My Small-Biz Space

To attract customers, small businesses are turning to online social networks.
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The ever-popular online social network is fast becoming a small-business network.

MySpace is now home to countless pages of small businesses aiming to build some buzz, a grass-roots effort to reach customers who might otherwise spend all their money at the big players such as

Starbucks

and

Barnes & Noble

.

Frankly, analysts say, it's a no-brainer. One of the appeals of advertising online is reaching such a large audience, and Standard & Poor's equity analyst Scott Kessler believes there are many other benefits.

"Most importantly ... you can target advertising to a particular audience or based upon a number of criteria," Kessler says. "Also, the Internet allows for great measurement of the effectiveness of advertising. Another

important element ... as we look at more-sophisticated types of Internet advertising is the ability to interact with current and potential customers online."

And MySpace isn't the only Internet forum through which small businesses can advertise and connect with customers. Creating customized Web sites and blogs are obvious ways to build brand presence online.

And for less work, and nominal (if any) fees, small businesses can turn to service sites such as

MerchantCircle, which boasts of being a MySpace specifically for local businesses.

Through MerchantCircle, small-business owners can create a profile, complete with blogs, newsletters, pictures, maps and even coupons, to attract customers. Companies can also monitor feedback and communicate with clients, as well as connect with other local businesses in the area.

To view Brittany Umar's video take of today's segment, click here.

"This makes the experience for consumers coming in to find these businesses much richer," says MerchantCircle co-founder Wayne Yamamoto. "And for the merchants themselves -- they only have to do a little bit of work to get these ... really great Web pages, all for free, and with very little time and effort."

Niso Soudry, owner of the Olympic Pita restaurant in New York City, knows something about the difficulties of advertising a small business. Soudry, who opened his first restaurant at the age of 19, resorted to ads in magazines and supermarkets before turning to the Internet.

"These days, as you know, the Internet is a very big business," Soudry says. "So I decided I had to put my name out there," on a Web site where people can order his products directly.

Olympic Pita is just one of the 114,000 small businesses that currently have online profiles with MerchantCircle. Along with its membership, Olympic Pita has received increased exposure on search engines such as

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

and

Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

.

"The search-Internet space is highly competitive, so it gives them an opportunity to express themselves and an opportunity for them to be found," Yamamoto explains.

And further evidence that small businesses are eager to take on the Web: It officially launched recently, in June 2006, but MerchantCircle said it expects membership to grow to 300,000 listings by the end of this year.

Brittany joined TheStreet.com TV in November 2006 after completing a degree in Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers College. Previously, Brittany interned at the local ABC affiliate in New York City WABC-TV 7 where she helped research and produce On Your Side, a popular consumer advocacy segment.