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The best advertising money cant buy


Used to be a diligent small business owner with a great idea and plenty of gumption could grow a business through word of mouth alone. In many ways, that’s still true.  Yet today, much of the “word of mouth” conversations and recommendations, which can make or break a business, are happening online, not face to face.

Small business owners still recognize the value of word of mouth–63 percent say it remains the most effective way to market their business and find new customers, according to a recent survey by Citibank. Yet that same survey found that 81 percent of small business owners do not use social media, word of mouth in the technology-driven world.

“Many small businesses have yet to really harness the marketing and communication power that online tools can provide them,” says Raj Seshadri, head of small business banking at Citibank.

“Our survey  of 552 small business executives throughout the country reveals a huge opportunity for many businesses to begin using some of the basic online tools, such as e-mail marketing, to drive their sales.”

Moreover, business owners should utilize a variety of social media and online platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, their web site’s homepage and even blogs, experts say. Profiles on multiple networks expand your business’ reach and help engage current and potential customers.

Studies show that after a purchase, online shoppers “friend” or follow businesses more than 50 percent of the time. Reasons include an affinity for the business, allegiance to a company, and the opportunity to receive invitations to special events and/or exclusive offers and promotions through social media.

Here are some tips for using some of the top social media options to help grow your small business.

Blog about it
Short for “weblog,” a blog allows you to speak directly to customers and establish yourself as an expert in your industry. You can use your blog as the main source for information about your business, to feature customer testimonials, answer frequently asked questions, or even to resolve problems. Blog posts are usually short and pithy–you don’t have to write the great American novel for each post. Just make each interesting, useful and brief.

Facebook is your “friend”
Facebook is the largest social network, with more than 450 million users around the world, and another 100 million logging on from mobile devices. Create your free Facebook account and begin inviting customers (through direct e-mail, signs posted in your store and other communications) to “friend” your page. Use it to interact with your community of customers, offering them specials and deals. You can also share customer reviews online, feature a “customer of the month” and even chat directly with customers during scheduled chat times.

You should know YouTube
Smart companies use this online video library to distribute news of their products and services to a broad community. Create a quick video that spotlights what’s special about your product or service, new products or to highlight your product in the context of current events.

The buzz about Twitter
Twitter accounts are also free. More than 105 million users  post in excess of 50 million “tweets” daily–short posts about current events or what’s going on in their lives at that moment. Use Twitter to relay stories of positive customer experiences, mentions of your company in other media, product announcements and updates, links and photos from your blog, or even to directly thank a specific customer in a public way.

Linking up with LinkedIn
Think of LinkedIn as the professional version of Facebook. The networking site allows you to post information about your qualifications, your work experience and your business, and to connect with other professionals.