Social Networking For The Local SMB

by Kristy Bolsinger May 30th, 2012 

No one is better suited for creative social engagement than the small business owner. You are closer to your customers than the big guys giving you a major advantage, but you likely have far fewer resources. If you're a small business owner, particularly those that are locally focused you might be feeling overwhelmed by all of the social media talk lately. You're already feeling over worked and the last thing you really want is one. more. thing. to do. I totally get it. This post was written with you in mind to help you make sense of all of that noise.

Where To Start

Google

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Optimize your local search presence. I'm not going to go into details on that here, because this post is designed to concentrate on social media efforts, but truly – that is where I would start. If you have an online store, don't stop at local. Investigate ways to improve your overall SEO efforts to maximize your presence in the SERP's ASAP.

Beyond that, let's get into the social gold shall we?

You'll notice a trend right away. Mobile is key. Consumers don't always make decisions and conduct searches out and about – but the numbers are increasing. Even if they aren't out – they could still be making them on their mobile device. Can't tell you how many times I've pulled my phone out to look something up on Yelp while sitting in front of my computer. Seriously.

Yelp

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Speaking of Yelp. Yelp is a recommendation based local business discovery site. Any business can have a presence on Yelp. Users can then check-in, submit reviews, ratings and even images based on their experiences at your establishment all from the web, or likely their mobile app.

Users visit Yelp to find somewhere in the neighborhood to have lunch, or to find the best colorist in their area. Yelp has an active community of very passionate users. Cultivate a community of your own Yelp users!

Things you CANNOT do:

You cannot pay for reviews

You cannot have negative reviews deleted

You cannot forge reviews

Things you CAN do:

You can buy ads within Yelp

Find and engage with your most vocal and regular customers in addition to POTENTIAL customers!

Things you SHOULD do:

Monitor for negative reviews. These are opportunities to reach out and make amends.

Monitor for positive reviews. These are highly engaged customer advocates. How can you further capitalize on this vocal activity and advocacy?

Thinks you should KNOW:

Yelp is accessible on the web and a variety of mobile devices typically in the form of an app.

Foursquare

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Foursquare is a location based mobile app allowing users to check-in to locations and earn points, badges and mayorships. Businesses are offered a suite of tools to interact with and incentivize users on the platform to help increase foot traffic, spending and loyalty.

Customers are likely already checking in to your location, so if you're not already paying attention you may want to. Users also have the ability to leave comments, tips and even upload pictures. There's not much you can do to delete negative content (unless of course it's spam, harassing or offensive of course) but knowing about these comments allows you the opportunity to make right by these users and attempt to change a negative to positive, gather insight and increase loyalty.

Because Foursquare functions in a way that's dramatically different than the rest of the social networks I'm not going to go in to detail here but definitely read up. There's some amazing opportunity for businesses to engage and incentivize their customers here – extra credit if you get creative with it!! Again for those interested in paid alternatives, you may want to keep an eye out. Foursquare is suspected of launching an ad platform this June.

Google +

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Google + is the newest kid on the social networking block. It's picked on about as often as an awkward pre-teen joining a new middle school as well. All of that aside – it is owned and operated by Google – THE largest search engine. The impact of G+ on local search is still yet to be determined but is sure to be important. Already we have personalized search based on a variety of factors, including of course, location. Add Google + personalized results on top of that and I'm sure you see the man behind the curtain taking shape.

Here are a couple examples. One is a results page for Burberry where I am not logged in showing personalized results based on my location. clip_image004

Here is another example of the same query where I was logged in giving Google access to a ton more data, but also turning on Google +. While I do have Burberry in my circles (akin to 'friending' someone on Facebook but with far more control) I have seen similar results when the company at hand is not in my circles.

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RetailMeNot as an example – is not a company I have added to my circles on G+ yet you see they still are able to capture increased real estate on a SERP with their profile and activity on G+.

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Facebook

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There are some staples that have arisen in the social media space for brands. Facebook is among those. Having a Facebook page is a must nowadays for, arguably most all brands and businesses.

Because they have such a large user base (reported at over 900 million now) the platform is an ideal place to reach out to, and engage with users. For some it could even be said this is their 'home base' of social networking.

Utilizing their ad platform you can also buy your way in front of the eyes of targeted customers potentially even moving Facebook into your customer acquisition budget.

Consumers that look to engage with you ("like" you) will be able to see your page's updates allowing you to offer incentives, promotions or just have engaging conversations.

You can find best practices for marketing on Facebook all over, but above all – pay attention to their page guidelines. Miss-steps aren't always punished, but when they are they are swift, and mostly permanent. I've seen many pages completely disabled and deleted because the owner violated a piece of the TOS – without warning.

Twitter

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As with Facebook, I'd argue that Twitter is up there with social marketing staples. Your customers expect you to be there. There are nearly unlimited opportunities to network and engage with prospective and current customers on Twitter. Setting up a page on Twitter is fairly quick and offers up a simple platform. Use your Twitter account to share valuable and interesting content with your users. You can also promote deals and product updates here. But don't over do that – remember it's about building those relationships. Focus on conversations and engagement with your customers and you'll be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.

Speaking of competition. Twitter is also a great place to listen for opportunities. People often talk about services or products they're investigating on Twitter hoping for either friend input or assistance. Set up search queries to help you find prospective customers in your area – then start a conversation! Conversely you'll want to listen for mentions of your brand or products to be sure you're addressing your customers service concerns. There are opportunities here to repair negative perceptions or just offer an over-and-above experience.

The opportunities to engage with your customers are really unlimited on Twitter. Above all others the value to be garnered from Twitter is directly proportional to that which you invest. Twitter is building out their advertising platform over time so if you're interested in social based advertising this is an especially interesting platform to keep your eye on!

Tools

Social media marketing can be daunting and frustrating. Especially when you're trying to scale your efforts or show a return on your investment – the platforms don't always come with everything you need. There are some tools out there that can make your life a little easier. Here are some of my favorites:

SimplyMeasured: Facebook, Twitter, Google+ social monitoring and measurement. All in one easy to use interface. Not to mention insanely helpful and knowledgeable team.

Knowem: A great tool for checking and registering your user name across a ton of social media sites. Great for the marketer or small business owner without an army of help.

FollowerWonk: An amazing Twitter tool that allows you to find new people to follow based on interest and location, compare users, track and sort followers, etc.

Linkstant: While most may not consider this a "social media marketing" tool – I'd beg to differ. It's definitely an online reputation and SEO tool, but this powerful little guy alerts you every time someone links to your website.

Google Analytics for Social: Likely you are using Google Analytics for your website. If you aren't – why not? It's free and does just about anything you would want a web analytics tool to do. And now it offers social data. Two birds – one stone.

So you've got some tools and you've got your platforms. Remember that there is no silver bullet in social media. It does take work, but it will pay dividends for you if you do it right. Engaging with your consumers in an ongoing and meaningful way will help you build awareness, and move people from consumers to advocates ultimately doing your marketing work for you – something those big competitors would kill for and you are uniquely positioned to achieve!

Go, explore, experiment and measure your success!! If there are other platforms you have found success on I'd love to hear about it in the comments. Sharing is caring.

Kristy Bolsinger

Kristy Bolsinger is a Senior Associate at PwC in Seattle, WA. She has previously worked at Ant's Eye View (acquired by PwC in 2012), and RealNetworks (GameHouse). Prior to her time at RealNetworks, and Ant's Eye View - Kristy was working as a Social Media Marketing Consultant and completing her MBA at Willamette University. She maintains a social media blog and can also be found on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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2 Responses to “Social Networking For The Local SMB”

  1. Leo says:

    Great set of tools there for small and medium business. Almost all are free and easy to use, the perfect way to really jumpstart your presence, increase your online exposure and make yourself more visible. I've seen small business do better than large ones just because they had better social media sense, and besides, Google seems to love traffic coming in from social mediums!

    • Leo – I think you're right there. A lot of times small businesses do do a better job. There's a lot less regulatory tape and approvals processes to pass through – and quite honestly just the scale of it is smaller so the danger is at least perceptibly less.
      However there are also less resources ;) so there's that!!