8 Social Media Sites for Local Networking

Filed in Local Search, MY BEST POSTS, Social Media by Matt McGee on October 23, 2008 48 Comments

street signs - social and localShould small/local businesses bother with social media? Or is local search where it’s at — targeting potential customers in their own cities and towns?

The good news is that small business owners don’t have to choose one or the other. Listed below are eight sites at the intersection of social media and local search, the places where these two roads meet. When you get there, keep in mind that it’s not about sales pitches and spamming; it’s about making real connections with other human beings. Think of it as the online version of going to a chamber of commerce meeting. That’s the first piece of offline marketing advice you were given; here’s how to take the same idea online.

Social Media & Local Search: Where Two Roads Meet

1. Flickr

You may think of Flickr as a photo storage/sharing site, but the heart of Flickr is its groups. Flickr has tens of thousands — maybe hundreds of thousands — of groups, and many groups are local in nature. These groups offer a great opportunity to connect with your neighbors, potential customers who might be interested in your products/services.

If you’re a small business owner in Columbus, Ohio, for example, you might want to join this Flickr Meetup – Columbus Ohio group.

flickr screenshot

This group has 624 members at the moment; no doubt some of those folks are inactive, but it’s still a great way to connect with local residents. These members are uploading local photos, of course, but they’re also talking about local events, local news, and local businesses in the group’s discussion board. Have a look:

flickr screenshot

Note that all of these discussions are active, with posts within the past two days. And if you owned an independent hotel in Columbus, or maybe a Bed & Breakfast, wouldn’t you like to answer the question from that user who started the any suggestions for a hotel? thread? That’s a gift-wrapped opportunity to start a conversation with a potential customer!

Visit the Flickr Groups section and do a search for your city. You’ll probably find an overwhelming number of matches (there are almost 600 for Columbus, Ohio). Look for groups with recently active discussions — that’s the most important thing. The number of members is important, but not as important as joining an active group where your neighbors are talking.

2. Facebook

When you join Facebook, you have to list a hometown. Facebook automatically puts you in a “network” with everyone else in your hometown. That’s the good news. The bad news? It used to be easy to browse through your local network to meet neighbors, but now it’s a chore. Still, Facebook is such a popular site, it’s probably worth the effort to try to make local connections, even with the added hassles.

Click on the “Settings” button at the top of the screen, then choose “Account Settings.” Then click the “Networks” tab. This will tell you how many people are in the local network, and you can click to browse the network membership. Have a look at my Tri-Cities network:

facebook screenshot

You can use the panel on the right to further sort the members of your network; if you’re looking to connect with adult males (because you own a fishing shop), you can do that.

3. StumbleUpon

Like Facebook, you have to list a hometown when you join StumbleUpon. The cool thing is that, on your profile page, your hometown shows up as a clickable link that shows all StumbleUpon users from your hometown. If you lived in Seattle, you’d end up on a page like this:

stumbleupon screenshot

Note, too, that you can also separate users by gender on StumbleUpon (in case you own a women’s clothing boutique, for example, and only want to connect with women).

4. Twitter

Unlike some of the other social media sites listed here, Twitter is all about conversations, making it possibly the best place to reach out and find people in your neighborhood to connect with. Twitter’s advanced search page includes a geo-search option. Give it a city and state (or a zip code), and get back a list of messages (“tweets”) from people in that area. Have a look:

twitter screenshot

TwitterLocal offers a similar service, but it doesn’t appear to update nearly as quickly as Twitter’s own advanced search.

5. Yahoo Answers

Yahoo Answers can be a productive marketing tool for service-oriented businesses, or for anyone whose knowledge and expertise is a primary selling point. But the site gets so much traffic that it can be overwhelming for a local business. Fortunately, a local business owner can bypass most of that and get right into the Q&A that matters — the stuff about your hometown. If you’re a photographer in Atlanta, you might have something to say about the top question in the Atlanta Q&A section:

yahoo answers screenshot

To find the local sections of Yahoo Answers, look for the “Local Businesses” category on the home page, and then drill down until you find the right city for you. The drawback here is that only major cities are covered with specific categories.

6. outside.in

You’ve probably heard about the benefits of reaching out and starting relationships with bloggers. outside.in is one of two sites I’ll mention that can help you find local bloggers. outside.in is a content aggregator; they show content from both traditional media and blogs.

outside.in screenshot

You can’t contact the local bloggers directly through outside.in; it’s just for locating them. You’ll want to visit the local blogs you find, start reading them regularly, leaving quality comments, and eventually introduce yourself and start that relationship.

7. Placeblogger

Placeblogger is a simple directory for local blogs. If you’re a local business owner in Houston, and you’re looking for local blogs, the Houston directory page is the place to go:

placebogger screenshot

You’ll want to research the blogs listed to make sure they’re still active, then follow the steps mentioned above in the outside.in section.

8. LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a great social site for business professionals; it’s not a place to sell products, but you may be able to connect with people looking for your area of expertise. The advanced search page lets you look for other members in your area. Here’s a search for people in the computer repair industry in Los Angeles:

linkedin screenshot

The ability to drill down to find people in your area and industry can help you find new business partners, employees, and other opportunities you may not know of yet.

Final Thoughts

Many small/local business owners think social media is a waste of time. For some, it would be a waste of time to jump into social media without looking for the local angle. But the sites above are at the intersection of social media and local search. They offer opportunities that almost any small/local business should be interested in: the opportunity to find and connect with potential customers in their hometown.

No matter which social media site fits best, it’s important to get involved not with an eye toward using it for sales pitches and spam; no one likes that. The idea is to connect with local people, not to alienate them. Focus not on what you can get from the community you join, but on what you can give. That’s the best recipe for local-social success.

Your Turn: What other social media sites offer a way to connect with local people?

Comments (48)

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  1. Michael D says:

    Great list Matt. I’ve been paying closer attention to local activities going on via sites like these. These communities make BNI, chamber mixers, and other local old school events look like childs play.

  2. Jeff F. says:

    Another social media site that I’ve found works great for finding content about local areas is GuideSpot.com. You can create ‘guides’ about your city or state. All of the content is user-generated and controlled. It’s a great way to find out about cool stuff going on around your town. They have alot of stuff about Houston, which is pretty resourceful for me.

  3. CarrieHIll says:

    Great post- I had no idea you could do the near: within: thing in Twitter – great idea!

  4. CarrieHIll says:

    ps: i just broke my own rule and put “great post” in a blog comment – bad, bad, Carrie!

  5. Brent says:

    I never heard of Placeblogger. Thanks for the tip going to check it out to see how I can leverage it for local search!

  6. Matt McGee says:

    It’s okay, Carrie — at least that wasn’t the ONLY thing you said. :) Thanks for all the feedback, gang.

  7. Karl Ribas says:

    Never would I have thought to make social media optimization a part of one’s my local marketing strategies. You’ve clearly outlined ways to do just that. Another fine post my friend!

  8. Very nice post……the twitter trick i never knew….I think myspace is still a great one…i see a lot of tattoo shops and hair salons that have optimized profiles for the local search. ex.tattoo shop murrieta ca-So its all in the eyes of the beholder…follow me if your on twitter…

  9. Richard says:

    Like to geo search tip for Twitter – will give it a go. Good post. Thanks.

  10. Zoe says:

    Harrogate (where I live) has Neighbours United, its own social networking site :)

  11. Pat Howlett says:

    Farming in ones own backyard is best for most service and small traditional buiness owners. Great post and tips.

  12. Social media marketing will be a huge player for the local community. I see more and more local and regionally targeted businesses using social networking sites to their advantage

  13. Never realized you could GEO search Twiter! I tried your example on Twitter and it seems to be done, the TwitterLoacal worked fine.

    Will keep your list in mind for local projects.

  14. Wow, speling terrible today, done = down

  15. Chris Morin says:

    Great post! I’ve never heard of place blogger or outside.in I’ll have to go and check them out. I put up a facebook business profile about 2 months ago and was wondering why a client that I’d advised was coming up on google before mine.. Doy.. I forgot to make mine public… I hate when my blonde shows! :) thanks for the tips.

  16. Jason says:

    This is a great resource for local business owners. I had never heard of outside.in before, I’ll have to do a little more digging in on that one. Thanks for pulling this info together in one place.

  17. Peter says:

    Matt – love the topic and the post. What I find interesting about some of the platforms you mention is that they are primarily consumer based, such as Facebook and Twitter. Certainly, I think a local business has an opportunity to use these platforms to attract a fan following, but it starts to feel a bit of an intrusion on the original intent of these platforms (or at least the reason I use them).

  18. Matt McGee says:

    I think it depends on the approach taken, Peter. Surely it can feel like an intrusion if the small business owner goes in to a place like Facebook or Twitter with the idea that he’s going to use it as an advertising/pitch platform. But that’s obviously the wrong way.

    If the approach is that these sites are merely places to meet other local people, commerce/business notwithstanding … it shouldn’t be an intrusion. It should be no different than meeting new people at your son’s baseball game or something like that.

  19. B. says:

    I had never heard of Placeblogger before… so thanks for that information. Facebook has been pretty good, in my experience, although I don’t find that site to be as user friendly as it’s cracked up to be.

  20. el-harun says:

    Social media marketing will be a huge player for the local community. I see more and more local and regionally targeted businesses using social networking sites to their advantage

  21. Never realized you could GEO search Twiter! I tried your example on Twitter and it seems to be done, the TwitterLoacal worked fine.

    Will keep your list in mind for local projects.

  22. If the approach is that these sites are merely places to meet other local people, commerce/business notwithstanding … it shouldn’t be an intrusion. It should be no different than meeting new people at your son’s baseball game or something like that.

  23. Robert says:

    Very good info, I have use some of these but this is great. Thanks

  24. Good summary and list. Here’s another option that’s strictly for business networking. Someone has put together a template on the uber-social-networking site ning.com, where they’ve grabbed a subdomain for each U.S. area code, like this: http://insideXXX.ning.com/ where XXX is the area code. Most of these seem to be empty currently. Their showcase is at http://inside919.ning.com/, which is in North Carolina. It’s a good chance to get in on the ground floor of building a local business network in your area, if that appeals.

  25. Sharon Deloy says:

    Wow, great post about lots of sites I never knew existed, or twitter about the local connection.

    I also get a lot of info in this comments section.

  26. zevk says:

    I never heard of Placeblogger. Thanks for the tip going to check it out to see how I can leverage it for local search!

  27. medyum oguz says:

    i see a lot of tattoo shops and hair salons that have optimized profiles for the local search. ex.tattoo shop murrieta ca-So its all in the eyes of the beholder

  28. Ismael Ahmed says:

    Very good article.
    I work for a small business and part of my job description is to update their social media accounts. These are very helpful tips, especially because getting local recognition is so important to a small business.
    I also like the sites Digg and Reddit.

  29. Greg says:

    I have actually found a ton of people on stumbleupon – kind of like how facebook helps you track old friends down, but stumble just shows people you may actually know, completely at random. Very fitting for the name.

  30. If the approach is that these sites are merely places to meet other local people, commerce/business notwithstanding … it shouldn’t be an intrusion. It should be no different than meeting new people at your son’s baseball game or something like that.

  31. Great post on some of the tools to use when using social networking locally.

    Another great Twitter tool available is :

    http://nearbytweets.com/
    or
    http://www.twitterlocal.net/

  32. killey says:

    “Social media and SEO are now inextricably linked. You couldn’t separate ’em if you tried.” – Ian Lurie.

  33. Great advice, Matt! Social media for small business is not about direct sales and referrals. Use the tools to establish a relationship, with other small business owners, or customers.

    Check out Biznik for a great marriage of online tools and face-to-face connections for the truly powerful relationship building experience.

    Andrew Lippert
    CTO – Biznik

  34. Ghazal Alvi says:

    Great post and good advice.

    In my opinion, a mix of social media, local networking and SEO will do wonders for any sized company. But, at the same time it should look natural.

    Thanks for sharing!

  35. Rich says:

    Very cool stuff, thanks. I sometimes wish I had a physical storefront to take advantage of a lot of stuff like this, but being 100% online, local marketing doesn’t really enter into it much. Although I have always done more regionally, simply because it’s cheaper to ship to surrounding states than across the country.

    Thanks again.

  36. This is an article that I will refer many business friends and clients to over the coming weeks. Thanks for the research and timely information! Interviews with businesses in my hometown indicate that many small business owners don’t know how to best expand their local reach. The Intersection (of social media and local search) is VERY productive place for us to explore.

  37. Mick Cullen says:

    I’m checking these but seem to be lucking out on some. Facebook networks “Facebook is made up of many networks, each based around a workplace, high school, or college. Join a network to discover the people who work or study around you.” doesn’t give me a local regional network?

    Outside.in is unreachable at the moment.

  38. Even though the post is a bit old, I wanted to comment on the fact that the information specifically for LinkedIn is still relevant. I belong to several groups in my local area that connect and plan through LinkedIn updates, and as well I have been able to connect with other local peers through regular discussions. In my opinion, LinkedIn has only gotten more effective at finding local connections with the advanced search options.

    Cheers.

    Chris Kulbaba

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