resources on Facebook when there are more fertile opportunities elsewhere.

The good thing about listening is that there are plenty of social media monitoring tools to do it, many of them free. This gives companies the ability to get what they need while making a minimal investment other than people and the time they need to put into listening for a few weeks.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'll cover a number of other areas within social media marketing. If you've got suggestions about topics you would like to learn more about, send an e-mail to

Special to the Globe and Mail

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Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting , a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups – Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye – so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences .

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