One of my favorite small-business search topics is something called “social search.” A social search engine is one that lists small businesses and allows people to rate and review them.

I guess we can call these types of sites “directories,” but what is clear from the discussion is that people aren’t really looking for directories; they are looking for answers, recommendations, and user experiences. Social sites ask members and visitors to rate their experience, good and bad, with a business and post that information for others to view. Depending upon who you listen to, actual purchases made over the Web only make up about 3% of all commerce, but buying decisions are made every day through research on the Web.

Social Searching

Prospects are turning to sites such as Insider Pages to find sources for everything from plumbers to piano tuners in almost every community in America. Highly rated small businesses appearing on social sites are starting to get noticed! This is a great new medium. There is no cost involved and the benefits far outweigh the little bit of work you may put in to start building your online reputation. Smart small businesses are starting to encourage online reviews. (Merely point out to your happy customers that they might want to share the love.) Other businesses are printing and using their online reviews offline. Businesses with the most ratings and reviews seem to do the best. Coupons and offers are a great way to get noticed too!.

You need to start exploring this avenue now, if for no other reason than to manage your online reputation. Some businesses fear the impact of a negative review. I mean, you can’t make every 19 customer happy, right? Most of the social directories have processes in place to fight spam and competitive revenge type reviews, but nothing works like a good offense. Make sure you are building reviews from happy clients. Send offline customers online and teach them how to use a site such as Judy’s Book.

Get proactive with social search

1) Make sure you are listed on the major social media sites and that your profile and business information is up to date and as accurate as possible.

2) Make note of the URL for your listings and start promoting these sites and stimulating positive reviews from some of your most loyal customers to get the ball rolling in your favor. (Some of the review sites appear to list businesses with more reviews above others when people do local searches.)

3) Start publishing your positive reviews in other forms of communication (maybe a T-shirt!). These testimonials can add to your marketing message and act as subtle reminders to other happy customers that they might want to post reviews as well.

4) Add a few reviews of your favorite local businesses, particularly those you may have strategic relationships with.