I know. You don’t care how important the so-called “experts” tell you social media is. You’re a small business owner and that means you’re busy. You don’t have time to be everywhere or to try the “next big thing”. Luckily for you, you don’t have to. If you’re a small business owner you can still use social media to find new customers without letting it take over your life. And below you’ll find what I think are the top social media sites to help you do that. The trick is navigate through the clutter and find the ones that will work best for you.
There are a lot of Question/Answer sites out there, but Yahoo Answers stands out due to its impressively large user base and its ability to put you in contact with folks asking service-based questions broken down by location. For example, there’s a guy in Boston looking for a painter, someone in New York City looking for a wedding dress shop and a guy in San Jose looking for recommendations on a new car. Those are all opportunities for small business owners to reach out and respond to targeted service queries. You just have to know they exist and how to find them.
Yahoo Answers is also valuable for businesses where your expertise is what you’re selling. By going in and answering questions that benefit the community, you brand yourself as an expert in that category. If you’re looking for a guide to Yahoo Answers, look no further because Matt McGee has already written the book on it.
It’s hard to talk about small business and social media these days without mentioning Twitter. Twitter is about conversation. It’s about finding the people talking about you and what you sell and forming relationships with them. One of the most underutilized aspects of Twitter for most businesses is the Advanced Search feature that allows small business owners to search for specific keywords located near a particular zip code. Companies have used it to ward off customer service complaints, to answer questions and to create an awareness that you’re not only an expert, but you’re an expert in their local area.
For example, say you run a day camp and are looking for summer labor. You can perform a search for [summer job near:02116 within:25] and find folks located 25 miles outside of Boston looking for a job for the summer. There’s even a sentiment feature that attempts to determine if they’re happy about not having a job or sad, so you know which users to go after. There are many, many ways to harness the power of Twitter for local businesses, you just have to know where and how to jump in.
A blog is a powerful sales tool for small businesses because it acts as a differentiator between you and your competition. Your small business blog will not only act as a customer service and educational tool, but it will encourage customers to interact with you, will be crucial in crisis management, and can even help you pick up rankings for keywords you’re not targeting with the rest of your site. A lot of businesses lose out on customers by failing to establish a point of difference or personal story. Your blog enables you to do that. It’s your space to show your customers who you are, to listen, and to connect with them on a more personal level. As far social media outlets go, creating a blog is often one of the best investments you can make to boost your business and retain and attract customers.
Flickr provides an avenue for small business owners to find customers with product-based needs (different from Yahoo Answers, which targets service-based needs). By going into the Groups section and searching for your particular area, you can find a list of groups that deal with topics either related to what you do or parallel topics that may share a common customer base.
For example, a search for Boston may reveal a group of car lovers looking for classic car parts or a gem in perfect condition someone’s looking to sell. A local group for photography may be seeking recommendations on new camera types. You should try to join the groups related to your area to help monitor the conversations and find places where it makes sense for you to join in. To make this task easier, subscribe to the RSS feed so that you’re automatically updated once a new discussion topic is added. You can also use Flickr for new content strategies.
Other Notable Mentions for Small Businesses:
- YouTube: Create product demos, how-to videos and engage customers in a way that separates your company from the herd of “me toos” out there.
- LinkedIn: Create a profile for both yourself and your corporation and take advantage of the Question/Answer feature similar to Yahoo Answers.
- Facebook: Offers strong demographic targeting options both in the advertising opportunities (very high conversions for local businesses!), as well as with corporate Fan pages.
Social media remains a cost effective way for many businesses to reach out to customers. Because of your small size, you can create more targeted, more manageable online communities that convert both online and off. The trick to tackling social media is not to be everywhere, but to instead be everywhere your customers are.
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awesome as always, Lisa!
This is a great list of helpful sites. I already use (& like) most of them but Get Satisfaction was a new one to me. I’m going to have to take some time to look that over.
Amanda: So glad you found it useful. The sites I spoke about really are my favorites for small businesses and the ones I think SMB owners will find most useful. Definitely give GetSatisfaction a try and let me know what you think. I’d be interested to hear your take on it.
Emily: Thanks for finding me over here! 🙂
Great list. All of them are particularly useful for SMBs, especially a couple of the “Notables”. Truthfully, I’d push LinkedIn as a mandatory (not only for the Q/A section, but it’s also a place to find potential new hires and business-expanding connections).
I would caution SMB owners on the blog, however. It should be, of course, personalized (a.k.a. not reading in monotone). But I wouldn’t jump on that train until they know they’ve got something to write about. There’s nothing worse than reading a company blog about nothing but “larger product/service” descriptions. Resist the temptation to meta-blog.
I would also add that “the writer” in the group, the one whose best with creating great, unique language “be the owner” of the blog.
One of my favorite places to search for answers is Answers.com. They have a similar feature as Yahoo answers and in addition to that, a dictionary – wikipedia area.
It was interesting to read on how you could use Flickr in order to search for content that is related to your business field.
Anthony Verre: I agree with your advice on not to jump on the blogger bandwagon until you have spent some time thinking about it and then it is time to develop your “natural” blog “voice” over time. This will be my core message to my social media course students this autumn. Your post, Moving From Sight-Byte to Sight-Byte: Are We Losing The Ability to Critically Think? was thought provoking.
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Nice article. My 2 cents is that youtube should be moved higher up the ladder. Perhaps add ezines to the honorable mention list. The thing that bugs me about yahoo answers for one answering questions is that I don’t get a link to my website as compensation for my time in answering the question (as allowed in ezine). Stupid. I have to surreptitiously work a link into the body of my response. Youtube is just huge. Great exposure for “how to” videos that can be create easily with any home video camera and uploaded.
Anthony: Well, yes, if you’re blog is going to be a press release, you should probably avoid one. 🙂 But I think most small business owners would find they have a lot to say. People are attracted to stories. *Customers* are attracted to stories and people they know. A blog helps express that. Use it to attract new customers, to let people into what you’re doing, and to bulk up your content and get your Web site more spidered. I’d be hesitant to call blogging a “bandwagon”. I think it’s been around long enough to garner a bit more street cred than that. 🙂
And far as the “owner” of the blog, I don’t think it’s about finding the best writer. I think it’s about finding the person most excited and passionate about your company. That kind of stuff is electric and your customers will pick up on it and want to be involved! That’s where the interaction and community really builds from.
Hi Lisa! Super article. Isn’t it funny, it never dawned on me to actually use “Get Satisfaction.” I noticed that I got forwarded there for support, but didn’t realize it was a social media type of site. Duh. Thanks so much for opening my eyes.
And WOW – what a great application for Flickr! And here I thought is was just a digital photo album.
I love how you outlined practical creative and “market” driven applications for these sites. There’s something here from newbie to expert.
Thanks Lisa! I’ve been sitting on the fence about doing a blog for my business – I’m off the fence now and will start checking out wordpress. I never thought of Flickr as social media and I’d never hear of getsatisfaction. So a great learning experience all around!
I was going to take issue with calling wordpress “social media” in and of itself, however my points were largely semantics and me being a dweeb. I won’t bore you with my silly points. You did a good job of creating practical tips for using a variety of tools, new and old, and helping me and others see ways to help our businesses grow.
I agree on Flickr and see a lot of creative uses of the service now that Google and others have placed more emphasis on “universal search” algorithms where videos, audio, and photos come up more often or drive your page higher or lower in rankings depending on how you use non-text content.
We had some good dialogue going on at this post about Twitter: https://smallbiztrends.com/2009/04/twitter-plagued-annoying-worm.html#comment-658013
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Great article! These are really the top notch social media websites SMBs should really pay attention to. Though I tend to agree with previous comments, I would push YouTube up a few steps as it’s a great source for potential exposure. Perhaps the ideas of creating videos is a bit daunting for SMBs, though really a simple and rough home made video is quite enough to get someone started for added exposure. As always, as long as the content is great, relevant and useful, users will enjoy it and find is valuable.
TJ: If you’d like to get geeky and argue semantics over email, feel free to drop me a line. This way we can have the conversation without embarrassing ourselves in public about our level of dweeb. 🙂 I really do think WordPress aka blogs represent a social media avenue, but I’d definitely be interested in hearing your take why they don’t or, rather, how you’d classify them. Thanks for the article link, as well!
Security: I fuddled around with where to put YouTube. I ended up putting it lower on the list not because of its value but because it’s a bit more of a time investment than the other sites and many small business owners may not have the time or know-how to create content over there. But I completely agree with you on its value for small business owners.
The trick to tackling social media is not to be everywhere, but to instead be everywhere your customers are. — I love this idea Lisa.
It really depends on who are your target customers. Of course, you shouldn’t be branding an “emo” jacket to users in LinkedIn who happens to be really professional. Same goes with, you can’t be at ease selling your consulting business to myspace or multiply users where most of the member are teens and young adults.
Marcy: Excellent advice. I’d also like to know what an “emo jacket” is. And where can I buy one? 🙂
Good information. As you mention, social media sites are incredibly good ways to connect with customers and maintain good customer service. However, there are so many social media sites now that I sometimes find it hard to keep track! Which site do you find is the most accessible and useful for you?
“Emo” is a hip for teens here in PH. They have a unique expression of themselves in terms of fashion and lifestyle. There are a lot of “emo” apparel available here in PH where teens are too hooked up. Emo hairstyles, make up, outfit and accessories. Name it…
Here’s wiki definition about emo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emo
Here’s an image of emo kids:
I don’t think many realize how powerful Yahoo Answers can really be. You help one person but many others see your answer.
As a small business owner I have just began on my journey of social media. I have a blog, twitter account, facebook page but did not know about yahoo answers. This sounds like a great tool. Thank you for providing a link to the book. Flickr was intimidating when I dropped by. I am sometimes a little overwhlmed by the abundance of possibilities.
I did not know about th advanced search capabilities of twitter either. I will have to try that.
I have a LinkedIn profile but I am not sold on this site yet. It may be too stuffy for my taste. Any tips on how to crack that code.
Let’s change our terms: Discuss, not argue. I’m happy to share some of my thoughts here as to why WordPress would not be an example, to me, of practical social media. There are millions of blogs, many of them WP, that have no readers, no community, no fans. Just the proverbial tree falling in the forest. I actually don’t think you’ll disagree with some of this, nor did I make that earlier comment to elicit an argument or fight. I’m in the industry. Not as expert as you, but in it and have been since modems were so shrieking loud that I had mine in a handmade wooden box with four blankets over it to dilute the noise it made.
I see and hear all the recommendations for people to start blogging as the panacea to finding new customers. Now you and SugarRae get all this stuff like very few others — I’ve been reading SugarRae, SugaRae, Sugarrae Hoffman for a long time. Her blog link below. I’m not suggesting that you ladies suggest the commonplace ideas of blogging without purpose for people.
My point about WP is mainly that without a serious plan and results, most people will give it up, just like they do Twitter — after 1-2 months. Technically speaking, WP is awesome as a platform and as a solid rank improvement tool. I get that. Too many small biz owners I know say, “yes, i need to start blogging…start tweeting, get a page going on FB…”
But they don’t know why. And if you don’t know why, then you won’t bother to figure out the how. So I share all this not to really take issue with WP as a social media tool. It is. I simply struggle alongside many entrepreneurs and small biz owners trying to help them make a commitment to the social media strategies we’re talking about here. It is more complicated than just picking a blog platform or signing up for Twitter. I don’t think you’ll disagree.
Hey Lisa, I also just went over to the Entrepreneur post you linked in the WordPress section. Perfect answer to my points. Guess I should have followed all links first… 😉
TJ: Oh definitely discuss. I didn’t mean “argue” as if I was going to beat you with my point of view. 🙂
And you’re right, there’s nothing there I can disagree with. Just because some business owners may fail to use a tool correctly doesn’t mean it’s not a tool. I’ll totally agree that many small businesses go about blogging the wrong way. That said, when its used correctly, blogging is nothing if not social media. You can’t blame WordPress because not everyone is equipped in how to use it. 🙂
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Yahoo Answers are really important. Because once a question is answered, you know that you don’t just let the answer be known by the person who asked it but of course to anyone who sees it. The top 4 sites are our reliable source of information.