The Digital Vibes


Social Media Marketing Tactics from Mashable
November 3, 2009, 12:23 am
Filed under: Blogs, Online presence, Social Media, Social networks | Tags: , , , ,

This is an article (it’s really too long to be a post!) that is too good not to share in its entirety, from Mashable…

10 Small Business Social Media Marketing Tips

Posted: 28 Oct 2009 01:18 PM PDT

Ross Kimbarovsky is the co-founder of crowdSPRING, a community of 43,000+ graphic designers that helps small businesses from around the world with graphic design needs. You can follow Ross on Twitter @rosskimbarovsky and @crowdSPRING.

Capacity – especially to plan and execute effective marketing strategies – is a big challenge for every small business. In this post, I’ll offer 10 suggestions for how small businesses can supercharge their marketing efforts by leveraging social media. For each suggestion, I will discuss a basic strategy – for those who simply want to get their toes wet, as well as an advanced strategy – for those who want to spend a bit more time and go a bit deeper in their social media marketing efforts. These tips are based on my experience leveraging social media marketing for my company, crowdSPRING.

I suggest you begin by outlining clear goals for your social media marketing efforts and figuring out how you’ll measure success. Once you’ve outlined your goals, let’s look at 10 great ways you can begin to leverage social media for your marketing efforts.


1. Facebook


Facebook offers exceptional, low cost marketing opportunities for small business. Facebook now has over 300 million users, and while that seems like an outrageous number for small businesses to be targeting, Facebook offers a very powerful platform on which to build a presence. If you’re not already active on Facebook; you should get started right away.

Basic Strategy: If you haven’t signed up for Facebook yet, you absolutely should as soon as possible. Once you’ve signed up, you should also consider securing your company’s username. Be aware, however, that if you reserve your company name for your personal account, you won’t be able to use it for your Business Fan Page (more on those in the Advanced Strategy), so you may want to create a Page before registering your company’s name. Fan Pages have special rules regarding usernames, which you can read here.

You should do one other thing: search for your competitors and evaluate their Facebook presence. What types of Pages have they built? How many fans or “friends” do they have? Spend 15 minutes (per competitor) looking at their posts, photos and/or videos to understand how they’re using Facebook.

Advanced Strategy: You may already have a personal Facebook account, but how do you extend that presence for your business? You have several options. You can register a Business Account – which is designed for a very simple presence on Facebook. There are many limitations on such accounts (read the FAQ here), however, so you’ll most likely prefer to have a Business Fan Page. A Business Fan Page lets you create a page where customers or fans of your business can register as a “fan” — expanding the presence of your business (because your updates will also flow to their pages). You might also want to consider running hyper-local ads on Facebook.


2. Twitter


Twitter has grown tremendously over the past year. For some small businesses, it offers an incredible marketing platform. BusinessWeek’s recent profile of 20 ways businesses use Twitter might give you some ideas about how you can leverage Twitter for your business.

Basic Strategy: If you haven’t signed up on Twitter yet, you should sign up today and reserve an account in the name of your business. While you might ultimately tweet in your own name, you’ll want to have the option to tweet from a business account. More importantly, you don’t want your competitors to register your business name. Twitter has put together a simple guide to help you understand what Twitter can do for business. You can also check out Mashable’s Twitter Guide.

Next, you should spend 15-30 minutes on Twitter’s homepage, doing basic searches to become familiar with the type of content available on the service. For example, if you are operating a small gift basket business, do some searches for various terms and phrases such as “gift basket,” “gifts,” “gift basket business,” etc. You should also search for the names of your competitors to see whether they’re on Twitter and if they are, how they’re using it. And don’t forget to search for your small business name – your customers may already be talking about you! Once you become comfortable with the content that’s already available and how your competitors are using Twitter, you can begin thinking about a strategy for how you’ll leverage Twitter for your business.

Advanced Strategy: To truly leverage Twitter, you’ll want to learn and use a few more advanced tools. This includes desktop and mobile Twitter clients like TweetDeck, Seesmic, and Tweetie. Desktop clients give you more flexibility and more control over your Twitter strategy than you’ll have on the Twitter website. Among other things, you’ll be able to pre-define searches (so that you can monitor certain keywords, including your business name) and group people you follow so that you can minimize the noise and focus on the real content. You might also consider using a web tool like Twitterfall, which will allow you to define (and color-code) various custom searches that you can review from time to time, and also to follow trending topics. For example, I use Twitterfall to identify helpful graphic design and industrial design resources to share with the crowdSPRING community.


3. Company Blog


Although there’s more attention focused today on social networks than on company blogs, blogs continue to offer great value for small businesses.

Basic Strategy: At a minimum, you should consider reserving a domain name for your blog – if you don’t already have a custom domain for your business. If you’re comfortable enough to set up your own blog, that’s generally the best way to proceed – although this requires a bit more technical knowledge (many hosting providers offer a 1 step easy setup for blogs that will automatically install WordPress for you). You can also setup a blog directly at WordPress.com (it’s easier to do, but you don’t have full control over everything that you would on your own site).

One easy alternative is to set up a simple blog at Posterous – a place to post stories, photos, videos, MP3s, and files. There are pluses and minuses to all of these options – you should take some time to compare them and do what makes sense for your business. I caution you only about spreading yourself too thin.

Advanced Strategy: Now that you’ve decided to start or improve your small business blog, how do you build an audience for it? It all starts with great content. Decide on a focus for your blog, and write awesome content that people will enjoy. For example, some months ago at my company, we decided that we wanted to write more about small business issues, so we’ve been writing original posts focusing on issues affecting small businesses. Think about your expertise and more importantly, think about the things that you’re interested in writing about. A blog requires a long term investment of time (and resources), and you don’t want to be stuck writing about things that bore you.

You’ll also want to consider how you can make it easier for your readers to help promote your content. For example, install helpful plug-ins, such as a TweetMeme button, which makes it easy for people to retweet your posts on Twitter. Don’t be afraid to experiment with plugins to add to the functionality of your blog, but keep it simple. You want to keep the blog focused, and easy for your readers to use.


4. LinkedIn


LinkedIn is a business oriented social network for professionals, and it’s huge, with nearly 50 million users from over 200 countries.

Basic Strategy: Once again, you’ll want to at least reserve your business name (or your personal name) so that others can’t use it. Similar to the way you might start exploring Facebook and Twitter, you should look around on LinkedIn to see how your competitors are using the service. You might also look up your customers and connect with them.

Advanced Strategy: LinkedIn has some powerful features that most people don’t use. For example, you can encourage your customers, clients or vendors to give you a “recommendation” on your profile. Recommendations are useful because they’ll make you and your business more credible with new customers. If you’re a roofer, for example, ask your customers to recommend you after a successful job. You’ll find such recommendations useful – particularly since your LinkedIn profile will come up high in search engine results. I recommend that you read Chris Brogan’s post from last year discussing the elements of a good LinkedIn recommendation.

Another strategy involves the many subject matter groups on LinkedIn. Find some groups that have a connection to your small business and become involved in the conversations. Answer questions when you can, and help to establish yourself as knowledgeable about specific topics related to your business. There are many small business and general marketing groups that will be very useful resources for you, and if there isn’t a group that interests you, consider starting one.


5. Participate On Other Blogs


It might seem counter-intuitive for you to spend your valuable time by participating in discussions on other people’s blogs, but the payoff can be very valuable. Remember that it takes time to build a reputation and establish your credibility, and you can’t always expect everyone to come to you. Sometimes, you have to go out and build your own credibility and reputation.

Basic Strategy: Identify 2-3 blogs in your industry, or those that focus on small business, and get into the habit of regularly reading the content and participating in the discussions. Whenever you can, try to add value by sharing a personal story about what has/has not worked for you. Get to know the writers – they’ll be valuable contacts for you. One strategy for identifying good blogs is to use Guy Kawasaki’s Alltop, which is a directory of popular blogs across many different subject areas. For example, for blogs focused on crafts, you might follow this page on Alltop. If you want to participate in blogs focusing on small business issues, you might start at Technorati’s list of the Top 100 Small Business blogs.

Advanced Strategy: Once you’ve spent some time on other blogs and have participated in discussions, you’ll find that you’ve built a level of credibility and trust, based on your participation. You should consider reaching out to the blog owners and asking whether they’d allow you to guest post an article on their blog (kind of like this post). This is a nice way for you to get in front of a bigger audience, and many blog owners will invite guests to post from time to time. Agree on a topic in advance and provide a draft of your post sufficiently in advance of the publication date to give them an opportunity to review.

Alternatively, ask if they would consider guest posting on your blog. Since you’re looking to attract more readers (and more potential customers), either option works well for that purpose. Don’t worry so much about going after the A-list blogs right away. There are many excellent blogs and it might take a bit of time to build your reputation to such a level that you’ll have opportunities to post in the top blogs. That doesn’t mean you should wait, though – make opportunities for yourself and offer to guest write whenever you can find a new audience. I recommend you read How To Guest Post To Promote Your Blog from blogging expert Darren Rowse.


6. Mobile Social Networks and other Local Strategies


Yelp publishes millions of reviews about local businesses. Foursquare is a combination city-guide, friend finder and competitive game. It allows users to “check in” by cell phone at a local venue and announce this via other social networks such as Twitter.

Basic Strategy: Yelp, Foursquare, and other mobile social networks can be powerful marketing channels for small businesses. You should at the very least register accounts on the popular services and get to know them. If you have a restaurant or a retail store, for example, you’ll want to get to know Yelp pretty well. You can set up a business account on Yelp (no cost), which will let you answer questions about your business, track how many Yelp users view your business page, add information about your business, and announce special promotions. Similarly, you’ll want to sign up with Foursquare to take advantage of local advertising opportunities. Using Foursquare, you’ll be able to push promotions to potential customers who’re in the vicinity of your business.

You should also consider other local strategies. For example, you can add your business to Google Maps, or update your listing to include additional details. You can do the same on Bing.

Advanced Strategy: If you believe that your business can truly benefit from a presence on Yelp, Foursquare, or similar networks, you’ll want to do more than just register accounts with those services. For example, Yelp allows you to include a website URL for your business. Nearly all sites will let you upload photos to your profile, and photos will make your profile more trustworthy.

You can also proactively use Yelp and other similar services to promote your business. Ask your customers, friends and family who have used your services for a review on Yelp. You can encourage reviews by running promotions or discounts – offering free appetizers, for example, to a customer who will write a review about their meal at your restaurant (or to one who already wrote a review), or a small discount to a customer who hires you for carpentry work and mentions that they found you through Yelp.

Similarly, you can find ways to promote your business using Foursquare and similar networks. If you have a TV display in your store connected to a computer, you can display the people who are checking in. You can offer specials or discounts to the person who visits your location the most (this is similar to frequent buyer cards that many businesses have used for years).

Don’t forget to also consider how you can improve your use of other basic local strategies. For example, many small business websites are optimized for specific keywords or subject areas, but are rarely optimized for local searches. If you have a gift basket business, you’ll want to be sure that users searching for gift baskets in your geographic area will find you.


7. Comments and Conversations About Your Company


Whether or not you are a party to the conversations, people will talk about your company. How do you monitor and, when appropriate, join those discussions?

Basic Strategy: There are five simple steps you can take today to begin paying attention to conversations about your business.

First, set up Google Alerts. Google Alerts are free email updates from Google search results about any topic you’re interested in tracking. For example, I track, among other alerts, the names of our competitors, the name of our company, and certain other terms I believe are important to my business. Anytime Google adds something to its index that mentions my company or the other terms I’m tracking, I receive an immediate email notification with a link to that item. Alerts can be set up for web, blog, news, video, or groups searches.

Second, review the results in your web analytics data. At my company, we use Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a free tool from Google that provides detailed and very useful information about your website traffic and the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. When we run social media campaigns, we’ll often attach tracking tags to those campaigns so that we can properly monitor them in Google Analytics. This is important because without such data it will be nearly impossible for you to evaluate the success of your social media marketing efforts. But analytics are important for another reason: they’ll tell you which sites are sending traffic to your site.

Third, search Facebook. In August, Facebook rolled out a real-time search engine (the search box is on the top right of any Facebook page). One effective way to take advantage of Facebook search is to search for your company’s name to see who is talking about your company and what they’re saying. In several months, you’ll be able to search Facebook updates directly from Bing, which will be integrating Facebook public updates into Bing’s search results.

Fourth, search Twitter. You currently can search Twitter for real-time results (if you’re not logged in, just go to Twitter’s homepage). One easy way to monitor conversations about your company is to search for your company’s name. You can also currently do this on Bing, which is indexing Twitter updates. Very soon, you’ll also be able to search Twitter updates (and other social media content) via Google’s Social Search (Social Search was rolled out to Google Labs recently, as an experimental product). You can also use Twitter clients like TweetDeck or Seesmic to save searches and monitor in real-time whenever someone uses a specific word or phrase in a tweet.

Finally, take advantage of services that will, similar to Google Alerts, push data to you. I use and like BackType, which is a real-time search engine that indexes online conversations in thousands of blogs and social networks. I use BackType primarily to keep up with conversations in blogs. Every day, I receive emails from BackType with links to comments that include the keywords I’m monitoring. Without these alerts, I would be unable to monitor so many blogs, and my ability to respond to posts about my company would be very limited.

Advanced Strategy: If you’re having trouble keeping track of your various search strategies, you should consolidate your efforts and leverage one of the many applications that will help you monitor the social web. I have not personally used these services, but they appear to be held in high esteem by knowledgeable people who have. For example, truVOICE provides keyword monitoring of the social web with an emphasis on blogs and forums, while Radian6 pulls in a lot of information from the social web, analyzes it, and provides consumer sentiment ratings for your brand. A good resource to learn about paid social media monitoring tools is Mashable’s post Top 10 Reputation Tracking Tools Worth Paying For.

In addition to monitoring, you’ll need to decide how, when, and where you’ll engage in conversations. It’ll be very difficult for you to engage in conversations everywhere, so you should spend some time learning the various networks and deciding where you should focus your efforts. Looking at your website analytics data — if you own an online business — will help a great deal because it’ll help you to better understand where your traffic is coming from. If much of your traffic originates from Twitter and Facebook, for example, you’ll want to spend more time on those services.


8. Multimedia


Multimedia (video, photos, audio) is a bit more complicated for many small businesses to execute, but can provide excellent social media marketing opportunities.

Basic Strategy: YouTube has been constantly evolving and adding features that make it an attractive social site for small businesses. Although you don’t have to produce videos to participate on YouTube, you should consider whether simple videos can help your marketing efforts. For example, if you’re already posting videos to your blog, you can upload them to YouTube to reach a broader audience, and embed the video content in your blog posts. YouTube has also been adding more comprehensive activity updates for its users and has made pretty powerful analytics tools available so that you can evaluate the effectiveness of your video content.

Similarly, you could start a Flickr account for your business and post photos of your customers or your products (or both). Flickr offers a place where people can share photos with others, but also has discussion groups, many focused on local markets, that offer additional opportunities for you to market your business. You can also consider setting up your own Internet radio talk show using BlogTalkRadio, which is another way to use multimedia to speak directly to your customers. Get creative with it — own a restaurant? Start a call-in show for people to ask cooking questions. Are you a piano teacher? Perhaps you could start a show to talk about classical music.

Advanced Strategy: Advanced strategies using multimedia are complicated and typically benefit from using experienced consultants. One effective way to leverage video, for example, is to create content that has the potential to become viral. While I don’t believe you can set out to make a viral video (an incredible amount of luck is typically involved), there are a number of things you can typically do to build awareness about your small business using viral video (these strategies are beyond the scope of this post). Once you’ve created good content, you’ll want to distribute it using as many social networks as you can.

When you consider how you can leverage social networks, think about whether each network provides an audience or a technology solution (or both). For example, YouTube provides both a huge audience and a solution for uploading video files. Flickr can also provide both an audience and a technology solution, but not for every business. While your customers might not be on Flickr, you can still use Flickr as a place to store and tag your photos, and then distribute those photos to other social networks where you prefer to invest more time and effort.


9. Maintain Brand Consistency


We’ve discussed only a small handful of social networks. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of others, and new ones spring up every day. That means that your customers will have many different ways to find you. But they won’t find you if your brand is scattered across social networks using different usernames and profiles. Let’s review some strategies for making sure that your brand is consistent across social networks.

Basic Strategy: Usernames and user profiles are already showing up in search results. Do a search for your company’s name on Google right now — if you also have a Twitter account with the same name, odds are pretty good that the Twitter account will appear very high in the search results. This means that having a consistent username across the various social networks is very important. At a minimum, if you haven’t registered your company name on the major networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), you should do that today. For many small businesses, their user accounts on social networks will be the highest ranked pages in search results.

You should also evaluate your email and web presence strategies. For example, are you using a Gmail email address when you can very easily be using a custom email address with your company name as your domain? Compare: restaurantname@gmail.com with john@restaurantname.com — which looks more professional? Similarly, are you hosting your blog at WordPress.com instead of on your own custom domain? Little details can make a difference.

Advanced Strategy: Things get a bit more complicated when you consider that there are many different social networks, and it’s tough to predict which of them will become popular and which will fail. Use a service such as namechk or KnowEm to see whether your username is available on dozens of popular social networks and if it’s not, to see which username could be registered across all social networks.

Maintaining name consistency is important, but isn’t enough by itself. You’ll also want to make sure that your brand speaks with a common “voice” across the social networks. This may be easier said than done. Social networks differ in significant ways from one another and present unique challenges for interacting with customers and potential customers on those networks.

Speaking with a common “voice” doesn’t mean that only one person should execute your company’s social media marketing strategy, but it does mean that everyone who speaks on behalf of your company in social media reflects your brand in a consistent way. I recommend you read Shel Israel’s recently published book “Twitterville,” for excellent tips and stories focusing on how large and small businesses can develop a consistent voice in social media.


10. Leverage Combinations of Social Media Tools


One of the best ways for small businesses to leverage social media marketing is to use various social networks in combination with each other.

Basic Strategy: At a minimum, you should do several things today to cross-market across the various social networks you’re most likely already using. Here are three suggestions:

First, connect your Twitter account to Facebook so that your tweets will appear in your public updates on Facebook. This will let you leverage your time on Twitter to also update your Facebook fans.

Second, connect your LinkedIn profile to your WordPress blog. LinkedIn allows you to publish, in your profile, synopses of the most recent blog posts on your blog. This application will automatically update your LinkedIn profile with your most recent blog posts.

Third, integrate Twitter tools into your blog. I like and use the TweetMeme retweet button on my blogs to make it easier for users to tweet about the blog posts. I also use the ShareThis tool to enable readers to quickly share content on multiple social networks.

Advanced Strategy: Advanced strategies require careful planning/execution and appropriate tools. In nearly all cases, your goal is to maximize the value of your content. For example, if you’re posting videos on YouTube or Vimeo, you can blog about those videos on your company’s blog. Then, you can tweet about the blog posts on Twitter (which I assume is integrated with your Facebook account). This way, you’ve taken one piece of content and found a way to leverage it across multiple social networks.

You’ll also want to consider ways that you can optimize the distribution to multiple social networks at the same time. Leverage tools to help you do this. For example, Ping.fm lets you update multiple social networks all in one go. Keep in mind that not all social networks will make sense for every business. Learn which networks are best for your business and find ways to leverage combinations of those networks to make your marketing more effective.


Conclusion


Social media marketing can be a phenomenal marketing channel for small businesses. I hope that the strategies I’ve outlined above provide a starting point for you to explore how you can leverage social media marketing for your small business.



A free DIY approach to social media
April 8, 2009, 8:23 pm
Filed under: Online presence, Social Media | Tags: , , , ,
A nice post from iMediaConnection on getting the word out there on social media, without paying for viral power.
Published: March 25 2009
You don’t need a huge budget or a big agency to start harnessing the power of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. These five methods will increase your audience — all by yourself.
Developing content in today’s user-generated media world is easy; marketing that content successfully is not. Numerous bloggers and site owners regularly ask me to explain how they can drive traffic to their sites in order to support their monetization goals. After all, quality content (or a unique product) leads to traffic, traffic leads to branding, and the combination of branding and reach leads to monetization. I respond to these entrepreneurs by telling them that their priority should be to understand and utilize social media strategies and tools, all of which can be easily accessed and are free except for the investment of their time.

Below is a “cheat sheet” of the five most impactful and immediate do-it-yourself actions you can take to increase your site’s traffic.

Access and empower your target audience within social communities
Social media is not as intimidating or complicated as it sounds. Simply start out by setting up your complete profile within various online and mobile communities, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Twitter, Seesmic, YouTube, Meetup, Naymz, etc. Don’t worry — registering is free and easy. Then look for your friends and existing readers or users (more on this below) by searching for certain keyword topics, groups, affinities, etc., or by looking at the connections one or two degrees of separation removed from you.

Also, browse around for like-minded influencers — the people frequently starting conversations, writing product reviews, contributing their own posts, uploading videos, answering questions, or moderating the community.

Now, befriend these influencers and people you admire, and even consider inviting them as contributors or columnists on your site. For example, one female blogger I invited to be an early contributor to DivineCaroline was so honored that she added “writing at DivineCaroline.com” under her name in her standard email signature.

Keep in mind that using social media for marketing purposes must go beyond simply “collecting” a large amount of friends or connections. You need to connect with community members in a genuine way, by giving them feedback about their profile, sharing some content they might appreciate, or nominating them for an award. If you don’t have content to promote, you could consider launching a new product or making an exclusive offer to members of a specific community.

A friend of mine whose videos are frequently featured on YouTube told me, “I find exposure on YouTube to be an invaluable, free marketing tool that gives me credibility among cool, online influencers. I’m able to see who has voluntarily voted on the quality of my videos and then reach out to them.”

Twitter is a free, simple and effective tool for increasing your exposure, establishing a voice, and keeping tabs on conversation about your site, content, or brand. It’s not a fad you can afford to write off; last month, Twitter’s user base grew more than 33 percent to more than 8 million users in the U.S. The majority of publishers and businesses using Twitter have said the benefits of tweeting include keeping their brand in the public eye, humanizing them to readers on a daily basis, and building a stronger sense of community.

Even a traditional brand like BusinessWeek is sharing, connecting, and learning via this micro-blogging community. John Byrne, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, solicits questions from his audience of 10,000 followers, points out newsworthy articles around the web, and highlights stories from the BusinessWeek website without coming across as too pushy.

Through Twitter Tracker, you can see a real-time listing of some of the most popular media, entertainment, and consumer product feeds. Twitter is only one community out of a handful you need to participate in, so I won’t go into detail within this article. Rather, read these 10 tools for getting started using Twitter.

Next page >>

Leverage your existing user base
Encouraging your current readers or users to promote your site is the cheapest and most efficient way to acquire new visitors. First, take the time and effort to understand who your most loyal users are. Determine this by researching who regularly comments on your content, links to your site, or forwards your enewsletter most often.

Second, communicate with these users by doing things such as showing gratitude for their participation, asking their opinion, and replying to their comments or posts. I know a blogger that every week writes one post profiling a particular reader whose comments she appreciates. Not only does this reader become more involved and loyal, he is also likely to tell his friends to check out the post written about him. Now you can see how connecting personally with these users — and boosting their egos — will encourage them to talk about your interaction or your content with their friends and peers.

Third, show respect for their interests by asking for feedback about your site: What do they like most? In which section do they spend the majority of their time? What do they want to see more of? Implementing even small, creative tweaks to your site or content can result in a traffic upswing for the long-term.

Lastly, after you’ve communicated with and empowered your most active user base, find out where they came from and where they visit next on the web. This is called upstream traffic (the sites they visited before they came to yours) and downstream traffic (the sites they visit after yours). Companies like comScore and HitWise provide this information. Quantcast, a free service, also shows sites that your audience is likely to visit. As an example, Fast Company readers are likely to also visit USNews.com and DIYForums.net. Reviewing the sites listed and any emerging patterns can help you learn more about your audience’s interests, suggest promising new content areas, and point out possible partners.

Syndicate and execute link exchanges with relevant publishers
In today’s Web 2.0 era and going forward, the sad reality is that very few large media companies will pay to license your content, no matter how awesome you think it is. Does this mean that you should hoard your content? No. Just the opposite: Syndicating content or widgets for free to other publishers and distributors is a great way to establish authority for your brand, and increase exposure and traffic for your site.

I caution you, however. From my years in business development, the most important thing I’ve learned about collaborating is that every partnership must be a win-win for both parties involved. So when you share your content, you need to confirm a fair barter exchange: You’ll give content only if they’ll include your byline, logo, and a hyperlink back to your site. To view examples, check out how Huffington Post displays partial articles from DivineCaroline and how MSN features technology articles from PC World.

Another opportunity with partners who have an audience you crave is to agree to do a link exchange with them. This approach — in which you write about and link to a piece of content on their site and they do the same for you — requires little effort and has the potential to drive decent traffic, depending on the size of the partner’s audience and the relevancy of your content to what that audience is reading. This approach shouldn’t take up a large percentage of your time, so be sure not to waste too many hours contacting publishers with small audiences or giving more links than you get back in return. Two easy ways to execute a link exchange include creating a “best of” categorized list, like ReadyMade does, or creating a weekly round-up article with a particular theme, such as Lemondrop’s weekly Link Love.

Get exposure on social news sites
Social news publications and aggregators enable people to discover and share content from anywhere on the web. These sites, such as Digg, StumbleUpon, Fark, Yahoo! Buzz, and delicious, promote the best content as submitted and voted on by the community. When you contribute an article, image, or video, your submission will immediately be added into the mix, where other members can find it, access your site to read it, and vote for it. Once something has earned a critical mass of votes, it becomes worthy of appearing on the site’s homepage, which is the traffic driver you’re aiming for. Since you’ll have to compete with some of the nation’s leading content providers, you need to be strategic about which pieces of content you select to submit (they need to be unique and memorable) and which are most appropriate for a particular site’s audience (for example, Digg and Fark cater to more males than females).

There are several simple ways to package and market your content for success on these sites: write strong, bold story titles; use subheads within a story; organize bites of information into lists (i.e. “Top 10 ways to avoid a layoff”); offer new details on a popular topic (i.e. wacky info that makes you a hit at a dinner party); vote for great content, not just your own; and submit your stories regularly and frequently. Don’t forget to build a network on these sites — invite your friends, find related authors, and add them to your friends list so that you can collectively find news together.

Create tools for users to share your product or content
What good is your content if readers don’t know how to share or reference it? You need to add “take action” tools on all your article or video pages, such as print, subscribe to a feed, bookmark, share (email), etc. AddThis offers a free tool that enables users to easily share your content with social news sites. For example, when a reader wants to indicate he likes an article on NewScientist.com, he can scroll over the “share” button and select Digg.

Then he either registers or signs in as a Digg member, and can instantly vote for that article, thereby increasing the article popularity and promotional exposure.

Another free tool for exposing your digital content is a widget. You’ve probably heard the term, but you’re too embarrassed to ask what a widget is and does. Basically, it’s a compact, portable application that can be easily embedded into someone else’s site or blog. You can use this format to showcase your site’s headlines, features, images, or whatever you think will motivate a user to click through. I suggest asking a question, taking a poll, or somehow getting the user to enter information so that they feel more connected to your brand on a personal level. The Weather Channel’s widget does this well — users insert their zip code, and with one click of a button the local forecast appears. Products like Snap Shots and Widgetbox help you build, customize, distribute, and track your own widget.

Allison, who founded the Mrs. Fussypants blog, is a prime example of a content creator who used multiple social media tools and tactics to grow her audience. “I knew early on that I had to be proactive and that I needed something to offer my regular readers to spread the word. So I used Widgetbox, and also asked my readers to subscribe via RSS, favorite my site on Technorati, and write a blog post about me. One reader joked that soon I would ask them to name their next child after me. But all of these efforts have increased my traffic.”

In addition, Allison received so many requests from bloggers to be featured on her site that she decided to create an e-zine, called Blissfully Domestic, with each category written and managed by a specific woman.

Through friends, fans, partners, and free tools, you now have the education (and zero excuses) to greatly benefit from social media.

Rebecca Weeks Watson is director of business development for Real Girls Media.