What social media tools are early adopters raving about so far in 2010? Foursquare is a mobile app that allows you to check-in with your friends when you arrive at a certain location. Blippy is an online tool that tracks your purchases and shares them with your personal network. Layar is an augmented reality (AR) browser that makes it easy to create AR experiences for handheld devices.
However, you can forget you ever heard of any of these services because if you’re a small business kicking off your online marketing strategy, there are five tools that will get you pointed in the right direction. While these tools aren’t all you need forever, they are all you need right now to build your business’ basic social infrastructure online. Think of them like the frame of a new house: they provide the initial shape and security so that you can easily build on top of them.
NameChk. Early in 2009, Nielson Online released a report stating that social networking was, for the first time ever, more popular than email. According to the study, almost 67 percent of web users accessed online communities in 2009 compared to 65 percent of web users who accessed email. Since this milestone, companies have launched even more social networking websites. Step one is to choose a username on these websites. At NameChk.com, you can find out what names are available. This is a quick way to secure your company’s presence on the top social media sites, even if you’re not ready to use all of them just yet.
Twitter. Twitter, which allows users to share 140-character messages online, was the social media darling of 2009. This year, one of the web’s most popular tools continues to be a must for any small business. When signing up on Twitter.com, make sure you do a few things to ensure your success. Customize your Twitter background with your company’s brand. Commit to tweeting, which is the verb used to describe sending messages on Twitter, at least a couple of times a day. Subscribe, or in Twitter’s terms “follow,” your existing customers and any potential customers.
bit.ly. In August 2009, eMarketer.com reported that only 16 percent of professionals engaging in social media measured the return on investment of their social media programs. As soon as you launch any online marketing initiatives, use a tool like bit.ly to track your link traffic. Although bit.ly is most often used on Twitter to shorten long domain names, these same shortened names can be distributed on other social media websites. With bit.ly, you can track your traffic based on time and date clicked, and geographic location. Keep a tally of these stats in a spreadsheet, where you should also record community involvement and visits on your other online sites.
Wordpress. The first blog appeared online in the late 1990s—making blogging one of the oldest social tools on the web. Although it’s an oldie, a blog is still a critical part of your social media strategy. Think of your blog like a jumping-off point for all of your digital marketing. Wordpress is a content management platform that makes blog publishing easy. Unless you have someone in-house to set up your Wordpress blog, you’ll want to choose the hosted solution at Wordpress.com since it doesn’t require any manual setup. (Although I’m focusing on Wordpress as a blogging tool, it is also an excellent platform for your entire website).
Facebook. With 350 million users worldwide and 1.6 million active “pages” on Facebook, this social media tool is a must. Sign up for a free Page, which will make it easy for your small business to share a public profile with the world. Unlike a personal account, a Facebook page doesn’t require as much maintenance. For example, you don’t need to accept friends (or fans) on a Page—it happens automatically.
Once you start to use these tools, assign someone within your organization to act as the community manager (if you’re a one-man or one-woman business, this manager will be you!). This person will control your online voice. With all social media sites, you get back from them what you put into them. In other words, it’s critical to start, follow, and take part in ongoing conversations. Finally, track your successes and take small steps to grow your social media presence as required.
Amber MacArthur is a social media consultant, speaker, and author of Power Friending: Demystifying Social Media to Build Your Business (June 10, 2010 release).