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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