Oprah is on Twitter (along with Aquatics International), and so is Ashton Kutcher. With all this attention on social networking, is it finally time for you to jump in?

The question everyone is asking, especially in this environment of budget cuts and fiscal restraint, is: “Is it right for me?”

But the real question is, why wouldn’t it be? Everyone who interacts with the public, employees or vendors should cultivate a presence online. 

The best way to look at social media is very un-tech. In these times, more then ever, people are getting back to basics. Your employees and customers want to get to know you and be able to relate to you. What’s

important now is your ability to tell a story, be real and develop relationships. Everything we do is about relationships, whether it’s at home or work, with employees or customers. The way to view the entire “Web 2.0” is to see it as a new way to help you connect.

So what are some ways to get started if you haven’t taken the plunge with social media? And how aboutsome tips for those who are looking to freshen their presence?

Here’s one simple exercise to see if social networks are for you. Open up accounts in Facebook and LinkedIn. Both of them have tools that allow you to upload your address book. Upload your address book and see how many of your contacts are on each of the respective networks.

If it’s less than 10 or 20 percent, it probably isn’t a good investment, but if you have 40 to 50 percent or more, it will probably yield a wonderful return.

So if you’re ready to dive into the brave new world of social media, here are a few simple ideas to get started. (And the sites are free!)

1. Facebook is your friend. Currently, it is one of the easiest entry points to social media. Facebook says it added its 200 millionth user on April 8, 2009. More than half its users return daily. There is a good chance that you, your customers and your employees are all on it.

One of the newest offerings is Facebook Fan Pages. A fan page is set up similar to any other page or public profile on Facebook. When fans join, visit or interact with the page, a link shows up on their timeline and all their friends are informed. It’s a great and simple way to share news, update members and promote events.

2. Start following Twitter. No doubt, it has valuable use as an information aggregator, but it’s also static in that you will only see the information being passed around if you are currently online and viewing.

If you check only a few times a day, it can sometimes be difficult to keep up with the quantity of information that is being circulated.

And because the site limits “tweets” to 140 characters (including spaces) brevity is a key on Twitter. Think of it as a microblog.

That said, you’d be surprised what you can squeeze into that amount of space — message, links, even photos. Plus, the network offers an unprecedented level of connectivity. Tweeters have followers, who can be

surprisingly loyal and responsive.

3. Get found on Google Maps. This is the intersection of two important trends. The first trend is that people will Google something before they open up a phone book.

The second trend is about your presence online. Let’s face it: Most of us do not need a worldwide presence. Often, we don’t even need a statewide presence. Google Maps lets businesses add their own listings, so when people Google “Lifeguards in Montana,” your business can come up. In addition to a simple listing, you can post reviews, pictures and video clips. 

4. Link up with LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a network dedicated to developing professional networks. LinkedIn is designed more for college and post-college professionals, so users go here generally to connect with other professionals in their fields.

The site offers groups, discussions and a variety of other ways to stay connected to your professional network.

5. Network with other pros on AI Connect. AI Connect, from Aquatics International, is one of the newest social networking sites available to aquatics professionals. It is unique in that it is for, by and about aquatics pros. It’s free to sign up and members have access to all the site’s tools, including discussion forums, blogs, events and groups. This can be a great place to exchange ideas with your aquatics peers, get technical advice or just catch up.

The site also lets users upload videos and photos, as long as they remain within the community guidelines. Users can catch up on the latest industry news and connect with Aquatics International’s educational offerings and experts.