Step aside, Google: Social media is the new search engine.

The internet is not only living and breathing by the people, for the people, but it’s evolving meteorically. There was a time where search engine results determined the final destination of a consumer’s pursuit. Search Engine Optimization helps personalize those results to the user based on patterns of usage or keyword searches. But even something so suited doesn’t compete with a word-of-mouth recommendation from a trusted friend or online community to which that searcher relates.

While search is structured through statistics and data collected, social media allows users to seek out the information they need through their personal social networks. Whether deciding on what area hairstylist to use, or who to go to for car repairs, people are finding rewarding and engaging results through Twitter or Facebook interactions. shows Facebook’s traffic is up more than 250 percent this year, with nearly 123 million unique visitors for July 2009. Facebook made history in early 2009 when its number of unique visitors exceeded that of major search engine MSN.

Users tend to stay within a demographic they feel part of, and choose brands and information relevant to who they are and what they need. In return, the users are streamlining and filtering incoming information accordingly. What does this mean for businesses? No matter the social medium, your company must streamline and filter accordingly as well: Brands benefit more in the long run from adding, following, and engaging current fans. This cultures more loyalty, and those current fans will spread the word through re-tweets, invites , and suggestions. No matter which way you cut it, nudging strangers who are unfamiliar with your brand is known as spamming, and spamming never yields a positive response.

Because users are looking for meaningful, relevant connections, your business must stick to relevant, meaningful connections with those users. Posting a viral video clip that is being popularly searched but has nothing to do with who you are or what you do will not popularize your site or brand. Posting tips and information pertaining to your industry keeps your target audience engaged. They will respond,or ask questions, and this builds the kind of relationships you want to build with each individual customer, because it is your customers who build your brand’s online community. When you succeed in engaging your basic building blocks, you set the foundation for a stable online community that will grow and evolve with a fine-tuned purpose and relevance.

Despite a seemingly casual atmosphere on social media, social media means serious business, and is imperative to the success and evolution of your business.