Mar 01, 2010

Online Social Media - The New Marketing Platform

Small businesses can no longer afford to ignore the importance of online reviews, blogs, local search sites, and other social media. Word of mouth, the Yellow Pages, and other traditional marketing tools are no longer what people rely on when making decisions about where to shop, eat, or visit. As reported in an article by Kermit Pattison in the New York Times, "84 percent of Americans say online reviews influence their purchasing decisions." Don't get left behind--or worse, find out too late that you haven't properly managed your online reputation.

What to do? First, find out what is out there already, advises Pattison in "Managing an Online Reputation." Do a Google search of your business name and see what comes up. What impression would the search make on a customer? Are you easy to find? If there's not much there, list your business on local search sites like Yelp, Citysearch, and others. Then, get active and engaged in the online community. Stay on top of the online buzz with Google alerts and do your own online browsing to see what's out there and what people are saying about you and your competitors. What do people think about your product or services? Are there changes you should make to better serve your customers? Respond to reviews to show you care and listen to what people have to say.

Figure out what sites are popular in your area and learn to use others like Twitter and Facebook. Try to develop your own following and stay up to date. Finally, never, ever post fake reviews or do anything false or misleading solely to make your business look better or to harm a competitor. You could face fines from the attorney general's office or worse, ruin your hard-earned reputation.

To learn more about using online social media in your marketing efforts, see Nolo's article Increasing Traffic to Your Website.