As for where potential clients spend time, business owners can read research from the Pew Research Center and other online sources about where their audience is, but it's important to gauge engagement, too. If you never have anyone responding to updates on LinkedIn, but your Facebook page is on fire, you know where to spend your time.
[Read: How to Market Yourself on LinkedIn.]
What are some lesser-known social media sites that are effective for spreading the word about a business?
M.S.: All business owners should identify niche sites, if there are any, in his or her field. However, some of the "biggies" are also a little less well-known. For example, Google Plus is a useful site for any business owner because using it helps inform Google about your business. It also has features to literally get businesses on the map if they have physical locations or brick-and-mortar storefronts.
We also like to encourage people to tap into the visual online tools such as Pinterest to showcase pictures or Vine for short videos. While some fields have obvious visual potential, such as artists or interior designers, it's also possible for people in non-visual fields to tap into these communities. For example, anyone can post a stunning visual that accompanies a blog post or article, or share a photo of a happy customer with a testimonial.
What online methods can you use to build and maintain a relationship with a customer well after he or she has used your product or service?
H.M.: In today's ratings-sensitive economy, it's very important for providers to try to capture testimonials and high rankings on sites their customers might frequent such as Yelp! or Amazon. Email marketing is another useful way to keep in contact: Capture your customers' emails and you'll always be able to keep in touch. When you send out useful information, you have a good chance that people will open your messages. Offering good customer support after the sale is also very important to keeping customers satisfied. Many businesses have customer support Twitter handles to offer real-time help, special email addresses or live chat capability. Never overlook the power of great customer service.
It's also possible to maintain relationships by constantly posting great content in all of your social media streams. Give people a reason to want to hear from you, and you stay top-of-mind.
With all the online resources available, are old-fashion networking tactics, like handing out business cards and in-person meetings, still useful for promoting a business?
M.S.: As much as online tools are useful, people like tactical things, too. Some of your clients may not be prepared to exchange contact information via smartphone applications or online tools, so a business card to hand out at an event is still useful. In-person meetings are still crucial to most business owners' success, so we advise our clients to consider social media as a way to market their business and to use it to move to in-person meetings or phone calls to help solidify the relationships that will form the basis of their success.
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