When you put up a website,it’s easy to take for granted that you are creating a platform that lives without traditional boundaries. Instead of being limited to contacting people in your local community or neighborhood, you can reach people all across the globe.  That’s incredibly powerful, but for many businesses, they are less concerned about reaching people in Dubai, but more interested in reaching their friends and neighbors.  Maybe not just within one State, perhaps, but people in a drivable geographic distance, especially if you deal with personal services.

Get Found, Become Engaged

There are some basic tools that can help.  Using Google Local to make sure our business shows up in local search results is a good first step.  Checking out what people are saying about you online through Vanity Searches and by using Google Alerts is another great idea.  This pair of resources makes sure your business can be found on google, even if you don’t have a formal website, and that you know what people are saying about you online, so you can get a sense of your reputation and perhaps even enhance your customer service or offerings in response to that feedback.

Reviews and Recommendations

With the rise of many location-aware applications and websites, ranging from Yelp, to Gowalla to Foursquare, not to mention newer, augmented reality applications, people are leaving messages and recommendations  (pro and con) to their friends about your business, whether you know it or not.  More and more of these review sites are being added all the time, which is enough to make any business owner crazy.  If you run a restaurant, making sure you can participate in something like Open Table, might help get you new business as well.

Asking people to give you recommendations on LinkedIn after a job well done will help you build your reputation for excellent work, and asking clients to connect with you on social media sites, like a Facebook Fan Page might help you increase engagement with your existing customers as well as helping them spread the news of our business to friends and colleagues.

While Twitter can be a very noisy and very global place, you can increase its value for you by looking for people in your local area who use the platform.  Hubspot has a great tool that will let you find the twitter elite- the noisiest people in your area
, who might be great people to contact about special offers or news about your business, as they are likely to pass it on to their audience.  Finding and driving your local audience on big social platforms, whether it’s geo-targeted ads on Facebook or focusing on local folks on twitter may even be worth more to you than traditional ads, assuming you know how to measure these efforts.

The Delaware Social Media Initiative

Ken Grant has started a plan to help put Delaware on the map as a social media hub.  While it certainly isn’t as early to the game as Boston or San Francisco or even Philadelphia, Delaware has some surprising advantages that are making this a realistic and very doable goal.  First, as a small state, we have the advantage of local connections that are easy to transfer online.  The distance between Main Street and the State House was never all that far here, but social media is making it easier than ever for local people to have meaningful interactions with local and statewide politicians, as well as our representatives in Washington.  While we don’t see Joe Biden as often at the Greenville Brew Ha Ha, we still can run into Mike Castle at Purebread Deli when he’s in town.

By helping the small and local businesses develop an online presence, we’re making it easier for people to find the great local resources we have here by essentially amplifying the word of mouth that already exists.  It makes it easier for people from surrounding areas to find out what’s available, and what they can do after they finish touring Nemours, or Hagley or Winterthur.  And what’s great, is more and more people are coming out to social events ranging from Ignite Wilmington to DelTweet- the Delaware Tweetups, nad finding out that social media can have really positive effects- especially when matched up with the ability to come together, and shake hands in the real world.  Web folks and social media geeks are now helping local businesses figure this stuff out and what might work for them- and we can have a state-wide impact quickly, becaause of the size and close knit nature of our community.

We’re finding out that local and global can come together nicely, step by step.  We can grow business and awareness and not break the bank doing it.  We can share tools and teach people to do this, to be more effective at what they already do to attract customers and new business and retain the old, without costing them a fortune in the process.

The Delaware Lab, as I like to call it, has an amazing group of people involved, and all are entering this online world with a sense of wonder but also a sense of what is realistically possible.  I know I’m trying to make sure everyone knows how to make real measurement of the before and after of their efforts, because for every business, the implementation and the success rate will vary.

Most importantly, I know we’re helping a community that like many, has been hit by the recession.  People are stressed and looking for new ways to do business, and this helps open a door to trying something different.  Our local media and government officials are being incredibly supportive, including the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce and the State Chamber of Commerce.  We have Fortune 500 companies in our midst, small businesses, and everything in between, and people are starting to work together towards common goals.

It’s exciting to think the year is just beginning, but we have a real chance to move our whole state forward in a short period of time.

Sharing Ideas

How would you move your local community forward on the web?  How do make something that creates a world wide platform and turn it into an affective local business generator?  How do you bring everyone together in a community?  We have the advantage of small- but how would this work in California or Texas for example?

I think this is the next big thing for communities- bringing their stories and resources online and making other people, regardless of the distance, sit up and take notice.  What can you do to help your local community today?

We’re dreaming big here in Delaware.