If you are trying to get a small business off the ground it can be difficult trying to get heard in the vast noise that is the overcrowded internet. With millions of business and websites out there all competing for a slice of the pie, it can be hard to imagine how a small start-up can get heard by the people who matter: your future customers.

Having a degree of online presence is vital in this day and age, however, no matter how small or new your business might be. And in many ways, the internet, and more specifically social media, has made it easier for small businesses like yours to compete with the Big Boys. How? Well there’s one thing that all the advertising budget in the world can’t stifle, and that’s genuine customer feedback. And now, thanks to the omnipresence of smartphones and social media, every consumer-facing business is just a couple of clicks away from a rave review (or a bad tempered rant) on a social sharing site.

In order to make sure that your customers are doing the work for you and spreading the good news about your brand or business you might need to incentivise customers in some way. You could offer small rewards (for example a free drink with a meal if you run a food outlet) for those who ‘check-in’ to your business online or who tweet using your Twitter tag.

Something as simple as following up customers’ visits (if, for example, you are in the hospitality business) with an email prompting them to write a review on a social travel site for future customers could be all that is needed. Of course, you need to make sure your product is decent and your service is good in order to ensure that what is said about you is positive – that’s one golden rule of business that hasn’t changed and won’t be changing any time soon. In many ways, a business relationship is no different from any other relationship; you can’t afford to take your customers for granted.

Although social media can be of great benefit to your business, you have to be aware that it also carries risk. Having an online presence means that customers can engage with you like never before, and that means both good feedback and bad.

If you do receive bad customer feedback through a social media outlet such as Twitter, it’s there for all to see, so it’s important to respond as quickly and as sympathetically as possible. No business gets things right one hundred percent of the time but you need to make sure your customers know you are listening to their concerns. This means acknowledging them and addressing the problem in a meaningful way. It may simply mean an apology and explanation or you may wish to offer some form of compensation.

Social media can be a wonderful tool to building a successful business but it also needs to be carefully monitored to make sure your business can get the most out of it.