Tips for Growing a Local Following on Social Media Organically

When Dave Danhi started the Grilled Cheese Truck in 2009, he had no idea that it would expand beyond one truck, much less that social media would be a huge driver of the company's growth.

Now, almost five years later, Danhi notes that Facebook and Twitter are "paramount" to his business, and that about 80 percent of his customers get location information from the truck's constant social updates (averaging about 4-5 updates per hour, per truck). In fact, Danhi says that social media marketing is almost as important as his food when it comes to the success of his business.

Although your enterprise's daily success is likely not as dependent on social media as the Grilled Cheese Truck's, that doesn't mean growing a local following naturally, should be put on the back burner (no pun intended).

1. Optimize Business Info

Regardless of the social network, it is vital for brands to include the correct business information within the "about" section of their profiles. Not only does this data help consumers find important information like business descriptions, hours of operation and contact info, but it also makes brands more "discoverable" in the social search results. In fact, Facebook's new search feature, Graph Search, is particularly beneficial for local businesses. The feature leverages a variety of data, including information from the about section, to provide its members with the best results for their queries. For instance, Facebook members can use Graph Search to conduct local searches by querying "nearby restaurants" or "shoe stores nearby." In order to receive better placement for this type of search, brands must optimize their Pages with the correct information, including business category and address.

2. Groups/Communities

Both Facebook and Google+ enable users to create niche pages where they can publish and distribute content to smaller consumer groups. Facebook's "Group" feature can be kept private or open to the public, and provides a direct way for brands to interact with audience members. Similarly, Google+'s "Communities" feature offers even more ways for brands to connect with their audiences. For example, brands can participate in Hangouts (video chats) with community members, and even have the ability to create community "Events." By creating an Event, social networking can be taken offline to foster better personal relationships with customers. For instance, a pet supply store could create a "puppy meet and greet" event, which is a good way to invite the local community into the company's brick-and-mortar location.

3. Ask for Likes and Check-Ins

When it comes to social, audience interactions are the modern form of "word-of-mouth" because every interaction amplifies a brand's reach. With Graph Search, interactions such as "check-ins" and "likes" are especially important, as they influence local search results.

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For example, consumers can use Facebook's search feature for queries like "pet stores nearby that my friends like" or "coffee shops nearby that friends of my friends have been to." In order to benefit from these queries, brands need to encourage their customers not only to like their business pages, but also to use the check-in feature at their stores.

4. Hashtags

Hashtags finally received some love from Facebook in 2013, as this feature was supported by the world's largest social network after gaining popularity on platforms like Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram. Participating with trending hashtags will surely raise brand awareness, but to obtain visibility from locals, it is vital to use hashtags that they will recognize and know to search for. Testing is the best way to see which hashtags garner the best results, but one guaranteed way to gain local visibility is by using area-related hashtags, such as #city, #county or #state.

5. Cross-Platform Marketing

Most businesses have spent resources growing a following on at least one social network, and for local businesses, the majority of those audience members are likely within close proximity (at least they should be). In order to obtain the same amount of success on emerging social channels like Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr, it is a good idea to cross-promote social profiles on a consistent basis. Luckily, the Web is full of social media management tools, like HootSuite and Sprout Social, which can help businesses save time in their cross promotion efforts.