We hope you are enjoying our SmallBizSat Q&A series, and have picked up some helpful tips from our social media friends on how to better prepare your business for the Small Business Saturday event for the holiday season and beyond!

For our next guest, we are fortunate to feature the fabulous Mari Smith (@MariSmith), a social media leader and respected and much followed commentator. Mari cites a slew of new media tools you can add to your communications arsenal that help potential customers find your business. When competition is as fierce as it is today, visibility is a key point in getting new customers through your doors!

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

A. Absolutely. Often local businesses are so focused on their in-person clientele, they ignore or overlook their online presence. Depending on the demographics of the onsite visitors and customers, there is bound to be a good percentage of them who have active social profiles. Anytime someone walks into your local business with a smartphone, they could be carrying with them hundreds (even thousands) of new potential customers through their own social network profiles. Plus, you never know how many prospective customers are searching online using new media tools and oftentimes if a business doesn’t have a presence on the major social networks, to many people, it’s as if the business does not exist.

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

A. First, definitely set up a Twitter account. Then use a tool such as http://twellow.com to begin finding targeted local followers – click on to the “Twellowhood” tab and find your local area. As you share valuable tips, resources, ideas, links, specials, etc. more and more people that you follow will begin following you back. Be sure to engage with anyone talking to or about your business. 

In addition, build out an active Facebook Place Page. Over time, you can have an active community of raving fans. You will need resources to post content and engage with the fans regularly. Consistency is key. As more and more people see you actively participating on Facebook, they’ll be more inclined to engage with and share your content. With a Place Page, you can also set up Deals that prospects and customers claim when they check in at your premises. Experiment with Facebook ads to drive traffic to your Place Page.

Be sure to also make use of other location-based tools such as Foursquare, Gowalla, Google Places, and Yelp if applicable.

Q. When looking at a website of a new business, how do you judge if the business is credible or not?

A. I take into account a vast number of factors: Is the site a fresh and modern design? Does the business write a blog? If so, are the latest posts current? Are there social network profiles prominently placed above the fold with calls to action on how to connect with the business? (This does not always impact credibility, as the business may just be starting to venture into social media). I would also look at the About section and want to find out more about who’s behind the business and even dig deeper to see the social profiles of the business owner(s). Depending on the type of business, I would also want to see testimonials. I may even conduct a Google search too, to see what else is out there about the business.

Q. If you were working with a local small business owner who’s in the retail space, like a clothing store, a coffee shop, or a restaurant, what online tools would you recommend they use to help market and promote their business?

A. A website and WordPress self-hosted blog (so long as the business owner has the resources available to keep a blog current). A Twitter account and a Facebook Place Page. Pre-schedule content to Twitter, in particular, using a tool like HootSuite. Posts to Facebook get better visibility when posted manually. Look into Groupon and LivingSocial. Claim your business page on Foursquare.com/business and Gowalla.com/business and Google.com/Places. Set up social profile tracking and measuring systems using Crowdbooster.com and Twentyfeet.com. (See also PageLever.com and SocialBakers.com).

Q. What do you see as the best use-case for running promotions through a social check-in tool like Foursquare? How about a deal site like Groupon?

A. My friend Ramon DeLeon does awesome creative marketing and promotions for his Domino’s Pizza stores in Chicago. He always incentives and rewards his Foursquare Mayors! For Groupon, the absolute best example I’ve seen was Whole Foods $20 worth of groceries for $10. They gained tremendous news coverage as a result of the massive uptake. I ended up missing out on the deal myself…but because Whole Foods had such top-of-mind awareness for me during that campaign, I went out of my way to go shop at a Whole Foods store!

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

A. Much as I love Facebook, I would say Twitter is my favorite for small, local businesses. Anyone with whom you wish to connect is only one tweet away. Facebook just takes a bit longer to gain traction. Pay attention to Google+ too! Business Pages are coming soon — and they will likely to be connected to all current Google tools similar to the personal profiles. This should include Google Places too. So, a small business will have tremendous advantage by building an active community within Google+ tied to their Place Page.

Mari Smith is a passionate social media leader, specializing in relationship marketing and Facebook mastery. She is coauthor of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day and author of The New Relationship Marketing. Mari travels the world to give keynotes at top events and lead social media workshops. Fast Company described Mari as “a veritable engine of personal branding, a relationship marketing whiz, and the Pied Piper of the Online World.” With her popular blog at MariSmith.com, and her large, loyal following on both Facebook and Twitter, Mari is considered one of the top resources and thought leaders in the world of marketing.

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! And better yet, make sure to register too.] 

[CC photo courtesy of Sermoa]