Although many marketers still don’t understand how to take advantage of social media, I’m here to tell you that it’s a crucial strategy.

It’s a key element of my marketing plans. And it deserves a lot of credit for the six figures in revenue that my consulting business was bringing in — only 10 months after I got started.

I have fully utilized social media — for myself and for my clients — with sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Twitter, FaceBook, and more. It’s cost effective and casts a wide net. Where else can you get your message out to the masses for zero advertising dollars? These “communities” are filled with like-minded individuals who crave information. Your job is to target those communities and release your message.

To promote my consulting business, I’ve had the most success with LinkedIn, a professional networking community, as well as doing press releases that got republished by bloggers, social pages, and online news aggregators like Yahoo and Google News.

On LinkedIn, I simply joined several “marketing and small business groups” where my target clients would be. I then repurposed relevant, useful articles from my blog and uploaded it as “News” or “Discussions.” This is a great platform to create awareness, build expert credibility, drive website traffic and generate leads.

Disseminating that repurposed content through LinkedIn — which took less than an hour per week — generated an average of 25 qualified consulting leads for me per week. It cost me absolutely nothing to get those leads — and when you consider my minimum 3-month retainer fee, we’re talking a profit margin of more than $10,000 for each lead that turned into a client.

For my clients, especially those with little to no advertising budget, I’ve made social media tactics a staple in their marketing strategies. By leveraging social media, I helped one client, for example, a best-selling author and well-known anti-aging nutritionist, increase website traffic and signups to his newsletter. In just four months, we collected nearly 5,000 e-mail addresses at $0/CPL (cost per lead). In addition, his revenues increased year-over-year by nearly 40 percent.

If you learn to think outside the box and harness the power of social media marketing — before you know it, what started out as a “hobby” or side job, just may turn out to be your cash cow.

[Ed. Note: Wendy Montes de Oca has nearly 20 years of marketing experience with Fortune 500 companies and top publishers. She is president of Precision Marketing and Media, LLC and publisher of Precision Marketing,one of the Web’s best free e-newsletters, packed with powerful and cost-effective secrets to market or grow any business on a shoestring budget. Click here now for your free subscription!]

WendyWendy Montes de Oca, MBA is President of Precision Marketing and Media, LLC and publisher of the popular marketing and business building newsletter, Precision Marketing. She is an online marketing and direct response expert with nearly 20 years of experience leading the marketing efforts for top publishers such as Agora/Early to Rise, Weiss Research, and NewsMax as well as Fortune 500 companies such as General Electric, Chase Manhattan Bank, CitiGroup, and Automatic Data Processing.

Her consulting clients (past and present) is like a “Who’s Who” including top copywriters, anti-aging nutritionists, online publishers, supplement companies, travel service providers, political websites and more!

Her background includes multi-channel marketing (print, email, direct mail, radio, TV) with expertise in direct response marketing for the Web. Her marketing initiatives helped bring in millions of dollars in revenues for the companies she has worked for.

Wendy received a Bachelor of Science degree from St. John’s University and a Master of Business Administration degree from Nova South Eastern University. Throughout her career, she has been recognized with various awards for quality, innovation, teamwork, and new product/new business development.

She is also a distinguished speaker at marketing conferences such as Specialized Information Publishers Association (SIPA) and author of several marketing and business articles for Early to Rise, Makepeace Total Package, and Target Marketing, just to name a few. Her blog, www.musclemarketing.blogspot.com  was named by marketing industry staple, Best of Web, as “top internet marketing blog.” For more information visit www.precisionmarketingmedia.com.