In the past, some small businesses felt left out of the loop when it came to online marketing. They could put up a Web site to have a presence, but when it came to competing with the likes of the Targets, Walmarts, and Amazons of the world who have the marketing budgets bigger than the GDP of some small third world countries, there wasn't much they could do.
The local sections of Google, Yahoo, and Bing all started to build out a few years ago. Initially, it was just a listing next to the maps that were displayed. This was a pretty important step for many of these small local businesses.
Google then added the ability for these businesses listed in their local section to add coupons. Google really stepped up within the last two years, adding features and integrating social media components to the local listings section of its search.
Microsoft's Mel Carson recently tweeted about what Microsoft expects to integrate into their maps. What Carson has on his blog about Bing's maps is beta; however, if all of this and more gets integrated, it will be more important than ever for small businesses to become active in social media in some aspect.
Google Local & Maps Get Social
Some of you may know that I love karaoke, if you didn't, well you do now. I don't hesitate to belt out a Carrie Underwood or Journey song when the weekend rolls around. When I'm away from home and have a free night, I'm looking for a place that has karaoke.
Karaoke businesses tend to be local small businesses, and for many of these business owners it's a hobby as well as a job. This type of business tends to have a limited marketing budgets, so what can they do?
Use social media!
From fan pages to photos and videos, the people who come and sing karaoke tend to be passionate about it and love to share it with their friends. Create video-sharing accounts, photo-sharing accounts, a fan page on Facebook, an account on MySpace, and have a blog you update regularly.
This doesn't just work for karaoke. It can work for just about any small business. Just like the big businesses, you still need to understand your audience (e.g., a local plumber doesn't need a Facebook fan page, but videos of them doing home repairs is perfect!).
Look at this local listing for Karaoke in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. (Disclaimer: Flash Entertainment are friends of mine and I helped them initially set up, but now they're doing this all on their own.)
Both their local listing and their blog are in the top spots in the Google search engine results. Further down, we see videos from that same company in thumbnail form displayed and a listing from the company's MySpace page for a video from the same company.
If you click into the map at the top of the page, which is generally what most searches will do, you find a detailed listing from that karaoke company.
When you click around the listing for these karaoke DJs in Pottstown, you find photos and videos have been uploaded to their profile and the videos take you right to their page on YouTube.
Bing Maps Incorporating Wikipedia, YouTube Videos & More!
I was curious as to what would come up in the new Bing maps that Carson wrote about. First, I searched on just "Pottstown, PA" and in the more information section, not only are their links to numerous Wikipedia articles about Pottstown, but one of Flash Entertainment's videos from MySpace is actually listed.
But what really caught my eye was a video from YouTube. Yes, Bing's showing YouTube videos. How's that for irony?
So what will happen in the future? Well, think about the merging of Yahoo and Bing search. Bing will likely gain access to Flickr and start incorporating photos from that site into its listings. If Bing incorporates Wikipedia and YouTube, I have a sneaky suspicion that Flickr, Delicious, Yahoo Travel, Upcoming, Facebook and MySpace won't be far behind either.
Small Businesses & Social Media are the Perfect Fit
Small businesses have some huge advantages in social media over the Walmarts of the world. Businesses like this karaoke company example are nimble enough to go out, shoot video, and turn it out the next day to their YouTube channel. They also have a much easier time personally connecting with their audience because, more likely than not, they know the majority of them personally.
Those personal connections make it much easier to build your communities in social media sites like Facebook and MySpace. People readily become your fan, recommend you to other local friends, and tag and submit their own photos that help promote your local business.