Social media has the ability to touch people around the world, but a small business's best customers often may be right around the corner. Knowing how to tap into the local side of social media is key to its usefulness as a promotional tool. Plus, small businesses have a size advantage; they don't have to deal with as many customers as a large one. This gives them the opportunity to make personal connections with customers, which fits in very nicely with social media.
Try some of the following ideas to take advantage of social media to more effectively reach your local customers.
Choose Local Social Sites
Right now there's a lot of hype surrounding the royal three, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, but they don't necessarily focus on a local audience. You can change that up by joining geographically targeted groups on those sites or create one of your own. Be aware though that these sites have bigger audiences in certain areas of the country. For geographic data on many social sites, visit a service like Quantcast. There are also niche sites designed for local audiences. They may not be strictly social, but they often have social tools, like discussion boards, Q&A's and blogs where you can participate. Look for local online magazines, government sites and Chambers of Commerce.
Many websites are designed for a broad audience; yet there are those that allow the visitor to select by city or neighborhood, like the review site Yelp. Online newspapers, like Seattle's KOMO, are going local with news reports for neighborhoods, like Columbia City, Green Lake and Ballard. There are also hyperlocal sites like Everyblock and Outside.in. Also remember that neighborhoods have distinct personalities. Make a real connection with the people there by talking about their concerns and interests.
Online Yellow Pages
Even Yellow Pages are getting into the act. Kudzu is a good example, combining a directory with shared advice, discounts and reviews. There's also Localndex with a mobile version. The beauty of Yellow Pages, and other locally targeted niche sites, is that they attract an audience looking for something in particular, which means they have the mindset of a buyer rather than a browser.
When writing about your business for directories or commenting on social sites, use geographically and culturally relevant words. Use the actual city and neighborhood names and the more familiar terms and nicknames, as well. These will help people locate products and services in their area. It will also help to distinguish you from other regional or national companies. When you can't build these words in, add them as tags. Add your zip code as a tag, too.
Social Tells a Story
Data at the micro-level isn't always easy to come by without custom research, but reading posts and comments on local social sites may yield valuable insights about customers. People will also say things on social sites they may not feel comfortable saying to your face; that honesty can be especially useful for improving or coming up with new products and services.
Go the Distance
When it comes to using social media for local marketing, it's up to you to be where they're looking. Always take into account how people find information. Residents and commuters will read local blogs or the newspaper, or simply notice a sign on the street. Destination seekers may research a new restaurant at a review site. For personal services, like a haircut, people may ask for advice from their online social network. Visitors from out of town will discover the new and unusual in a travel guide like TripAdvisor.