Re-printed from Social Media Today – Suzanne Vara

Social media is all the rage for more than just online businesses: traditional “brick and mortar” businesses like yours are using it too. One of the most famous cases of this is the way Starbucks has leveraged social networking to become one of the highest valued brands in the world, so why can’t you do it too? Twitter, Facebook, Google Places, Google Buzz, Foursquare, and other social networking venues work to engage local customers, drive your popularity and increase your sales.

10 ways offline businesses can use social media.

1. A quality presence counts: Don’t just throw up a Facebook profile or a Google Places page and let it sit: reply to comments, post interesting content, and pursue friends. Update your status regularly and give your business a positive online reputation.

2. Social gaming: Create a unique game that encourages people to build zany skills using your product (or tools that is related to your product). Use YouTube videos to promote your game and have people compete using their skills at your place of business.

3. Promote your social integration: Ask people to follow your business on Twitter or to “like” it on Facebook. Put it on your receipts, invoices, and signs to get your current customer base on board to build momentum. Ask people to check in to Foursquare when they arrive at your location.

4. Put your whole company to work: If your business employs people besides you, give them all time during the day to post social networking updates. This gets your whole team involved in the marketing effort while increasing the exposure of your business in the social world.

5. Find out what your competitors are doing: The amount of involvement your company has in social media may vary depending on the nature of your business. Don’t ever fall behind what others in your sector are doing, so keep tabs on them and then compete for online prominence.

6. Follow the lifecycle: Don’t let your Facebook campaign get in a rut: social marketing has a lifecycle that you should follow. Listen to what customers are saying about your market and products, engage those customers with appealing content and promotions, and then analyze your results. Focus on your most successful efforts. Identify the promotions and content that are most successful and build on them. When you can prove that an initiative isn’t working, stop it and try something else.

7. Build a sense of community: Both online and offline you can work to make your customers feel like a special family or a close network of friends. Do this by hosting community events at your physical store and online. Help promote your city or community together with your business to help people feel like they belong at your store.

8. Don’t spread yourself too thin: If you have limited resources, you may have trouble maintaining an exciting presence on every single social media platform. Choose the number and types of sites you can manage well rather than risk leaving stale or poor quality content everywhere.

9. Manage your reputation: Do you know what customers or potential customers are saying about your business, your products, your brand, and your employees online? Pay attention to the comments you receive on Facebook, keep a Twitter search running for key names, products, and service that relate to your business. Set up Google Alerts, and handle problems and complaints head on. What a great opportunity to show the world your willingness to engage people to resolve their problems and address their concerns!

10. Be patient: As social media starts to mature, instant success will become rarer. Don’t let that bother you. Keep up a fresh, dynamic, and engaging social presence and you will reap rewards.

These 10 ways offline businesses can use social media will help brick and mortar businesses build a strong social and physical presence in both their online and offline communities. Start working on yours today.

James Adams currently writes at Office Kitten, a leading specialist in the supply of office furniture for UK based businesses.

Written by jax