13 Social Platforms Your Small Business Should Consider Using

by Ken Mueller on January 17, 2012 · 44 comments

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route 13 13 Social Platforms Your Small Business Should Consider UsingYou know, every once in awhile it helps to go back to square one. Those of us who live in the social media bubble often talk so much about what is going on that we forget the basics and often feel that if we address the basics we aren’t doing anything new.

But the fact of the matter is, the primary audience for my blog consists of small businesses owners and operators, many of whom have still not made the full leap into the online social world. Additionally, some of my readers are social media and communications consultants, and like me, their job is to help businesses make that leap.

Quick caveat: when I say you should consider using these, I don’t just mean you should create an account or presence. I mean you should USE them. Properly. And don’t bite off more than you can chew. Each platform I list has it’s own culture, language, and set of best practices and unwritten rules. You’ll need to pay attention to those as you seek to engage.

So as a reminder for me, and a checklist for you, here’s a quick rundown of perhaps the most important Social Media platforms that you and your business should be using as you seek to maintain relevance in an increasingly digitized world.

1. Facebook – You’ll often hear me say that a business needs to choose wisely when determining which channels it will use online. Don’t just create an account because you can. Make sure the platform is one where your customers already hang out. Having said that, I think we’re at the point where Facebook is a no-brainer for every business. Trust me: in some way, your customers are on there. It’s that big. Your business should definitely consider a Facebook business page, but also remember that depending on your philosophy of things, your personal profile can also be very helpful. And Facebook’s groups are also great tools for businesses, especially to use for internal communication.

2. Twitter – Many ask me, “Should I be on Facebook OR Twitter?” This isn’t an either/or proposition. The two are very different platforms and I don’t see them as competing. But together, they are incredibly powerful. Some people believe that Twitter is easier, but I’m not in that camp. It might take more time to learn, and I believe it is the most personal of all the social platforms, but you can’t beat it for truly building relationships.

3. Google + – I’m still not fully convinced this platform is ready for your small business, but keep an eye on it. There are some great features on there, but the biggest drawback in my mind is: where are the people? While they are touting big numbers and growth, I’m not seeing it. The platform seems to be mostly a home for techies and early adopters, not John and Jane Customer. The general public doesn’t seem to be there, or if they are, they aren’t very active. But this is Google, and there is a good chance the platform will take off, at least for some sorts of businesses. Again, like Facebook, you should consider both a personal profile and a business page.

4. LinkedIn – This is a great platform, especially if you are in one of the more professional fields. You can connect with other like-minded folks as well as potential customers. Plus, you can create a company profile for your business. Another up-side of LinkedIn are the groups where you can gather and network with others in your field of interest.

5. YouTube – Video can be a very powerful tool for your blog or website, or even on other platforms like Facebook. Add to that the fact that YouTube is the second largest search engine (behind Google, as well as owned by Google), and you’ve got a compelling case for YouTube. But there are other video platforms as well, including Vimeo, which some people prefer. A branded YouTube channel can be a great addition to your online arsenal, especially if you commit to creating compelling instructional and informational videos.

6. Flickr – Flickr is to photos as YouTube is to video. If you are using photographs to promote your business, consider housing them at Flickr as a way of saving bandwidth and getting greater exposure. Another photo app that is showing more promise for businesses is Instagram, which integrates well with mobile picture taking. A branded page of photos will give you more ways of being found, and people not only love photos, but love seeing photos of themselves.

7. Foursquare – There are a number of geolocation gaming sites, Foursquare is the most popular. Registering your business on Foursquare, and then offering badges or special deals, can be a compelling way of inducing people to check-in when they visit. Or, if the special deal is good enough, it may even give people a reason to visit your business in the first place. People love games. People love competition. People love special deals or freebies. And remember, your customers might already have created a Foursquare account for you by checking in. You just need to claim the account and optimize it with your information.

8. Google Places – Again, this account might already exist, but you need to claim and optimize it. Bing, Yahoo!, and other search engines have similar platforms. It’s just one more way of getting found in search results, with information that you control and provide. You can even attach a coupon or deal. Plus you can encourage your customers to write online reviews on the platform.

9. Yelp – This is probably the largest and most popular of the online review sites. Even if you haven’t created an account, your customers might be reviewing your business on Yelp or other review sites. Either way, you need to control the account by claiming it and making sure all of the info is correct. The downside? People might write bad reviews of your business. The upside? If you’re doing your job well and offering great products and customer service, you’re more likely to get good reviews, and the good will eventually outweigh the bad.

10. Pinterest – This is one of the newer and more unique platforms that seems to have some legs, and the possibilities are rather exciting. While it tends to be heavy on the female demographic, there are a number of ways you can use it for your business. One of the phrases I keep hearing from people as they talk about Pinterest is, “I’m addicted!” For a business, that’s a good sign and is an indication that if you’re creative in your thinking, you might do well on this platform. I’m starting see some businesses creating some interesting Pinterest accounts, as well as integrating the platform on their site. Gini Dietrich recently had a good overview of Pinterest over on her blog.

11. A blog – Some don’t consider a blog to be a “social” platform, but that is changing. With plugins like Livefyre, many blogs now have a much deeper community sort of feel. I believe that a blog is quite possibly the most important thing any business can be doing, particularly in terms of getting found and search engine optimization. And, as always, my preference is a solid, self-hosted WordPress blog residing on your website.

12. StumbleUpon – I would suggest you use this site, along with other social sharing and bookmarking sites like Digg, Delicious, and Reddit, in order to mine for ideas. If you’re struggling with content for your blog or Facebook page, or even need fresh ideas for your business, just a few minutes “stumbling” through what others are posting there, and you’re sure to come up with something. Plus, you can put your own content on these sites to draw more people to your website and blog.

13. Video chat – I’m a visual kinda guy, and I much prefer seeing those with whom I’m speaking. Skype and Google + Hangouts are the two top platforms here, though you can also stream live video via UStream. Many of us conduct a portion of our business via email or phone calls. If you can add a video component to that, particularly in meetings with vendors or customers, it makes it more personal and builds the relationship better. You might even have a set time each day or week where you let your customers know you’ll be available in a Google Hangout to answer their questions, or just chat, via video.

If you need some other ideas for platforms and apps, check out Shonali’s post The 15 Top iPhone Apps for Work or Play.

What platforms have you found most useful or important for your business? Have I missed any?

 

 13 Social Platforms Your Small Business Should Consider Using
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40 comments
jenniferA86
jenniferA86

@mdbarber @kmueller62 Thanks! I emailed to my daughter who will begin work in June, one job duty, get horse biz connected w/social media!

Anthony_Rodriguez
Anthony_Rodriguez

I'm with you on Google+ Ken. The people and the conversation are not there yet. Sure there are supposedly 50 million people there but I don't think they're doing more than dabbling. But I do see value in at least exploring it because there are plenty of people who feel violated by Facebook and want nothing to do with them. Can a business really afford not to reach out to potential clients where they want to interact because it's not the most popular place to be?

LizJostes
LizJostes

Thanks so much for the link love for Eli Rose! We appreciate it.

Shonali
Shonali

Thanks for the link love, Ken! @ShakirahDawud StumbleUpon can be TERRIFIC - but I think one has to become a regular user first. Isn't that the story everywhere, though?

Like @ginidietrich says, Google+ is something all of us need to get our heads around (myself included, because I don't find myself instinctively liking it). It will be interesting to see how their new search function develops, since it already has a lot of criticism, but from what I can tell, after the failure of Buzz and Wave, Google is putting everything it has behind G+. IMHO it's not going away any time soon.

For businesses that can share a lot of photos, I'd suggest Instagram and Tumblr. Both have grown rapidly, and you can develop communities pretty quickly on both those platforms.

ShakirahDawud
ShakirahDawud

I've also read StumbleUpon is a great source of traffic, used properly. I'm trying to get the time to try it. In the meantime, 13? I'm only using 3 not counting StumbleUpon... I also wanted to try putting something together for Slideshare. The demographic there is right in my target market range.

WordsMatterESW
WordsMatterESW

I've put off a Google+ business page because I've been pushing the personal brand, more than the business brand, but that is changing, a bit, as I move deeper into 2012...I'll be interested to see what the differences are, and if there are real benefits with G+. My personal G+ page has been...okay. But, I'm not spending a ton of energy over there, either...

jeremycwalter
jeremycwalter

Here's one vote for people not using Google +. I think it will soon go the way of Orkut (buried) and Google Buzz (which I think is still on life support). Google can't seem to get the hang of the social media platforms, which is weird as they're so good in everything else.

My (very much so non-expert) opinion on the explanation of Google+'s growth is how simple it is to sign up for those of us with Google accounts. I kept getting these annoying notifications that people are following (is that the right term?) me, and after the 100th notification (that may be an exaggeration), I signed up. Now I log in maybe once a month - and see that there is just about zero activity going on.

That said, the +1 and G+ (which I don't know anything about) are interesting ... and with Google being pretty much the only relevant search engine, I would have to think those +'s would eventually add up to significance (yes, pun intended).

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

I know you're not convinced about Google+ for business, but we've seen significant traffic increases from using it. We don't use it as a social network, we use it as a search tool. And it takes all of about one second a day to use it, once the +1 button is installed on your sites. I really recommend companies test it out for search, alone. And, now with the announcement last week of the changes in search, G+ and the +1 button are becoming even more important.

LizJostes
LizJostes

@kmueller62 You're welcome! I really identified with so much of what you wrote and why you suggested the platforms you did.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Anthony_Rodriguez And while plenty of people feel violated by Facebook, I would say the privacy there is no different than Google+. Remember, the goal of Google+ is indexing and search. And the fact is, our customers are on Facebook. People are using it. We need to be there.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Shonali@ShakirahDawud@ginidietrich People love photos. Most FB pages I examine, they get the most engagement when they post photos. It's so easy and a no brainer, and if you post the photos elsewhere, whether it be Instagram, Flickr, or whatever, and then pull it to FB, you get so much mileage.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@ShakirahDawud StumbleUpon can be a good source of traffic, depending on how you use it.

And Slideshare is another great one I forgot. Perfect for sharing presentations!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@WordsMatterESW I think you're experience is like a lot of folks. There doesn't seem to be anything to make us really wanna spend time there. It's rather utilitarian. On FB or Twitter we can do a lot of different things all at once.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@jeremycwalter That's the thing that Google has going for them: they're Google. And if anything helps with search, then we need to take a look at it. But I think you're right. I think there are a lot of non-used accounts over there.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@ginidietrich I guess what annoys me is that I feel it's becoming more like a StumbleUpon or Digg, where you just post stuff and move on. I'm not seeing a lot of conversation there, particularly on business pages. But you post there because, well, it helps with search. I think the +1button alone could have done that.'

But thanks to you, I"m starting to explore some interesting business applications for Pinterest!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@jasonkonopinski@ginidietrich But the fact is, if you look at their marketing, and particularly their commercials, they position themselves as more social than FB and others. And there they fall flat. I get traffic from it, but it doesn't function they way they say it does.

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