“bCoz ^ is the way to go“, “Pastry smpls 2 b thnkfl 4 on Bleecker’s Thrsdy, and don’t drink and drive”: the first is a tweet by an independent movie theater running the movie Up, and the other is by a local bakery trying to keep in touch with their custom and get a following. The way small businesses figure it, the only way they can run against larger competitors is by making their message personal, with fun tweets sent out. Today might be a particularly valuable time to get in; Citibank did a survey of several hundred small businesses in the US recently and found that three-quarters of small businesses didn’t pay attention to social media, given how distracted they are by the tough economy. Twitter and Facebook certainly cost little for businesses to run; getting in now should be a good way to establish a custom.

But success in the social networking arena comes from finding a way of genuinely standing out. Some businesses don’t just use social networking to get in some cheap advertising; they read other people’s messages to try to see how to appeal to them. For example, a small clothing store found out through reading up on Twitter that sports fans like to catch the attention of the cameras when they attend a sporting event. The store came up with a shirt that had reflective-coated cuffs that caught the light quite nicely. They put the word out through Twitter, and sold a bunch.

The more buzzworthy a business website is, the more local blogs will point to it. That makes for excellent SEO, and can boost rankings on Google searches in your area. Innovative Twitter use is pretty good too; a plumber likes to put out word on his tweets, what areas he plans to be visiting the following day; a mobile ethnic food van put out word of the streets they will be passing through at different times the following day, and so on.

No one really knows how to measure the success of their efforts in social media. If only there were a successful Facebook app for this now.