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How Small Businesses Can Use Social Media

Once upon a time, the companies with the biggest budgets and marketing departments captured the most attention. They used their superior resources to win the battle for audience “mind share.”

But that was then, and this is now. In today’s business world,  we have a variety of new communication tools that have made traditional media all but obsolete. These tools level the playing field between small businesses and their larger competitors. Social media marketing is a good example. Small businesses can (and should) use social-networking websites to compete with, and even surpass, their larger competitors.

The biggest benefit of using social media is that it removes the barrier between you and your audience. Most of the traditional marketing techniques have a “gatekeeper” of some kind. For instance, a press release must be approved by an editor before it can be published. Direct mail requires you to build or purchase a list. Magazine and television ads typically come with a price tag that most small businesses cannot afford. These are the barriers and gatekeepers that have kept small business owners on the sidelines for decades.

But it’s a brave new world. With a small budget and a lot of effort, the modern small business owner can outperform larger competitors online.

It costs you nothing to set up a Facebook page for your business – or a LinkedIn profile, a Twitter account, a YouTube channel, etc. It costs nothing to connect with others who share the same passions as you, particularly those who are interested in your products and services. And it costs nothing to engage these individuals in a proactive way.

So what do you get for all of these no-cost social networking strategies? You get to build a community of like-minded individuals who are interested in what your company offers. You get to share your relevant news and information with an ever-growing audience of prospective customers. And you can’t put a price tag on that.

Visit one of the big job-search websites and do a search for “social media.” You’ll see that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of social media job postings online. There’s a good reason for this. Social networking has become one of the most effective tools for online marketing and brand development.

But you don’t have to hire a social media manager to grow your online presence. You can do most of it for yourself. While they do offer paid advertising, most of the big social-networking websites are 100% free to use. You can link your social media accounts to your company’s website, and vice versa. You can promote your most valuable and useful website content through your social media channels. And best of all, your fans and followers can also share your content with their own fans and followers.

Quick story. I once had a client who was a real estate agent in the Austin, Texas area. He had a small budget but wanted big results. (Don’t we all?) The first thing I did was get him set up with social media accounts on all of the big networks. We then developed a blogging plan built around his core services. Over time, he was able to build up a significant group of fans and followers through these networks. Every time he published a new blog post, he would share it through his social network. This produced a large amount of recurring website traffic that he didn’t have before. Suddenly, he was competing with the major real estate franchises in his market, in terms of website traffic and exposure.

This is just one example of how a small business can use social media marketing to level the playing field. But we have only scratched the surface. There is no end to the possibilities when using social networking tools. And you certainly can’t beat the price!

Brandon Cornett is a veteran of Internet marketing. He has been helping small businesses catch up with their larger competitors for nearly ten years. He operates an online marketing and SEO firm (SonomaVille) in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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