Leveling the Playing Field
Small businesses have a rare opportunity right now to play on the same field as the big names, thanks to social media, says Sree Sreenivasan (, digital media professor at Columbia Journalism School and CNET tech columnist. Sreenivasan says you should use each social media site for a specific purpose:

• Think of Twitter as a rapid-response customer service channel. It gives you a heads-up when things are going wrong. While we all worry about customers saying bad things about our companies, says Sreenivasan, Twitter gives customers a way to say nice things, which you can capture and share as necessary.

• Consider Facebook a mechanism for getting the word out about what you are doing, including new products, features, and services. The average user has 130 friends, and you can use that multiplier effect to connect with new and different customers.

• Look at LinkedIn as more than just a job-hunting tool. It’s also a terrific place to generate leads and to learn about new developments and ideas, says Sreenivasan, who singles out the Answers section of LinkedIn as a good starting point for companies looking to connect with the social media site’s online community.

Zero-Cost Advertising
Using social media as a zero-cost marketing machine has become a popular activity for the nation’s small businesses. According to a recent Zoomerang survey of 1,180 businesses, 49% of small and medium-sized firms use social media for marketing, with Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter as the most popular options. More than half of the respondents reported that they spent $100 or less to market themselves on social media. “No company or industry has figured out social media perfectly yet; it’s early in the game,” says Sreenivasan. “We’re where the Web was in 1996. We’re all learning together and that gives smaller, more nimble companies a shot at getting ahead of the curve.”

Black Tie Catering in Atlanta hasn’t spent a dime on advertising since opening its doors in 2009. An off-premises, full-service catering company, with clients including Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch, and the City of Atlanta, the company posted $500,000 in revenues last year. Two-thirds of those sales are directly connected to the firm’s presence on Facebook and Twitter, says Spencer Humphrey, co-owner.

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