Small businesses, particularly in service and entertainment niches, such as cafes and restaurants, are struggling to adapt to the new realities of the world of social media. Food blogs and aggregation sites expose businesses to more scrutiny than ever before and that scrutiny is so easy to share.
Hopefully you started by developing a business plan. Part of this would have included creating a business name. You need something unique (for Google to find) and easy (for humans) to remember.
Register the business name, use the name to register an internet domain, and set up a website. You can achieve a professional look with a free WordPress blog/CMS install and use of many free WordPress templates.
Publish all the basic information about your business in your site, such as opening hours, contact details and menu. Use a google map to show where you are and how to get to your location.
Write some posts about who you are, your aims for the business, introduce your staff and develop a sense of personality and style. Explain why you chose your location, your winelist, whatever.
Seed the social web with your content. Link to the top food blogs, even if they have not reviewed you (yet). Create a Flickr account and upload some photos. Also put the pics in your site. Make some videos and create a video channel on Youtube. Import the video(s) back into your site.
Use Google’s blog search tool to find all the references to your business and site on the web, particularly in blogs. Open a del.icio.us account and bookmark all the reviews of your business posted in blogs there. Use the RSS feed to republish those links to your site.
Use the FlickrRSS plugin to pull in a feed of photos of your business (if they exist) from other Flickr users. You’d be surprised who is taking pics of your premises and publishing them online.
Create a Facebook page. Populate it with the Flickr photos, the RSS feed from your blog and the RSS feed of reviews from del.icio.us. Promote the Facebook page on your site and ask people to become fans.
Respond to blog reviews of your business. Try to be objective; easy to say but hard to do. Tag the posts you respond to with a separate tag and publish a feed of this on your site too. Show that you’re open to criticism and are willing to participate in the debate.
Write a post reviewing the blogs and their reviews! Take those trendy digerati by surprise. Connect with other small businesses in you area. You’re a customer too – review other restaurants and describe what you think good food is! Demonstrate your expertise in this area.
Your primary goal is to establish your name and brand in a positive manner. Reputation management and keeping track of negative opinion is only a secondary concern.
You could hire someone like me to do some or all of this for you, but it is much more genuine and real if you do it for yourself.
Update 11 July 2008: read more about developing a social media plan for your business.