Small Business Online MarketingWhen was the last time you picked up the Yellow Pages to find a reputable product or service in your area. Chances are, you can’t even remember. When you needed to find someone to find a new florist or car mechanic you did one of two things. You either asked a friend or family member for a referral, or you turned to the Internet.

Which is why it is critical for business owners to have strong online identities; branding yourself online can help your potential customers find you where they’re looking. If you’re a business owner  who is still asking “Why Twitter?” that is one reason: to increase your online visibility. Think about it: the tweets and photos and status updates all create a massive digital footprint that tells potential customers what you do. Each time you post on your blog, update your status on Twitter,Facebook, or Slideshare, you are leaving virtual breadcrumbs leading potential customers back to your website to learn more about your business.

As you leave your virtual trail, remember to add something to the larger conversation.  Choose the conversations you want to be a part of and take the lead. Inform your contemporaries on the latest products to hit the market. Showcase the latest methods. Write your own analysis of the most cutting-edge research. Once you capture your audience, continue to feed them helpful links to videos, articles, blog posts—valuable information that they otherwise would have missed. Make your followers come to you for information and see you as an indispensable resource. Do this by being relevant and timely, and filling a need; by leaving behind information that you would want to stumble upon yourself.

Here are six specific ways to create an online trail that will lead your ideal customers to you.

Start a Twitterchat. Research a hashtag and make sure no one is using it, establish a time and begin promoting it. Successful chats occur weekly and are between 1 and 3 hours long depending on the time of day. Create a community that you want to be a part of. A great Twitter chat to observe is Melinda Emerson’s (@SmallBizLady) weekly  chat #smallbizchat.

Produce a Series of How-To Videos. If you don’t want to write, start a regular videocast where you talk about the issues about which you have expertise. This works to your advantage since most people are visual and they’ll spend the time to watch your video before they read a long post. Add your personality and make it your take on the problems facing your industry. Think of things that  potential customers would like to know how to do. Make your series fill a need. A hardware store owner might produce a video about How to weatherize your windows for winter. A fitness trainer could produce  How to get a workout at your desk.

Blog Blog Blog.  If you want to be considered an expert, you have to have to have a blog. Especially if you provide a service, your blog can really help you stand apart from the competition when a potential client is conducting a preliminary internet search. So much of our personalities can shine through in a blog; why not showcase that and show a prospect who you are and what it would be like to work with you? Get those blind date jitters out of the way early. Write about the area of which you have expertise and position yourself as the expert on the subject. Once you blog, make sure you tag your posts with keywords to improve your search engine optimization (SEO).

Start a LinkedIn Group If you are already talking about issues and drawing people into a subject about which you are passionate, you may consider starting a LinkedIn group to organize professionals around this topic. Note: this works better for topics and issues rather than products and services. However, you can start a group and establish yourself as an expert on an issue or topic (healthy eating and access to healthy foods) to find people who may like to purchase your products and services (healthy eating seminars, healthy food recipes, etc.)

Use Keywords in Your Tweets. Don’t quite have time to set up a twitter chat? Tag your tweets with words that communicate what you do and what you want to be known for. If you don’t have self-authored blog posts to tweet, tweet news articles you’ve read about important happenings around a topic of interest or your expertise.  Since I make my living as a PR and social media expert, I also post articles and tag them #PR and #socialmedia. But I advise my clients to find their 3-5 core tags and use them to tweet up a storm.

Write a monthly email newsletter focused on your industry. Use your blog to grow your subscriber list, and promote your newsletter through your website. Promote relevant events, products and services you’re offering for the month, but focus on providing helpful information first.

A version of this article originally appeared on

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