A recent survey showed that nearly half of small business respondents today manage profiles on both Twitter and Facebook. And while that is a testament to growth in social media, most are still on the fence as to the real benefits for their local business.

Today, all of the major search engines are providing users a search results page that includes available social media elements among local business content, e.g., images of local businesses from Flickr, local ratings and reviews from sites like Yellowbot.com, Citysquares.com or Getfave.com. Also, the Google Places and Yahoo! Local give users local business listings with added social media content. Essentially, these sites have started to provide a 360-degree view of businesses in local areas. Admittedly, this is great for users, but how should you manage social media profiles in addition to your local search business listings?

Get Found.

image source: Valley Point Technologies

Although it is tempting for businesses with a local presence to alter their Name, Address, Phone Number (NAP) to try and market themselves in a variety of ways across social media forums, a businesses’ foundation – NAP – should serve as the consistent anchor that ties businesses’ online content together across the Web.

Without this consistency, multiple identities are created for your business online, making it difficult for search engines to find you. Your business’ online identity should not differ from its physical identity when it comes to any type of online business listing or profile information. If you change how consumers know your business for online purposes, you will potentially have a big identity management problem on your hands.

So go ahead and dive into social media but remember these key foundational elements that will tie all efforts and conversations together and ultimately drive traffic and sales.

Invest the time to get on social networks.
Easy, right?  Sometimes jumping in and getting accounts started on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks can be the toughest challenge because you aren’t sure how to use them or don’t know what the ROI will be.  However, once a profile page is started that includes your name, address and phone number, search engines have more content to crawl related to your company.

Although you might question whether you have enough time and resources for social media, these tools can be very cost-effective and help engage consumers unlike any other medium.  Also, this can be a quick way for small businesses without a Web presence to quickly establish one.

Consistently use your exact corporate name for social media profiles.
Once you are signed up on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, your exact corporate name should be used for profiles. Including a complete company name will increase the chances of users finding a wealth of information about your business when searching online. When a consumer looks on the Web for your business, several things should be returned in search results, e.g., a Twitter page, Facebook page, LinkedIn Company Page.  Keeping your business name consistent on all sites will help search engines aggregate all content related to your business.

Occasionally tweet the name, address and phone number.
Make sure a primary phone number and address are listed clearly on all social media profile pages.  Once on Twitter, businesses should tweet their name, address and phone number occasionally by tying this information to products, services, specials, events, promotions or coupons.

For example, “huge selection of Cubs T-shirts at businesses’ NAP.” Now there is an important key word (Cubs T-shirt)  and your business address associated with each other, available to be crawled and index by the search engines, also Include a link back to your company’s Web site in your tweet or status update, so you can drive traffic and include more information than what you included in your 140-character tweet. The same type of information can be distributed on Facebook.

Add your social media profiles to your business listings.
Once a business has their business listing information on their social media profile pages, they should include social media links, e.g., Twitter handle, Facebook URL, to their business listings on the major search engines and data providers.

Add a local component to social media campaigns for best results.
It is beneficial to tie your social media strategy into advertising or local search campaigns. For example, a large restaurant chain recently ran a nationwide promotion on Facebook offering a free food item, but failed to add a local component to their social media strategy. Ultimately, they did interact with users on a national level but missed an opportunity to point diners to restaurant locations in their regional areas.

An integrated social local strategy would include fans posting positive comments on Facebook or Twitter about the restaurant’s local franchise. They could even include a sub-page or landing page with the NAP tied to each local restaurant from the corporate social page allowing the NAP to act as a signal to search engines to pull “fan” engagement together when the search engine is   trying to answer a local search query like “Chinese Food in Grove, IL.” Ultimately, this would have promoted conversation about and drove traffic to regional locations.

The bottom line is that social media is happening with or without your business.
Make the most of these tools by getting online and interacting with your customers. Social media is about creating engagement and generating sales.

Most businesses drive the majority of their sales through in-store purchases and social media is a way to increase traffic to your physical service or retail location.

Just remember, these conversations are bound to happen, so do things on your terms and claim as much Web real estate as possible for your business.