By Rieva Lesonsky

There's a good reason why social media is the hottest buzzword on every business owner's lips these days. For smart small business owners, using social media correctly is a great way to build your business-without investing anything but your time and effort. That's good news at a time when we're all trying to tighten our belts and increase our sales.

Here's a quick rundown of the top social media tools out there today and how to use them in your business.


LinkedIn ( For entrepreneurs, LinkedIn's edge is the fact that it's tailored for businesspeople, unlike other social networking sites that also attract a great number of general users. You can use LinkedIn to network, find employees and more.


Creating a profile on LinkedIn is free, and you can include as much or as little information as you want. More is better, but keep it professional. On LinkedIn, you can only "connect" to someone if you have a mutual acquaintance in common. See who your connections have in their networks, and if there's someone you want to be introduced to, ask. You can get introduced to possible clients, employees, or business partners this way.


One of LinkedIn's most useful features for raising your business's profile is LinkedIn Answers. Users ask questions that anyone can answer. Answering questions relevant to your business is a good way to become known as an expert in your industry. Make sure not to do a "hard sell;" if your answers are blatantly plugging your business, you'll turn people off.


Check out the various LinkedIn Groups, or consider starting a Group of your own. Being part of a Group relevant to your industry is another way to build your reputation as an expert and to find people who can help you build your business.


Facebook ( Thousands of companies big and small successfully use Facebook to build their brands and create communities of fans. A business's Facebook page will be different than an individual's page. For your business, you'll want to create a free Fan Page that enables Facebook members to become "Fans" of your company. (Check out my page here: On your Fan Page, you can post news and updates about your business, including photos, videos and links. Fan Pages enable you to post and start discussions with your fans. If you'd like to interact with potential customers even further, start a Group, which offers more sophisticated tools.


Facebook works best for companies that have frequent updates, photos, and videos that other Facebook users will want to check out. It's also more of a "fun" site than LinkedIn, so if you own, say, a CPA firm, this may not be the social media venue for you. On the other hand, if you've got a product or service that users are likely to become fans of and want to share info about-maybe a spa, restaurant or a T-shirt design company-Facebook is a great way to help your company's message spread virally over the Internet.


Twitter ( Twitter, the newest and hottest social media tool right now, lets users post messages ("Tweets") of up to 140 characters. "Following" someone on Twitter means that you get their Tweets; if you forward a Tweet to your followers, that's called "reTweeting." Everyone from regular people to movie stars to politicians are on Twitter. So what's the business application?


Twitter can accomplish several business goals: to become known as an expert (by commenting on current events or issues that relate to your industry), to attract more customers (by building a following so that more people find out about you through their friends) and to spread up-to-the-minute news about your product or service. For instance, if you own a clothing boutique, you might "Tweet" about a new shipment from a popular designer. If you are an attorney, you could comment on some legal aspect of Michael Jackson's will. Just as with other social media tools, Twitter users frown on a hard sell-so don't blatantly market your company.


Twitter can be overwhelming because of the sheer volume of Tweets. Ask fellow small business owners who use it what tools they like for managing Twitter. There are many free third-party Twitter apps that help you better manage, organize and streamline your Tweets. Personally, I like TweetDeck ( for the desktop and UberTwitter ( for my Blackberry. Other popular apps include Seesmic (, Tweetie (, HootSuite (, People Browser ( and TwitterBerry (


Blogs: With newer social media tools getting so much buzz today, some people are starting to forget the power of blogs. This is a big mistake. One mention in a popular blog can be all it takes to focus the world's attention on your business.


If you've already got a Web site, consider adding your own blog to it. You can have a blog up and running in a matter of hours with easy-to-use tools such as WordPress (


If you don't have the time--or the writing skills--to start your own blog, don't despair. Being mentioned in other people's blogs can do even more for your business and requires less time. Regularly read the most popular blogs that are relevant to your industry (check to determine this). When appropriate, post a comment. Again, you don't want to hard-sell your business here, so resist the urge to comment every day and include your business name in all-capital letters. And, wait until you have something useful to say.


Once you've become familiar with what bloggers in your industry write about, start updating them on your company's newsworthy events. Send them relevant and interesting information about your business. Do you have new statistics or survey data they might be interested in? Bloggers are starved for good topics to write about, so if you can become a trusted source of info for a blogger, you're likely to get lots of publicity.


Putting It All Together


Let's look at how a hypothetical restaurant owner specializing in gourmet burgers and microbrews might use all four of these tools. On LinkedIn, he could join a group for restaurant owners and contribute to discussions among beer distributors. He could network with potential suppliers. On Facebook, he could create a Fan page, announce special events at the restaurant, post photos from a recent beer tasting event, start a discussion about what makes the best burger, and e-mail discount coupons to Fans. On Twitter, he could Tweet about the new buffalo burger he's adding to the restaurant menu, today's lunch special, or a great article on He could blog about a recent beer tasting event at the restaurant on his own blog, and send the news to food and beverage industry bloggers.


Social media benefits from personalities, and your advantage as a small business owner is that you, yourself, can be the one behind your Tweets, Facebook page and LinkedIn page. All you have to give it is some time. Plan to devote at least one hour a day to social media, possibly more.


To get started, I recommend you try all four of these tools for three to six months and see what kind of ROI you get. As time goes on, you will see which tool is working best for you, and you'll probably want to devote most of your social media time there.


To make the most of social media, make sure to link your various "personas." Your business Web site, Facebook page and Twitter page should all link to each other, and your LinkedIn page should link to all of them as well. The more ways potential customers can find out about your business, the better. Social media is all about spreading the word.


Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media (, a content and consulting company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow her on Twitter at