It is inevitable that today’s consumer is hearing mentions of social media in the traditional media at least a couple of times daily. Couple this with watching children, family members and friends joining and participating in sites like Facebook and you have a whole new world of opportunity. The point at which Facebook crossed 400 million users (if Facebook were a country it would be the third largest country in the world) is the point where the question “are my customers on Facebook?” became moot.

As a small business owner, if you are now convinced that at the very least you need to tip your toes into social media, questions that immediately come to mind are:

•    Where do we start?
•    Where do we find the time?
•    What about our traditional marketing?

These are the right questions to ask; here are a few steps for you to conduct a social media inventory for your business.

1.    Take a look at your reflection in the Search Engine mirror

Have you searched for yourself in a search engine lately (Google, Bing, Yahoo!)? It is no longer narcissistic to search for your own name in a search engine.  In fact this should be a business requirement. Your customers are doing this before deciding to give you the business. When you search for your name, business name, or product name, take a look at the results of the first few pages. Look for results that you control, e.g. links to profile pages on LinkedIn, business directories like Yelp, etc. It may be time to update the profiles and take ownership of the listing. Most directories offer that to business owners.

2.    Who is talking about you?
Set up Google Alerts for your business and your names, and keywords about your industry. These alerts can be set up in real time or once a day/week. You can also set up  Google alerts to check on your competition with their keywords. Also consider setting alerts for events and happenings in your local area.

3.   Establish yourself as an expert
Sites like have question and answer forums on a wide variety of topics. Most likely you are going to find one that pertains to your expertise or your businesses expertise.  Choose two to three industry blogs or ask and answer questions on LinkedIn and join the conversation. Remember, there’s a difference between joining the conversation and spamming the community with information about your business.  If your profile contains all your business information such as your website, email, phone number, etc., people may follow the information back to your website.

4.    Which side of the website population are you?
The Small Business Success index has consistently found that around 50% of small businesses do not have websites.  A website is your online marketing tool and can be used in conjunction with your social media and your traditional marketing tools. Take the time to  set up a website for your business if you do not already have one.

5.    Integrate your social media into your traditional marketing
Let your customers know the social networks you are part of and always have a link from your website to your social media profiles.  Communicate to your social media network about your email marketing.

6.    Your social media plan:
•    Set up Alerts
•    Join and set up profiles in three social networks
•    Spend 15-20 minutes a day tracing the alerts and responding
•    Choose three blogs on your field to read and comment
•    Converse, don’t sell
•    Answer questions and become an expert in your niche on LinkedIn
•    Devote two  hours a week to learning and writing about the products you promote
•    Measure your efforts.  How many times were you mentioned?  How many people read your posts?
•    Allow your customers to evangelize your business by putting social media sharing tools, like AddThis on your site
•    Attend one local event a month and network
•    Ask for help from the community if you need it

If all of that seems like a lot, let me leave you with 4 things you can do today:
1) Set up Google Alerts
2) Find three blogs to follow. Join the conversation there. Network!
3) Set up a website (see special offer from Network Solutions specifically for Palo Alto Software customers)
4)  Set up 1-3 social networking profiles

Shashi Bellamkonda works at the heart of Web hosting company, Network Solutions®, as their first-ever ‘Social Media Swami’. In this leadership role he has helped Network Solutions aggressively move into the online space to actively listen to and interact with its customers. A self-proclaimed early adopter, prolific Twitterer, photographer, blogger, and product innovator, Shashi lives for technology, testing new innovations and helping people with small businesses to succeed.

Follow Network Solutions on Twitter or visit our blog for more resources for small business owners.
On Twitter: Netsolcares or check out our Growsmartbusiness blog