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Social Media: Tips for Small Business Marketing

If you think about it, social media is like an online version of word-of-mouth advertising.

ComScore, a provider of Internet audience measurement services, noted that for the first time Facebook entered into the top 10 Web property rankings for January 2009. According to ComScore and industry followers, this is a sure sign that that this year we will likely see continued growth in usage of social media platforms.

Social media is the new (buzzword) that is used to describe a variety of Web-based platforms, applications and technologies that enable people to socially interact with one another via the Web or Web 2.0 as these services are normally labeled.

Some examples of social media sites and applications include Facebook, YouTube, Del.icio.us, Twitter, Digg, blogs and other sites that have content largely contributed based on user participation — that is, sites that organize and deliver user-generated content (UGC).

Many businesses have primarily focused on getting listed in Google for no reason other than to drive Google's search traffic to their own Web space. Social media is no different — businesses are looking to leverage social media traffic to help their own sites and brands. In November traffic to Blogger, according to comScore, was 222 million. It is easy to see why businesses want to attract some of that traffic.

Not all businesses need a Facebook page or a blog to promote and advertise on the popular social media sites. In fact, you might do better simply by making your own online presence social media-friendly and let your users carry your product through to these places instead.

Recommended Reading: Facebook Tips: step-by-step tips for setting up your own groups

Welcome Social Media in Your Organization

If you think about it, social media is like an online version of word-of-mouth advertising. One user on a social site may favorite, follow, or Digg something about you, and suddenly your brand and name is now being shown to all of their friends, and if they repost the mention, they open your brand up to all of their friends, and so on down the line.

Businesses can start with a company presence or profile on different, but appropriate, social media sites. You can create a Fanpage on Facebook, get your employees on LinkedIn, sign up for Twitter, or start submitting relevant articles and content to social bookmarking sites, like Digg and StumbleUpon. You can also use free blogs like Blogger to open a dialogue between your business and consumers.

When creating profiles on these sites, remember to link them up. For example, on your Twitter profile you can include a link to your blog or Web site. On Facebook you can install a Digg application so others can see what you favorite, and a Facebook Twitter application lets your Tweets become your Facebook status update. Twitter feeds can be added to your blog, and so on. By linking up your profiles, with one update you can blast your message to multiple social sites.

Recommended Reading: Use the Webopedia Social Media Glossary for help deciphering social media lingo.

Be Open, Honest, and a Little Social, Too

To successfully market in social media spaces, a business needs to create honest and open profiles that will appeal to consumers — don't pretend you are "just another user" on the site. Be honest in letting users know that you represent a business, versus being a single person who always tweets and links to one business. People will see right through this.

When you use these sites, you're opening your business up to direct dialog and comments from users. One of the biggest mistakes a business can make is not responding. When comments are left on your blog, a message is posted to your Facebook Fanpage wall or someone tweets a reply to your status on Twitter, make sure this person gets a message back from you. It doesn't have to be a long-winded dialog, but show that you have an interest in what they are saying. If you never respond, the user does not have a reason to come back to your profile.  Make sure you have staff members who will continue to update these pages with fresh posts and comments to users. Daily updates are best.

One thing to remember is that as a business engaged in social media, you might get comments and posts that are not positive — comments that you might feel hurt your business reputation. A business has to always be courteous and address the concerns appropriately, no matter how rough the comment you are dealing with is. Social media links can travel fast —- and a single negative comment left by your staff on a public social profile will infiltrate the faceosphere, blogosphere and diggosphere (you get the idea) faster than you can imagine.

Merge Social Media With Existing Advertising

If you're considering abandoning any of your current advertising practices in favor of going with social media, think again. Businesses need to look at incorporating current marketing channels with new social media opportunities. For example, Google search engine rankings (SEO) is on everyone's priority list. Blogging is an excellent way to optimize your content for Google. You can design content that works well on your blog, but don't stop there. Use portions of the content, not only on your Web site and blog, but also for Twitter updates, Facebook Notes, in more traditional print ads and also in your e-mail marketing campaigns or newsletters.

Social media also provides a way for you to promote new launches and products. You can Twitter company news and announcements (via links), you can add product unique and fun demos in video format to YouTube, or upload hot product shots to Flickr or your Facebook Fanpage. When an online publication covers your business or products those news stories can also be added to your various online social media profiles.

Optimize Your Business for Social Media

It is important to realize that not every business really needs a Facebook Fanpage or a Twitter profile. In some cases, it just might be that right now your small business doesn't have time or resources to invest in social media. Still, a business can still leverage social media traffic without joining each of these sites just by making sure you have the basics in place. An RSS feed is crucial to success. With an RSS feed you can distribute your content to other sites and users.

Recommended Reading: How to Create an RSS Feed: Follow our step-by-step instructions and you'll be creating your own RSS feeds in no time.

You can also make your Web pages social-friendly by offering users recognizable badges they can click on to submit your Web page or blog post to many of the popular social sites. Add This is one of several free bookmarking and sharing button services that can help spread your pages across multiple social media sites. You simply create a free account and customize the button for use on a blog or Web site. From there you copy and paste the provided code to your page. This gives visitors to your site one-click access to share your page on the social media sites they are using.

Next >> Part II: 30 Social Media Sites

Based in Nova Scotia, Vangie Beal is has been writing about technology for more than a decade. She is a frequent contributor to EcommerceGuide and managing editor at Webopedia. You can tweet her online @AuroraGG.

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