2009 Small Business Guide
small business
5 social media tips for small business

3. Do your own social-media optimization project. Learn about the competition in your industry and geographic region that are tapping social networking. Spark recommends starting by researching the competition in the major search engines -- Google and Yahoo.

"Type in keywords and phrases that people would use to find you, like 'plumber' and 'San Francisco.' If you don't appear in the top percentage of pages, take a look at the Web site of those plumbers that do show up," says Spark. "Look at their pages, and usually they will have a lot of content on their sites."

To increase a business's presence on the Internet, Spark advocates companies create blogs, newsletters and other articles on their sites to bolster the number of keywords -- terms that search engines recognize -- to boost their ranking in all-important Web searches.

"That's the way people discover you," he says. "Take that plumber in San Francisco. The right search terms might just be 'clogged toilet and San Francisco.'"

"That tells me I should write ... in my blog about how to fix a clogged toilet and mention that I am a plumber in San Francisco," he says.

4. Take social-network marketing to the next level. Create and post richer content about what your customers would expect from someone in your business. Don't view social media sites as a place to simply hype your wares. It's a place for conversation.

"Social media is about earning attention," says Scott.

"What's most important is to forget about what your company does. Instead, think about the people who are buying your products. Simply hyping products and services online and in social media sites completely backfires. People are not looking for products but for something fun. They are looking to make connections," Scott says.

So it's all about having something interesting to say or show. It could be a blog or a video on the video-sharing Web site YouTube.

For example, if you're a caterer, instead of talking about your service, create engaging culinary content. Imagine positioning yourself as a gourmet magazine on the Web, complete with links to a video you uploaded to YouTube.

"A caterer could create a blog with information about how to create a fantastic party, and each blog post or YouTube video could be another installment," Scott says. "On the Web, you are what you publish and being on the Web is about publishing information."

So back to that plumber faced with the prospect of dropping an expensive Yellow Pages listing but worried about customers not finding him if they have a burst pipe or a misfiring shower head. Scott recommends the plumber post a list of "the 100 home fixes for common plumbing problems."

"All of a sudden you are going to get indexed very highly in the search engines, and people are going to share that content with their friends," he says. "When someone puts an update on Facebook asking if anyone knows a good plumber in Boston, a friend might point to your content."

5. Use blogging to drive search results and help new customers find you. Lately, blogging has gained greater attention, with the advent of "microblogging" on Twitter. But consider the time commitment and strategy before launching an account.

Even with the spread of microblogging, Abraham remains a big fan of traditional blogs, which are lengthier and show up on Web sites. In general, no matter what form the blog takes, it should be consistent over time.

"If you can't keep up one (blog) post a day or 12 tweets a day, do one tweet every Thursday. Consistency in blogging or tweeting will create a relationship of trust with your followers or readers. Do it once a week, but for the next two years," Abraham says.

And don't spend extra money on blogging software, technical help or a ghost writer for your blog.

"To get started, try free free services like WordPress or Blogger," he says. "The technology should not get in the way of the communications."

Read more about starting a business in Bankrate's Small Business Guide.

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