Last week we wrote about how large corporations were using Twitter to improve their brand image and connect with customers in new and interesting ways. This week we want to show you some simple strategies small businesses can use to monitor their brand on Twitter and other social media sites.

If your business is brand new to social media, start by creating profiles on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other social media websites. By taking this simple step, you will begin taking ownership of your company name on search results. This is an easy reputation management tactic.

The idea is that when someone searches your company name, you want to control the results they see; particularly on the first page. Instead of seeing things that are out of your control like a bad customer review or lousy press, the searcher will see your home page followed by the social media profiles you set up and perhaps some other IYP and directory listings. There are only ten spots on a search engine results page. By creating these profiles and utilizing some basic SEO tactics, you can control all ten results without much effort. (Tip: creating a Wikipedia page is also a helpful way to control the results).

After you have set up the profiles, what next? A good place to start is at search.twitter.com. This search tool from Twitter allows you to search their entire stream for keywords, like your brand name or your products and services. Enter your company name and perform a search. If someone Tweeted about your company, it may be a good idea to try to connect with them. Politely @reply to their message and if they are unhappy, see if you can address their concern. If they are saying how great your company is, thank them for the support.

For many small businesses, their company name isn’t being discussed everyday and repeating this exercise can be a waste of time. Instead tools like Tweetbeep will do the work for you and send you emails when someone Tweets about your company. There are a lot of articles about Twitter tools, but there are a few good ones: here, here and here.

Finally, develop a long term plan. Remember that social media is about community building. If you can give advice and become active among industry experts, your community will grow. The new local trends feature shows what people are talking about in your area. Become active in community discussions. If you use Twitter simply as a way to consume information rather than provide information, you will have a hard time building a community. But if you can create a community of people interested in your Tweets, you will improve your brand name and your company’s ability to retain clients.

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