Helping SMBs Get The Social Media 411 - InformationWeek
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03:56 PM
Michele Warren
Michele Warren

Helping SMBs Get The Social Media 411

OK, you're a small business with a bricks-and-mortar shop. You've decided to embrace technology and see how far it takes you, so you've spent some cash on a sharp looking, user-friendly website and a hosting provider that'll manage it for you. You've even jumped on the social media bandwagon and started a Twitter account.

OK, you're a small business with a bricks-and-mortar shop. You've decided to embrace technology and see how far it takes you, so you've spent some cash on a sharp looking, user-friendly website and a hosting provider that'll manage it for you. You've even jumped on the social media bandwagon and started a Twitter account.But this social networking phenomenon has gotten so big so fast, and you feel as if you're missing something, as if there's more you could be doing to tap it. The truth of the matter is this: There are so many social media sites out there and so many online conversations taking place that it can definitely be a little overwhelming -- especially if you're an SMB trying to separate the wheat ("meaningful" social exchanges) from the chaff (not-so-meaningful social exchanges). Of course, "meaningful" is a relative term; in this context, a "meaningful" exchange is one that gives you ammunition to boost your bottom line or improve your business in some way.

The good news is that more and more companies are unveiling products and services aimed at helping SMBs tap, monitor, and manage social media. One example is Marchex, a Seattle-based search and performance advertising company whose Reputation Management offering, unveiled last October, allows small businesses to find out what's being said about them online.

In the Reputation Management Dashboard, users can see how many times they've been mentioned at particular sites, whether those mentions have been positive or negative, where their business is listed, and what kinds of reviews people are writing about their company -- and their competitors. SMBs can also use the product to have daily, weekly, or monthly alerts sent to their phones…for example, "Your competitor just got mentioned 10 times on Twitter for a promotion it's running," or "You just got slammed in a blog for poor customer service last night."

Marchex taps about 8,000 sources for info about your company, including Zagat, Yelp, Citysearch, Blogspot, LinkedIn, Flickr, Wordpress, and Twitter. "Our job is to be the eyes and ears of your business on the web," says Brooks McMahon, senior vice president and general manager of the Marchex small business marketing group. "Anytime anybody is saying something about you on the web, we can track it."

The company sells Reputation Management exclusively through its partner channel, including Dow Jones Local Media. Other small-business marketing channel partners include AT&T Interactive, NBC Local Media, Yellow Pages Group of Canada, and eNom.

Other companies with interesting offerings include BatchBlue and Zooloo. BatchBlue's BatchBook, billed as "social CRM," allows small-business owners to build comprehensive contact databases quickly and easily. Users can aggregate all of their contacts in one place -- in a sophisticated online address book -- and differentiate them by assigning different "tags" to different kinds of business associates. For a supplier, for example, a business owner might want to record what gets delivered and when; for a regular customer, a business owner may want to note a favorite product. All of this info gets built into the person's contact file.

Within each of those contact files, there's a green "Search Social Media" button. Clicking that button allows the user to see which social networks the contact participates in, plus some basic information from each. Let's say you own a restaurant/bar and you want to run a promo that appeals to your regulars. You can find out a little more about them through their BatchBook contact file. Maybe a bunch of them have been Tweeting about the Yankees and a few mention on Facebook that their favorite beer is Miller Lite. Now you've got some useful info that can help you put together a fun night at the bar for them.

"What we see as the opportunity in social media is to start new relationships and deepen the ones you already have," says Pamela O'Hara, president of BatchBlue Software, Providence, R.I. "You get a much deeper look at who your associates and customers are, and what you can do to keep them coming back." O'Hara says 80% of BatchBlue's clients are companies with 10 employees or fewer.

Then there's Zooloo, which offers small businesses a one-stop shop for creating an online presence and managing social media interactions. With centralized social management, users can update Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace at the same time and from one location. This is a great time-saver for busy small-biz owners who want to keep tabs on social media feeds and stay in the conversation without spending a lot of time online jumping from site to site.

ZooLoo also offers domain name registration, web site creation, a blogging platform (called Graffiti), SEO tools, privacy controls, site-traffic analysis tools, and a widgetboard (for bringing all their interests -- news feeds, photos, videos, calendars, social networks, local events, to-do lists, music, movies, and more -- onto one domain). What's more, small businesses can control the advertising that appears on their website by removing ads altogether or circulating ads of their own.

Now that you know you don't have to spend hours online to stay connected, monitor what people are saying about you, or collect useful information about prospects and clients, maybe the social networking arena seems a little less overwhelming? With a little help from technology tools, you can capitalize on the social media craze instead of avoiding it.

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