Social signals have been in the spotlight since 2010, when Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan first blogged about them. Shortly thereafter, Steve Cutts confirmed in a video that Google does consider these signals.
This should come as no surprise. Social signals, like backlinks, provide an objective vote of confidence for a specific page or resource. It's unlikely that social signals have surpassed backlinks in importance, but one thing is clear: it's no longer safe to ignore them.
There a few social signals in particular that you should monitor: Facebook likes to your pages and groups, Twitter followers associated with your brand, tweets that mention your brand, Google+ Circles, and +1s.
These will change over time as social networks come and go, but as a general rule of thumb, you want a strong presence on all of the major social sites.
Much has been made of the fact that social media sites use the "nofollow" attribute, but Google still counts these when it comes to tracking social status. In other words, a social share is still an endorsement even if it does not directly affect SEO.
Think of it this way: a brand with lots of social media shares is likely to have strong brand loyalty. This is something of a "chicken and the egg" scenario in which a brand with mediocre SEO but with a strong social following can still rank.
The reasoning behind this is that a brand with a large following will have good conversion rates, repeat customers, positive reviews and referrals. These factors indicate that the brand's SEO will improve over time, and so Google may give them the benefit of the doubt for a while.
There are things you can do right now to cultivate social signals.
Start a Company Blog
A company blog is essential to your success. A blog provides you a great reason to create regular, unique content, and it allows you to interact with your fans on a day-to-day basis.
Additionally, a company blog gives you a space from which you can tell your own story. This is essential in the event that you're hit with a negative SEO or smear campaign. Naturally, it's also great for SEO in its own right.
You can use Facebook's comments API to connect your blog directly so that comments on your blog will appear on the social network as well. This is a cinch to set up if you use WordPress.
Create Social Media Pages
As mentioned, you should have social media pages on all of the major sites, but you should also create pages on specialized sites like LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube.
These more niche sites will help increase your Web surface area, so to speak, and they will build brand credibility. If your budget allows for it, you may want to hire a social media manager to administer these accounts for you.
You should strive to share data from one network to another as much as possible. For instance, don't just share images on Pinterest; share them on Facebook as well. Twitter is great for sharing information, but don't hold back from your LinkedIn groups either.
Interact with Influencers
Finally, one of the most important things you can do right now is to find out who the influencers are in your niche. Contact them on Twitter and begin a relationship.
Don't blatantly market your articles to them. Introduce yourself, and let them know why your content is unique and valuable, but leave it at that. Don't be afraid to share their content; they may return the favor.
Staying current on the social media marketing landscape is vital to your success. If you'd like to have access to even more powerful marketing tips, as well as a way to generate conversion-ready Internet marketing prospects each month, click here to learn about my done-for-you system.