Social Media, Internet Marketing, and Real, Paying Customers - it really works!

Applying the basic tenets of internet marketing (SEO best practices and social media network building) have helped me grow the readership and engagement over at On The Forecheck tremendously in recent years, but lately I've been wondering if those same techniques could be applied to small- or medium-sized local businesses, to help them drive real, tangible business results.

I'm talking about not just drawing idle hockey fans looking to a blog so they can muse over line combinations, but helping businesses connect with potential customers in ways that otherwise wouldn't occur. Recently, I was able to help make just such a thing happen, and it shows just how great the opportunities are for small, local businesses which may not have the resources or skills available to extend their brand effectively on the internet.

About 18 months ago, I published an article at OTF about Harlow Salon, a unique, boutique beauty salon on Music Row in Nashville which had just won the business to provide hair & makeup services for the Nashville Predators Dancers & Ice Girls (hence the connection for OTF). For the last several months, I've been going there for my haircuts, not to get glammed-up like an Ice Girl, but because salon owner Shana Dyer is the first person I've found who can tackle the Cow Lick From Hell.

In talking about the Preds (all the folks at Harlow are big hockey fans) and my blog, I mentioned that some of the techniques which have helped me grow OTF might help the salon as well. So over time I advised on a few quick-hit tweaks to their site, such as implementing a redirect skipping over a splash page to direct visitors immediately to the "real" home page, engaging in a little on-page SEO, making sure Google Maps knew how to represent the salon's location, etc. Nothing as fundamental as a ground-up site redesign, but the kind of small steps which could help deliver some immediate value (Shana reports that walk-in traffic is up significantly in recent weeks, as people are finding the salon, and its physical location, easily when they search online for salons in Nashville).

Shana is quite active with Facebook and Twitter accounts for the salon, but they weren't featured on the website itself. So on my most recent visit to talk about their site, we had a checklist of three items to cover. First, add a Facebook widget. Second, a Twitter widget, and then thirdly, to review Google Webmaster Tools (which is a virtual goldmine of useful information).

We got a Facebook "Like" box plugged into the main page of the site in about 10 minutes, and it took another 10-15 to customize and implement the Twitter one (which we just put on the Contact page for now). As we started looking at Google Webmaster Tools, the phone rang and Shana had to step away for a bit.

She came back a few minutes later with a remarkable story. Someone had already visited the salon's website, "Liked" the Facebook page, and followed the link over to Facebook to find a special offer which was featured there. That phone call was to set up an appointment for a Brazilian Blowout, a premium service that Harlow specializes in, which also serves as an opportunity to develop a longer-term relationship with a new client.

It was pretty unbelievable. No more than 20 minutes after we had dropped the Facebook box onto the salon's main page, it paid off with a real customer.

The great thing is, we've really only scratched the surface here. The opportunity for local businesses to put their best foot forward on the internet is quite possibly the best "bang for the buck" in their marketing arsenal. Not only can they get in front of potential customers who are searching for the goods & services they can provide, but thanks to the magic of social media, their customers can end up acting like an additional sales force, too.