Small businesses are small . . . hence the name. But in this new world where everyone is connected, (try 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon now) their market presence doesn’t have to follow suit.

People live in networks of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and even millions of individuals through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and even the ever-diminishing MySpace. Through all of these social media platforms, the level of “noise”, spam, and general bullshit has increased over the last few years and people have become weary of anything that says “Click this link!” However, when used correctly, these social media networks can be the perfect outlet from which to base your strategic marketing and advertising operations, especially in the case of small businesses that don’t generally have the budget to run a prime-time commercial on NBC or put a full-page bleed in Time Magazine.

Giving away free merchandise can be a very powerful attractor to your business . . . and no, I’m not talking about those “Sign Up for 3 of these deals to receive your free iPod”. I’m talking about something that legitimately adds value to your customer’s experience by interacting with your brand.

If you’re an up-and-coming surf company, giving away a few hats or tee-shirts to the first few people that “ReTweet” your message could be an amazing way for you to get some free exposure on Web 2.0, as well as when these people wear your gear. Or if you’re in the service industry, offering some sort of free consultation or 20% off your service to the first 20 people to comment on your Facebook post would be a great way to get your audience involved.

And that’s the key to a successful social media strategy for a small business: consumer interaction. It’s hard to quantify the exact results of your social media campaign (at least the way analytics stand right now) because social media is more than just direct returns or simple leads . . . it is an opportunity to realistically engage your consumers, giving real feedback on your brand in an open forum, as well as giving your consumers a tangible entity to interact with. You are no longer just a “loudspeaker” message coming from the television or radio . . . you’re speaking face-to-face (virtually) with the people most likely to buy your product.

Now, not only are you building a following of potential new buyers, but you’re also gathering valuable research about your brand, your competition, and realistically anything in your evoked set . . . which is great for you and for your costumers, because it allows you to more readily offer your followers exactly what they want, and in turn, grow your business.

Differentiate yourself from your competition by running some sort of competition through your various social media streams, you can even interweave them all and have some sort of “hunt” through your pages. It creates new followers and helps build loyalty from the existing ones. Viral campaigns are all the rage because your audience feels like they belong to an elite club, again solidifying your customer-brand relationship.

Social media is an amazing opportunity to be creative and build your business, essentially for free . . . it was built for every person to have a voice, which is great for the little guys, great for the small businesses. It’s time to take advantage of it.