LinkedIn now allows you to follow a company, while Google offers new information about online visitors to your page -- and of course, new ways to advertise.
Facebook has gotten a lot of ink for its new features – and privacy concerns – but Google and LinkedIn have also launched some add-ons that may be useful to small businesses. LinkedIn recently unveiled its 'Follow Company' feature, aimed to give its 65 million members the inside scoop on hirings, promotions, job openings and other details about specific companies. The details come from a database of LinkedIn's member profiles. (You may want to keep an even closer eye on what information you and your employees put on LinkedIn now – it was changes to profiles there that revealed that Apple had bought Intrinsity, and that was even before the introduction of this feature.)
"You can be in the loop on new developments, potential business opportunities or even job opportunities by following companies of interest to you," said LinkedIn product development manager Ryan Roslansky in a blog post explaining the new "Follow Company" feature.
He wrote: "This feature can deliver insights you may be surprised at, such as the pace of hiring at your nearest competitor or the start of a whole new industry as you see Web technology companies hiring geography teachers. Or better yet, you may find the job of a lifetime to do cause marketing for Major League Baseball."
Meanwhile, Google earlier this month rebranded its Local Business Center as Google Places. It's more than just a name change, and it follows on Google's introduction of Place Pages – reviews, images and other information about a company pulled together from web sources – last fall. If you travel, a new feature will let you show the geographic areas you cover.
If you don't have a bricks-and-mortar storefront, you can make your address private. Other new features: For $25 per month, businesses in Atlanta, Austin, Houston, San Jose, California, and Washington, D.C., can use yellow markers called Tags to highlight your listing on Google.com and Google Maps. (In the next few weeks, Tags will also be available in San Diego, Seattle, Boulder, Chicago and San Francisco, with other cities to follow.)
You can use the tag – which doesn't affect your search ranking – to offer coupons or photos. You'll also soon be able to use the Tags to post a short current message – a bit like Twitter. 'A business will be able to highlight something special happening at their store – a sale, an upcoming event, or freshly baked banana bread,' Google explains in a blog post. 'Potential customers will see this message as an extra line under the business listing in search results, giving them customized relevant information and inviting them to choose that store.'
More ways to personalize your Place Page: Companies in certain cities can request a free photo shoot from Google. (Wondering if Google's photographers are visiting your city? Click here.) If they're not in the area (or you'd prefer to use your own), you can also upload to your Place Page.
"One out of five searches on Google are related to location, and we want to make sure that businesses are able to be found and put their best foot forward," said John Hanke, Google's vice president for maps, earth and local. The Google Places dashboard will offer customized QR codes – a.k.a. bar codes – that will take customers directly to your place page. You'll be able to use them in any marketing materials, and customers can scan them into smartphones. Finally, through the dashboard Google will be giving you previously unavailable information that may help you tailor marketing campaigns: who's searching for you, how people are finding you, and where they're coming from. For more information, click here.
Have you tried the new Google or LinkedIn features? How would you use them to promote your business?
Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.