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Social Media Help for Small Companies

New software services make it much easier to check out what people are saying about you.

For small businesses, the blizzard of social media offers big opportunities both to reach big audiences likely to be receptive to their sales pitches and to cultivate valuable customer loyalty.

But it can also be a tremendous challenge. Simply monitoring what customers, competitors and even employees say about you -- good or bad -- can be overwhelming for firms with limited personnel and resources.

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That’s spawning new businesses to ease the burden at a reasonable price. Companies such as Involver and Sprout Social offer software that monitors mentions of your firm on Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and other outlets and provides comprehensive reports.

Involver, whose customers also include large name brands such as Comedy Central and Carfax, offers its Audience Management Platform. It makes it easy for smaller businesses to streamline Web content into a more manageable format so they can review mentions and respond in one place.

Sprout Social lets companies download its software onto their own systems to monitor and manage their various social media mentions. The least costly option: $9.99 a month for weekly reports covering five media sites.

Another firm -- Cloud Preservation -- lets small employers keep abreast of every tweet, blog and Facebook post that concerns their company, even ones made by employees. The service enables companies to move quickly to take legal action if they’re being slandered or otherwise maligned.

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The new services are likely to help change the small business mind-set on social media. Many smalls are often dismissive of social media for a few reasons: They’re overwhelmed by the options; they don’t have time for it; they don’t see the benefits of participating; and, above all, they find it difficult to control and manage their brand on the myriad platforms.

That’s because it’s difficult to gauge the true return on investment from engaging with social media, explains Justyn Howard, CEO of Sprout Social. “Closing the loop between social media efforts and in-store sales is [currently] impossible, at least in any accurate fashion. Coupons help; Foursquare check-ins are the closest we’ve seen -- but the technology to accurately measure ROI does not exist yet,” Howard says. The new monitoring services should help, however.

Large firms with deeper pockets are also keen to know what’s being said about them on the Internet, but they have the wherewithal to hire full-time staffers to monitor goings-on. One new title of the times: CLO, or chief listening officer.

Note that about two-thirds of young earning adults count peer-to-peer reviews on social media sites as among the primary ways to engage with brands, according to a study by OTX Research, an advertising and marketing research firm.

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