Small business owners know that the use of blogs, Facebook and Twitter can help generate leads, build brand awareness and grow audiences. However, there is one social network that doesn’t get quite the same attention.

You may be surprised to learn that LinkedIn has more than one million members. When you combine this figure with LinkedIn’s reputation for being the best professional social search engine on the web, you realize that LinkedIn is a virtual goldmine for small businesses.

Here are a few ways that you can use LinkedIn to grow your business:

1. Grow Your Network. Unlike the other social networking sites, LinkedIn is all about connecting with others on a “professional” level. Most people who use the networking website are looking for future vendors, job prospects or new ways to build their resume. People are on LinkedIn with the sole purpose of connecting for business reasons, so small businesses need to take advantage of that.

2. Conduct Market Research. When you build your LinkedIn network, you can leverage it in the future to get opinions on new product ideas, current offerings, what they like about your brand, and more. By taking advantage of the LinkedIn Q&A or posing questions via your LinkedIn status, you’re able to pick your audience’s brain without spending a lot of money.

3. Find New Employees. While keeping tabs on people in your industry, keep your eyes open for potential new hires. If you haven’t used LinkedIn’s Advanced Search functionality before, you may be surprised to know that you’re able to search a number of criteria like keyword, years of experience, previous employers, and more. You can narrow down your search within just a few miles from your location, making LinkedIn the ultimate recruiting tool.

4. Follow Your Competitors. Your competitors are using LinkedIn. Keep an eye on who they’re connecting with, who they’re leaving recommendations for and the projects they are talking about. This allows you to learn about what your competitors are working on and where their focus may be.

5. Build Online Reviews. Reviews of your business help to build authority and relevance in the eyes of both users and the search engines. Use the LinkedIn network you’re building to help create positive referrals. Ask customers, vendors, partners and previous employers to recommend your business and share their experience with others.

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Feedback, whether from customers, clients or industry peers, is absolutely vital to business success. Businesses that fail to recognize this don't last very long.

Business owners are often tempted to limit the feedback mechanisms made available to their community. However, in today's online market, he says that business owners must encourage feedback from as many online platforms as possible and a business's blog is no exception.

Your blog is not only a publishing platform, but a repository for your organization's feedback and communication tools. It is the perfect place for showcasing the feedback you receive and the communication tools you use.
If you want to use your blog as your business's primary portal for feedback, consider the following:

Polls

Polls can provide you with more feedback than almost any other mechanism.

People can't help but vote. It's such a simple way to have one's voice heard and it's difficult to shake that impulse to weigh in just see how others have voted.

Surveys

Surveys are similar to polls except that users typically don't participate due to their length. There are ways, however, to increase participation.

Ask for reader participation through a pop-up. When your page loads, deliver a pop-up asking your user if they would like to participate in a short survey.

It's important to keep it short and clear.

Live Chat

Adding live chat to your blog is fairly easy, but keeping up with it can be difficult.

Studies show that live chat increases sales and enhances support. Many live chat tools now offer a wide range of features that make using live chat much easier and less costly.

These are just a few of the ways a business owner can increase feedback through their blog.

Copyright 2011 dzine it, Inc. web marketing All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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While the information that goes on our business card has changed with the advent of social media, replacing fax numbers with Twitter handles, the business card is still a critical part of your real-world networking strategy. Much like your online real estate, when you meet potential clients and contacts in person, your business card is not only the first thing they see, it makes a lasting impression.

A well-designed, compelling business card can help you make important connections and boost business. If you are not in the position to hire a professional designer or spend a fortune on business cards, there are five things you need to know before moving forward.

1. Image is everything! Design your business card appropriately, keeping in mind the kind of customers you are looking to attract. Potential customers will form an opinion about who you are and what your company is about based on specific visual attributes of your card, including paper thickness, font choices and color scheme.

2. Avoid clip art! Clip art will ruin your business card because it almost always looks cheap and diminishes the image of any company. In fact, you should only add graphics to your business card if you are sure it will help reinforce your branding.

3. Consider using a QR code! A QR code is a matrix barcode readable by smartphones and is great for connecting your offline and online marketing materials. QR codes can be used to create memorable features on your website and reward those you meet in person for reaching out to you. QR codes are all the rage these days and putting one on your business card shows that you are on the cutting edge.

4. Avoid clutter! The two most important pieces of information on an effective business card never change; your phone number and email address. The simpler the business card, the more effective it will be. In this day and age, it is tempting to add your Twitter handle, Skype alias, Facebook links and IM nicknames to a card, but these are extras that you can introduce into the relationship once it is solidified.

5. Don't be a cheapo! There are lots of places where you can get 1,000 business cards for free. However, if you want your card to stand out, the cost of shipping isn't enough to offer true distinctiveness. You will need to invest time and money into producing a quality business card if you want to make an impression.

Copyright 2011 dzine it, Inc. graphic design firm All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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