As a local business, you rely on local advertising and customer service to make sure that you have a good reputation in the area that you serve, but what about online? On the Internet, there is no local service area and businesses all over the world are competing for the same search results. In many ways, while the Internet has become an established arena, it is still like the Old West as you need to claim your space on new social networks and platforms as they appear and grow.
Buy Your Domain Name
The first and most important step is to choose and purchase a domain name for your business. Your domain name is your address on the Internet and the nice thing is that you get to choose it. The problem is that you need to choose your domain as soon as you decide on a name for your business, while it is still available. If the domain name you want is not available, you might want to study our best practices for choosing a domain name.
Build Your Website
The next most important thing to do is to actually build your website. It doesn’t have to be extremely expensive, as there are free and low-cost options if you want to build your website yourself. Many people start with a Facebook page instead of a website because it seems to be easier and that’s where most of their customers hang out, anyway. The problem with this is that Facebook owns the content on your Facebook page and can do whatever they choose with that content. It’s better to create your content in a place where you will always have access to it and make sure that YOU control YOUR website. Content you create on other properties could be removed at any time for any reason, so make sure you create your website as the hub for your online presence and everything else should connect back to it.
Claim Your Name on Social Media
Once you’ve created your website, the next step is to create an account using your business name on the major social media networks, as well as other up and coming networks that are gaining traction. In the profile section of each one of these accounts, make sure you provide a link back to your website, using your business name.
- Facebook – Facebook is the largest social media network with 1.11 billion monthly active users and 665 million daily active users. You need to create a business Facebook page to make sure you can be found where your customers are. You should also customize your Facebook URL to include your business name, add your business name with a link to your website in your bio, and make sure that public search is enabled for your account.
- Twitter – Twitter is #everywhere, as you see Twitter #hashtags all over the place. You need to create a Twitter account for your business and claim the closest thing to your business name (you have up to 15 characters). While you don’t have to tweet regularly, you need to monitor your Twitter account and respond to messages, as Twitter is increasingly being used for customer service requests. Make sure that you list the complete name of your business and link back to your website in your profile. Also, while Twitter started the whole #hashtag thing, hashtags are also popular on Instagram, Google+, Facebook and even Pinterest.
- LinkedIn – LinkedIn is the social network of business and your business should be linked in, as well. You need to create a page for your business so that your customers can follow your business and your employees can identify themselves as part of your company. Once again, make sure that you link back to your corporate website in your company profile.
- Google+ – Google+ is the social part of Google’s many applications. Creating your Google+ account and your Google+ Local Page for Business, will help people find you in Google and adding a link to your website is a basic step for making sure your website is found in Google.
- Foursquare – Foursquare is a location-based discovery app that allows members to find and virtually check in to businesses. Foursquare allows you to update or create a listing for your business and provides data on customers that are checking in to your business. They also offer the ability to create special offers for customers checking in to your business. If you have a retail location where customers come in person, you can create a Foursquare listing.
Besides these five major social networks, here are others where you should at least claim your name. Depending on your business type, you may want to actively participate in some of these networks, as they may appeal more to your clients. Always make sure to include your entire business name and a link to your company website in your profile.
- YouTube - YouTube is a video sharing site that has been around since 2005 and is now owned by Google. Creating your YouTube channel will help your video content appear in search results.
- Instagram – Instagram is a photo sharing social network that was recently bought by Facebook. It now allows you to share video in addition to images. This is a great place to share pictures and videos of your place of business, as well as specific products and services that you offer.
- Pinterest – Pinterest is a photo bookmarking (pinning) site that allows you to bookmark images that you find on the Internet. You should create an account and pin items that might be of interest to your customers. You should also have helpful images on your website that visitors can pin to their accounts.
- Quora – Quora is a question site, much like Yahoo! Answers, that allows you to ask and answer questions in a social environment. Quora, however, allows you to build a following in your area of expertise and create a profile with a link to your website.
- Blogging sites – While you don’t need to create blogs on all of these sites, creating an account will help you claim your name so that someone else doesn’t start using your business name for a blog. Blogging sites where you should claim your account include Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, Vizify, Weebly, and Squidoo.
- Other Photo/Video Sharing Networks – Other photo and videos sharing sites include Flickr, Vine (mobile only), Daily Motion, Vimeo and SlideShare.
- Other Bookmarking/Sharing Networks – Other bookmarking and sharing networks include StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit, Delicious, and Buffer. A word of warning, some social sharing/bookmarking networks are communities that you need to learn to interact with before you start posting marketing messages. There can be serious repercussions when an online community feels that someone is spamming them.