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Top Social Tools to Attract Local Shoppers

Find out how to best use social media to increase your customer base.
Forbes Contributor: Makers, Inventors, Small Business, Forbes
November 22, 2012

Getting customers in the door and buying your products is an ongoing quest for small-business owners. In the era of online stores and big box giants, the tasks seems onerous, but take heart, consumers want to purchase from local business owners. (Learn more about shopping local at SmallBusinessSaturday.com.) Here are a few of my favorite tools to help you get customers through the door and shopping at your store.

Engage Your Customers

My favorite app and service for creating social buzz and engagement is Fanminder. They have a free level of service that beats most paid premium levels. You can create a special Facebook page, a mobile offer via text, Twitter or status update. You only pay when you go over 200 e-mail addresses or 100 mobile phones. 

Tabsite is another powerful multi-platform app that helps you engage customers by using your Facebook Fan page. You can leverage Instagram, Pinterest, and more with this tool. If you want to upgrade from the free plan, basic pricing starts at $10/month.

Pagemodo caught my eye because you can create a custom Facebook tab, but also a cool Facebook Timeline Cover Photo, which will make a great impression. They have a forever-free plan; upgraded pricing tiers start at $6.25 per month.

TalkTo is a brilliant new app that lets you respond to customers who text your store for more information. The app can be used in many ways—to check in-store product availability or pricing, get a taxi, make reservations or order food, and even book appointments, all without making phone calls. I hope they create an automated response option soon.

Finally, make sure your website is mobile-friendly. It's easier to do than you think. Check out bMobilized, which is a new entrant in this space, which is getting a lot of well-deserved buzz. Plans start at $9/month. 

Create Your Own QR Code

Many consumers have smartphones and that means a digital phone camera functions as a mobile scanner. QR Codes are those square little barcode-like images that consumers scan with a smartphone to receive information. You can make your own special offer and embed it in one of those codes, for free.

Build your own for free with QR Code Generator from the ZXing Project. I really like that you can embed additional details into your scannable code with this simple web app.

There is no analytics or tracking option with ZXing, so if you need that, check out Kaywa QR Code Manager. Paid plans start at $15/month. Or go to QRstuff.com for more apps and ideas.

Give Out Coupons

Consumers love coupons and special deals. QR codes are useful if they see your offer in an e-mail or on your front door, but you may also want to use a service like Yelp, FourSquare or RetailMeNot to offer a coupon directly to your customer online as they search for deals via computer or smartphone.

If you don’t already have an account with these web services and mobile apps, sign up now. You may find you’ve already been reviewed and have a five star rating.

RetailMeNot, for example, with its mobile phone app will deliver a coupon to consumers who are physically near your store. The app will launch with hundreds of stores, including your competitors, on Black Friday.

You can make coupon-based offers via Google Places, too. You have to claim your listing, of course, but after that they have a limited free trial where you can present an offer to nearby customers.  You can leverage their pay-per-click platform to put ads in front of consumers searching while shopping.

Zoomingo is a new service that leverages the power of Pinterest. Your customer can get sales alerts based on their favorite Pinterest pins. If you are using this new social network, you’ll want to check out Zoomingo. When you click on an item, it shows you a local store that offers it.

Run Contests

Like the business card fishbowl you often see, the goal in almost any contest is to capture more names and contact information for future promotions. E-mail addresses and cell phone numbers trump physical postal addresses, so keep your forms simple and gather the information you know you’ll use again. Fanminder, mentioned above, can help with a contest that turns online shoppers, via Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail, into real-world customers.

You can offer a discount or a prize giveaway drawing to get people in your store. There is no shortage of creative ideas in this arena. You could offer a free product every hour or something really expensive at the end of the day. Practical Ecommerce offers some great ideas in 3 Examples of Contest Marketing. My favorite is receiving a bonus entry by signing up for a text messaging list.

Don’t forgetNovember 24th is Small Business Saturday—a day dedicated to supporting small businesses nationwide. Learn more at SmallBusinessSaturday.com. 

Read more Small Business Saturday articles for additional tips and advice.

Photo: Thinkstock 

Forbes Contributor: Makers, Inventors, Small Business, Forbes