Social media has become an integral part of Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, over the past couple of years. It is widely regarded as an excellent way of promoting your website and increasing your brand awareness; building links into your site; and setting yourself up as an authority within your chosen niche.

Authority websites are the ones that the internet community look to for the best articles, information, and setting the trends that other sites only aspire to. They also attract one-way inbound links like they’re going out of fashion. If you’re playing the Google game and using the world’s most powerful search engine as the major source for your website traffic, then this is only a good thing.

To digress for one moment, it might pay to briefly explain why this is a good thing.

As it stands, Google has a lot of time for authority sites, or more specifically websites that have a good deal of links from quality websites pointing to their front door. They see all these other sites ‘recommending’ your website, realise its importance, and rank accordingly.

So with this in mind, plus the other traffic-harvesting advantages that social media plays in website promotion, it is no wonder that Social Media Marketing (SMM) is such big business in this day and age.

Of course, to take advantage of the benefits that social media and social networking can have upon your website, blog, etc. and to take that first step on the road to an authority domain, you must first create a profile.

What follows is a short guide to setting yourself up, so you’re ready to enter the exciting arena that is social media.

The fundamental rules are pretty much universal, and will work with whichever social network you choose to harness the power of. It is the art of understanding and engaging the community where the soul of Social Media Marketing begins.

Firstly, choose your network. There are multitudes out there, some of the big names you’ll hear being bandied about being StumbleUpon, Digg, Facebook and Twitter. Once you’ve chosen where you’re going to start, the next step is to create your profile. This involves filling out your details, coming up with a name or handle, and usually some form of email verification to ensure that you are indeed a living human being and not an automated scriptbot created at the fingertips of a marketing spammer.

This is a relatively painless process that won’t take up a great deal of anybody’s time. However there is one important factor that I must mention and upon which the rest of this article hangs. The avatar.

An avatar is a small image that you upload to your profile and from then on in will sit with you during your time at the network. It is important because it’s the quickest way by which other users will recognise you. Even if you only give the barest minimum of details when signing up and creating your profile, ensure you upload an avatar.

As well as the element of recognition, an avatar also instils a modicum of trust in you right from the very outset. Consider it from your own viewpoint. Who would you be more likely to take notice of as a serious user and not someone whose sole aim was to spam the network for a few quick links? The one who has taken the time to upload an avatar or the one who can’t be bothered and uses the generic placeholder image? The submissions of the latter have a general habit of remaining ignored.

So ensure your avatar is something memorable, for this is how you’ll come to be recognised. You can use a picture of yourself, or practically anything that takes your fancy – of course, if you’re serious about promoting your website, keep it clean.

One other thing on avatars that is worth mentioning: use the same one across all the social media sites you sign up to. If you’re in the habit of creating multiple profiles then assign a different avatar to each profile but don’t – whatever you do – cross-assign them. Keep them separate and unique to each profile.

Creating multiple profiles is not something I’d advise, particularly if you’re just starting out. Any hint that you may be trying to game a community for your own ends, if discovered, will see you outed and ostracized from then on in.

But the benefit of maintaining an avatar for your profile across the different networks is that you’ll be bumping into a lot of the same people that circulate within your chosen field, and what is the quickest way you’ll recognise them? By their avatar. It works both ways.

Once again it all comes down to familiarity and trust. Treat your avatar as though it’s your own personal brand and you won’t go far wrong.