With marketing having fundamentally changed over the past several years, it is becoming increasingly important to have an online presence. And this is a great thing for those of us who aspire to operate as solo entrepreneurs or very small companies. Now, your voice can be heard loudly and clearly by more people than ever before. It has become so much easier and cheaper to get in front of new customers and prospects that a physical store is now an option, rather than a must.
As a result, if you are not taking part in the following communities, it’s officially time to start thinking about it. Your upside depends on it.
NOTE: to get a better view of the below screenshots, you can click them to see a full-screen version of each image.
1. Twitter - I must admit it; I’ve become a verified Twitter addict (as if you couldn’t tell by my weekly Twitter digest on here). After having been part of various social media services over the past 10+ years, I really didn’t get the power of Twitter on first glance. But boy do I now. If you can’t afford or won’t pay for PR, then you absolutely need to get on Twitter and start engaging with folks. All it takes is your time and effort.
2. LinkedIn – This is the premier business-to-business networking site, and it’s not just an online resume like some have accused it of being. Don’t just set up a profile on there and forget it. Connect with other professionals in your field and your locale. Join some groups and contribute to the overall discussion of the groups. [This is also a great place to promote your own blog or news.] Spend a little time answering questions when you can. You can even connect your LinkedIn account to several applications and social media sites/profiles now. I have personally made important business and personal contacts on LinkedIn, so consider me a believer in their model.
3. Yelp – Holding true to the idea of word-of-mouth, this site lists local businesses and allows patrons to submit ratings and reviews of the businesses. This is particularly useful for retail, restaurant, or other similar standalone operations. Yelp is a great way to reach tourists who are visiting your city, but just be sure you are good enough to garner positive ratings on the site. The risk is that poor ratings are available to everyone as well. Go test it out as a user first to see how your competitors show up [ and to see if you've made it in there in spite of yourself]. Look for your favorite restaurant as another example. If you see it will offer value for what you do, get on it stat.
4. PitchEngine – A trusted colleague of mine turned me on to PitchEngine over a year ago, and I’m a bonafide fan of their model. The offer a “social media press release” service for free, which is syndicated to Google via an RSS feed after the releases go live. You can also embed images and multimedia files in the releases. I’ve used the service multiple times for various employers and clients, and have gotten better coverage than with paid releases!! But of course there is one catch: PitchEngine will only archive releases for 30 days on the free plan. You can pay a monthly fee to have them store indefinitely. Just do what you can afford and what is right for your business, and you can save hundreds of dollars vs. using a PR service. [Update as of December 2011 - Pitchengine has removed the expiration on free releases per their founder, Jason Kintzlervia Twitter: "Was just sharing your post that included PitchEngine (from January) Wanted to let you know, we've updated and pitches no longer expire! ;)"]
5. YouTube – Video isn’t just for media and television companies any more; everyone is doing it now. There are so many benefits to using multimedia like video to market yourself, from SEO to backlinks from YouTube to engaging a more visually-cognitive audience. Be sure you tag all videos with keywords you want to rank high in when posting to YouTube. I also recommend you post another copy of the same video on your web server, embedded into the home page or another location on your website. That way, you get the SEO benefit from backlinking from YouTube and you also get a shot at ranking highly on your own right. Video is most certainly on my to-do list for new features to add on Return On Now, and it really should be for your business as well.
What other social media services do you see as must-haves for small businesses and entrepreneurs? Catch me up on any great ones that I’m missing here!