Today we are delighted to welcome Lisa Barone (@LisaBarone) to our SmallBizSat Q&A series with small business experts. Lisa is a leader in the search community and an expert in building online communities – she’s also an unabashed Twitter fiend!

For this Q&A series, Lisa talks about how businesses can use the internet to raise awareness and which online tools work best for brick-and-mortar companies versus service providers. Read on and enjoy! Also, make sure to come back and get the latest marketing scoop from our next guest.

Q. Do you feel supporting local businesses is important and why?

A. It’s absolutely important. In 2009, 110 million people from 59 different countries said they were in the process of starting a business, and in 2005 they admitted to contributing 9.9 billion hours of uncompensated time into launching it, according to BizSugar. Small business owners are the backbone of this country and it’s through them that we’re going to build a healthier economy.  You support creating jobs when you support entrepreneurship. I think that’s why it’s so important for entrepreneurs to USE the Web to their advantage. Take advantage of the business networking sites out there, use the free resources and the tools – because the first step in getting people to support local businesses is to let them know they’re out there and the choices they really have. The Internet is a great tool for that.

Q. How can a local retailer or service business use the internet to drive customers through their doors?

A. As a local retailer, your biggest battle is often just spreading awareness – letting people know you’re there, what you offer, and why you’re different. And that’s where the Internet really comes into play because it allows you to reach all of these people much more easily and without the hefty price tag associated with traditional marketing.

My first recommendation would be to start blogging. Study your customers to understand what they want from a blog in your niche. If you’re a local seamstress – is your audience more interested in DIY techniques and videos, the fabrics that are most kid resistant or what they should be wearing this Fall? Once you understand their interests, create content that addresses it. Content that will be of interest to them, while also solidifying your role as expert.

Create a Facebook page for your business and use Facebook’s amazing ad targeting to get your business’ name in front of potential customers in your area with a great offer. Ask your customers what other online communities they frequent and develop a presence there. You can’t just sit in your store and expect people to find you. You need to find them.

Q. If you were working with a local small business owner who’s in the service industry, like a lawyer, realtor, or electrician, what online tools would you recommend they use to help market and promote their business?

A. For service providers it’s really important to focus on online reviews. We know that social media has changed buying behavior. Users are going online to research service providers before they pick up the phone or walk into their storefront for more information. Managing your online reviews – both in terms of soliciting positive ones and responding to negative ones – is an important step in building trust with prospective customers.

Service providers also need to focus on their NAP – making sure their Name, Address and Phone number are consistent on all of their online listings. This helps the search engines associate your business all over the Web and build relevance.

Q. Is there a small business in your city that has done an interesting promotional campaign that’s noteworthy? 

A. How about my city itself? 😉 I live in Troy, NY and I’ve always been impressed with how well the city of Troy uses social media to promote itself, the local businesses that exist within it, and to keep residents up to date on important information. Troy Mayor Harry Tutunjian (@TroyMayor) is an active Twitterer and uses his account to build up the city and generate interest in local business and happenings. It’s pretty cool to live in a city where you can ask the Mayor a question on Twitter and get a quick response. It makes people proud to be Trojans – and as a SMB, that’s the feeling you want to inspire in your community. The Troy, NY Facebook page also helps spread positive information about the city and gives residents a place to go to talk about issues, share information about upcoming events, and serves as a watering hole. Outspoken Media – the company I co-founded in 2009 – has even worked with them to help develop a city-wide social media policy for employees.

Q. What’s your favorite social media tool that a small business should use to promote themselves?

A. It really depends on your business, your goals and your audience. One tool that I think is universally powerful is blogging. Blogging allows you to establish your expertise and a point of difference, it gives you something to constantly be sharing and talking about, and it gives your customers and your community a place to hangout. Hubspot found a few years ago that businesses who blog received 55 percent more visitors than sites who do not. I wouldn’t be surprised if that statistic is even higher now. Being found means first giving users something to find. Content through a blog is a great way to do that.

Lisa Barone is the Co-Founder and Chief Branding Officer of Outspoken Media, an Internet marketing company located in Troy, NY.  You can follow Lisa on Twitter @LisaBarone  or on Facebook.

You can also check out our previous interviews from our Small Business Saturday series to find out some of their useful and valuable marketing tips!