Larry BraunerThe Internet and social media marketing are helping small business owners to level the playing field and compete more favorably with their larger counterparts.

To compete online, a business needs to invest in developing, optimizing and promoting websites. Online advertising costs money and, as I wrote earlier this week, Social Media Marketing is NOT Free either.

However, the cost and risk associated with doing business online are tiny compared with those of running a brick and mortar business, such as a Macy’s or an H&R Block.

Building an offline presence like that of Macy’s or H&R Block could stretch the resources of many large businesses. On the other hand, building a powerful online presence using social media marketing and search should be affordable, even for small businesses.

Offline, less is more, but online, bigger is er — bigger. There’s no limit to how large you can build your web presence.

Now, one little favor — forget the Super Bowl ad you were intending to place for your small business and make the check payable to yours truly. You can expect a stronger return on your investment. ;-)

Larry BraunerIf you and your organization are having difficulty justifying the high cost of social media marketing, consider this new and compelling factor:

Social media is increasingly influencing your visibility in the search engines. Businesses that fall behind in social media marketing could soon start noticing a reduction in their search engine traffic.

I wrote last year in The Long Tail and Social Media and Social Media vs. Search Engine Optimization about ways in which your social media marketing can be helped by search engines.

Shortly thereafter, I discussed in The NEW Search Engine Optimization some of the effects that social media marketing can have on your SEO and on your web presence. Now that the topic of social and search is gaining traction, I’m revisiting it, and I present to you a brief summary of social and search issues and benefits.

Dubious Value of Backlinks

The use of social data by search engines isn’t something new. Backlinks can be regarded as a form of social data. Search engines have for many years relied exclusively upon inbound links to evaluate a site’s authority. A well known criterion derived from the analysis of inbound links is Google Page Rank.

Backlinks are, however, of somewhat dubious value, since they often result from non-organic gray- and black-hat link-building techniques, such as link exchange, outright link purchase, blog-comment spam and spam blogs.

Social Media Content Authentic

Social media content is growing exponentially. Social content can be mined for useful data, and it will be. Social media sites and blogs yield data that’s authentic, and which coupled with backlinks, promises to more adequately measure a page’s authority.

Social media data may also enable search engines to return results that are more personalized.

Social Media Generates Backlinks

Not only can data from social media complement backlinks, social media itself can generate valuable backlinks to your website. Your blog posts, your comments on dofollow blogs and your content on dofollow social media sites, such as Amplify and Posterous, can all link back to your website.

However, the potential for backlinks doesn’t end there. Your participation in social media will attract genuine backlinks from within your communities.

Social Media Appears in Search Results

Search engines are indexing more and more social media content. Your content on social media sites appears in search engine results and can receive traffic from them. Your backlinks contained in that content, even if nofollow, permit visitors to click through to your website.

Furthermore, when your content is returned in search engine result pages, it occupies a slot that might have otherwise been occupied by a competitor.

Consider the numerous ways in which social media marketing can help search, and you might find it easier to justify costs, even if you cannot satisfactorily estimate social media ROI.

Larry BraunerSocial media is free, but marketing is not free. Marketing requires work, work demands time and, as the saying goes, time is money.

Since marketing isn’t free, social media marketing can’t be free either.

High Cost of Social MediaThe corporate world recognizes the cost of social media marketing and is overwhelmed with ROI concerns.

Small business owners, on the other hand, tend to remain pretty much in denial and haven’t fully accepted that social media marketing entails a very substantial labor cost.

It is imperative that marketers come to terms with the high cost of social media initiatives and then make a business case for social media marketing by assessing social marketing’s many potential benefits.

Larry BraunerTomorrow is another real estate day for me. I’ll be going to the NYC Network Group Mega Real Estate Forum at the New York City Bar building in Midtown Manhattan.

I ‘m attending the real estate forum partly for personal benefit but mainly for the benefit of a client.

Welkin Capital Group

I was retained as a social media and online marketing consultant to Welkin Capital Group, a NYC real estate finance company that specializes in commercial loans and loans for luxury homes.

When I accepted the assignment, I knew that my work would encompass more than just social media and search engine optimization. It would include a total website makeover, as well.

The transformation of Welkin’s website has been dramatic. The best way to appreciate the changes we made is to compare the new website to the old website. The new site has a better look and feel, more room to maneuver, additional content and a social component.

Tomorrow’s forum will not be my first offline activity on behalf of Welkin. I attended the REMarTech symposium in April and a NYC Networking Group event in May in order to develop relationships with people in the real estate industry.

Hi-Tech Hi-Touch

In my opinion, marketing your website and growing your business need to take place both online and offline. While you can make fabulous connections using social media, it’s time spent on the phone and in face-to-face meetings that cement those relationships.

Whatever your business, seek out the optimal balance between high tech and high touch.

Larry BraunerThe surf is up, and it’s Facebook Group Week!

Thank you for helping me launch my new website and blog devoted to optimizing your web presence and growing your business.

Please celebrate my site launch with me by joining one of more of my Facebook groups and reading Facebook Groups as Alternatives to Ning Sites.

Subscribe to my website newsletter, Optimize Brief, using the web form at the top right and to my blog RSS feed, as well.

Happy surfing, and if you comment, do comment safely. ;-)

You can also read or subscribe to my Online Social Networking at any time.

Larry BraunerHope to be ready to launch my new business web site the week of June 20, 2010. I’m happy with the progress I’ve made so far.

Getting ready to add a subscription form. Please feel free to leave a comment or a testimonial. ;-)

You can also read or subscribe to my Online Social Networking at any time.