As small business owners, we’re often told to get out there and engage–that we should use social media to “even the playing field” (an expression I hate) and “meet” our customers and potential customers at the watering holes where they hang out. But…where should we go? What types of social site are out there for a small business owner who wants to create a presence and take advantage of everything the social media revolution has to offer? Where do you even begin?
Here are a few suggestions for the types of sites SMB owners should be seeking out.
- Professional Networking Sites: Professional networking sites include sites like LinkedIn, Plaxo, Xing, Naymz and Ziggs. They present opportunities for you to brand yourself as a business professional, to connect with colleagues and to open the door to potential partnerships down the road. These sites are less about your hobbies and interests and more about where you are from 9 to 5 (or 7 to midnight, as the case may be).
- Personal Social Networking Sites: Personal social networking sites are the ones you first think of when you hear “social media.” They include Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LiveJournal, and all the other sites where people are focused on you the person, not the business owner. These sites allow small business owners to create personal relationships that they can use to create social capital and network with influencers.
- Corporate Sites: Corporate networking sites focus on your company, as opposed to who you are as a person. FastCompany, Crunchbase and Businessweek are all examples of place small business owners can go to create a corporate presence that will show up in the search results and bring added exposure to their business.
- Review Sites: As a small business owner, you’re probably more familiar than you’d like to be with review sites. These sites allow you to build up power testimonials, drive foot traffic to your business and nip online reputation headaches in the bud before they become nightmares. Yelp, TripAdvisor, and even Google Places are all sites where reviews live and ones SMB owners should be aware of. You’ll also want to create a presence on any industry-specific review sites that exist.
- Q&A Sites: I’ve already spoken in detail about building authority through questions and answers, but Q&A sites represent an excellent avenue for SMB owners to gain authority, traffic and influence. By spending time on sites like LinkedIn Answers, OnStartups Answers, Business Answers and Facebook Questions, SMB owners can build relationships by being helpful and showing authority.
- Media Sites: Establishing a presence on media sites like Flickr, YouTube and Vimeo helps get your content in front of new people and gives customers another way to interact with your brand. If customers are visually oriented or if you can find a new way to present the same old bag of tricks, you’ll be amply rewarded with loyal evangelists. On a site like Flickr, there are also local groups that small business owners can join and participate in to drive people back to their site.
- Bookmarking Sites: Bookmarking sites allow business owners to share content they may find useful with their networks. This can be an effective way to establish authority, stay top of mind or build relationships with customers. Some examples of bookmarking sites include StumbleUpon, Delicious, and Mixx.
- Popular Industry Blogs: There’s no better way to create relationships and authority in your niche than by participating in the conversations happening on popular industry blogs. Whether you’re committing to writing guest posts or simply being an active commenter and discussion leader, your customers will see that and remember it. You’ll become their go-to person whenever they need help on that subject, and they’ll feel comfortable seeking you out because they “know” you.
- Industry-specific social sites: Whatever your industry, there are probably at least a half dozen social networking sites geared specifically for you. Seek these out and work to create a presence there. In the small business/entrepreneur circle, these sites include BizSugar, PartnerUp, CoFoundr, Startup Nation and many, many others. Find the niche sites that your customers hang out on and be there, as well.
Those are the 9 types of social networking sites that SMB owners should be aware of when deciding where they want to set up satellite communities. You don’t have to create a presence on all of them, but you should know which ones exist and which are best suited for your customers and your business.