Online marketing through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook can be a powerful tool for large and small brands alike.

Whether your business is a small retail store, cafe, or a professional service, there is a social network out there that fits your and your customers' needs. If you're looking to improve customer loyalty and increase referrals for your small business, invest some time in learning which social network works best to fit your style, so you can start building a positive online reputation.

Why use social media for your business?

It helps your business to be more accessible and personable, more human even. It allows you to create and maintain long-term connections with your customers in a quick and easy way. In this age of the Internet, people can find anything they want online in a matter of seconds. And that includes reviews, blog posts and comments about your business from other customers. So it's wise to continually tweak and optimize the aspects of your online reputation that are in your control - just in case the stuff that's not in your control contains a little, shall we say, negative feedback.

If you have a local business with a storefront, take advantage of the local social networks like Yelp. Claim your business listing and add relevant information such as your phone, address, directions, store hours, pricing, etc. to make it easy for customers to connect with you. Yelp also lets you answer questions about your business, track how many Yelp users view your business page, and even announce specials and promotions.

There are hundreds of social networks besides Yelp, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn that give your customers hundreds of opportunities to find you. Social network usernames and profiles are often the top search results for small businesses since they may be updated more frequently than your website. A good strategy is to be consistent. If your brand is scattered across the social networks under many different usernames and profiles, finding you may be difficult. It's also a good idea to keep the look of all your accounts as consistent as possible - that includes customizing headers with your logo, using the same color palette and a background image that coincide with your brand.

We know, it can be overwhelming to track multiple social media accounts and respond to customer comments and blog posts. Thankfully, there are quite a few tools out there designed to help you do just that. Here are two examples to get you started:

Google Alerts, free email updates from Google,  constantly search results about any topic or keyword you want to monitor and sends you an immediate email notification with a link. Track your company's name and see who is talking about it on the web.  Or set up alerts about your competitors to see what they are up to and how customers respond to them. You can set up alerts for the web, blogs, news, videos - monitor any topics that pertain to your business.

Another useful tool to help you keep up with your social media accounts is BackType, a real-time search engine that indexes online conversations in thousands of blogs and social networks. It will send you emails with links to comments that include keywords you are interested in. This way you can respond to any posts or comments about your company without having to go through each social network "manually".

There are hundreds and hundreds of different social networks on the web, but you don't have to use all of them. Choose a few you like most and get involved on a consistent basis. Then sit back (just for a minute) and watch your online marketing efforts pay off!