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If you’re a small business, you’ve probably heard all the talk about Social Media and how you HAVE to get involved. But it’s hard. I mean, who has time for Tweeting? And Facebook is for teenagers, it can’t help my business. Start a blog? I can barely get my emails in order, let alone come up with ideas for articles!

Still there is a continued pressure to develop your online presence beyond a static web site. Customers are focusing their attention more and more on companies who are engaging with them online. This recent study by Erik Qualman shows that typical consumers care more about peer recommendations than advertising.

Your customers are looking for you online whether you like it or not. If you’re not there when they come knocking, where are they going to go? To the next competitor who does answer the knock.

Just like other marketing efforts, building your presence via social media takes time, and can often be overwhelming at the start. The good news is, the upfront costs are pretty low, as most of the common social media tools are free or very inexpensive. The true cost involved is your time, and it’s hard to know where to start, and how to fit it into your already hectic schedule. Here are two straightforward ways you can start your social media strategy today:

1) Stop. Look. Listen.
The World Wide Web is a big place. Right now, there are millions and millions of people from all over the world looking for information, chatting with each other, and sharing what they know. There are over 150 million users on Twitter and Facebook has half a BILLION users. With all of these people talking at the same time, how do you even begin to get involved? It starts by listening. You need to search out the conversations that matter to you and your business. Two great, free places to start are Twitter Search, and Google Blog Search. Enter a few keywords that pertain to your business, browse through the results, and you’ll start to see what other people are talking about. Subscribe to the results using a News Reader like Google Reader or Live Bookmarks in Firefox. Track the conversations going on in your industry, and not only will you start to find your prospective clients, you’ll start to get ideas about how you can contribute to the community. Spend just 10 minutes over your morning coffee, every day for 1 week listening. You’ll be amazed what you can discover, even in a few short minutes. This good habit will pay off!

2) Build your Ideas.
As you listen, you may start to get ideas about what you want to say to your community. As you get those ideas, capture them. It can be as simple as opening a Word document, or a new note on your smart phone. You can use a voice recorder to capture ideas as you commute to the office.  Soon, you’ll have a whole list of things that could be turned into blog posts. Talk to your web site designer about including a blog on your web site. If you don’t have the budget to build something new right now, set up a free blog at and link that site to your main web site. Then start writing. Commit to writing at least one article per week. They don’t have to be huge essays, just a couple hundred words that get your point across.  At first it may seem like you’re talking to a brick wall, but this exercise will get you accustomed to the blogging format, and most importantly, into the habit of creating content. Creating content is what gets you found by those listening.

Of course, there are many more steps involved in building a full-on social media strategy that incorporates your blog, as well as tools like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIN. These are just two ways you can start to get a sense of the conversations going on around you and begin developing the habit of creating content. Starting with these small steps, you can be on your way to building a social media presence for your business today.