The Washington Post

How social media can bring your small business into the spotlight

Every other week, On Small Business reaches out to a panel of young entrepreneurs for answers to some of the most pressing social media questions facing small business owners. The following responses are provided by members of the Young Entrepreneurs Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of young entrepreneurs.

Q: We know about Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest — but what lesser known social media sites should business owners consider adding to their arsenal?

(Jason Alden/BLOOMBERG)

Heidi Allstop, CEO and founder of Spill in San Francisco, Calif.:

HARO is a fantastic channel for finding free press opportunities. It’s essentially a network of reporters looking for people to interview specific populations (e.g. small business owners, women entrepreneurs, people who have used online dating websites, etc.). By responding to their requests, you can quickly become an ‘expert’ in your field and develop some great contacts for future press.

Note to the wise: You’re most likely to be featured if you respond immediately when the request is sent out with all of the content they need for the article, as they often get hundreds of responses. Create a few template responses that describe your business through different lenses (e.g. as a female founder, a student who started a business, etc.) so that you can quickly convey all of the relevant information in your response. That way you can have an intern manage the daily digests and seamlessly respond with your perspective. A tool like Yesware works great for managing these templates.

Saul Garlick, CEO of ThinkImpact in Washington, D.C.:

The big social media outlets are critical for outreach, but you need to enhance them with a blog. People want to connect personally to your work, and a blog is the best way to drive traffic in that way and to share your approach.

I’d also add some interesting photo and video sites: Chill is growing rapidly and is a great place to share video in a social environment. If you are at work or running a civil society group, you may want to get Chatter from Salesforce or Yammer to share ideas amongst your volunteers and team. This has been extremely valuable for our company.

For photo sharing, we have used Phanfare and Flickr. For career networking — identifying Millennial candidates, for example — you may want to look into Brazen Careerist as well.

Allie Siarto, partner and director of analytics of Loudpixel in East Lansing, Mich.:

The value of specific social sites is completely dependent on your niche and where your own audience is interacting. For example, a restaurant or food company may have a lot of luck interacting with blogs, video bloggers, Twitter, Pinterest and niche foodie sites, while a more technical company may find that forums drive the most interaction.

I always recommend that companies start out by setting up searches across all social channels (blogs, Twitter, forums, videos, photo sharing sites, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.) and listen first to find out where people are talking and what they are discussing. You can use free search tools like Social Mention, Boardreader, Google Blog Search and Blinkx to search; then, subscribe to the search feed in Google Reader to keep track over time. If you have the budget, you can subscribe to more sophisticated social search tools on a monthly basis.

If you spend time listening up front rather than trying to jump on ‘the next big social network’ every time, you’ll have a better chance of connecting with your audience over the long haul.

Follow The YEC and On Small Business on Twitter.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.



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