Small businesses looking to get a better handle on social media have a new tool to manage their brand. Brandify, a social service from Microsoft now in beta, aims to simplify the process of evaluating, building and monitoring a competitive online brand for a small business.\n"One of the top pain points for small businesses is they know they need to be online, they know they need to be doing social media, but they don't know where to start or they don't have time to manage all these things," says Carl Timm, a group manager for Microsoft who is working on the Brandify team.How-to: Launch a Business Presence on TwitterThe idea behind Brandify is to give small businesses a starting point to manage social media and search engine optimization (SEO) by providing a list of recommendations to guide them in the right direction and improve online branding efforts.Brandify recommendations provide step-by-step guidance to help you improve your visibility in search engines and across social sites.Let's look at how this new service helps small business owners better manage their social presence.Getting Started with Brandify: Registration, Dashboard and InsightsBrandify accounts are free to create. Log on via Windows Live, Facebook or LinkedIn and claim your business on the site. This will let you access a social status score and obtain recommendations on how to improve your brand online.Leslie Perovich, vice president of marketing and development for ExplorOcean\/Newport Harbor Nautical Museum, has been using the beta version of Brandify and says the social score and recommendations have been a valuable tool for the museum."Brandify takes you through a step-by-step process and gives you recommendations so you know exactly what you need to do to link your website and social together," she says.The basic registration form requires a business name, website URL, ZIP Code and type of business (local business, online business or franchise location). The last step is connecting Brandify with online profiles from places such as LinkedIn, Google Places, Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter. Brandify will automatically locate some profiles; you'll need to manually connect to others.With registration details provided, Brandify will then research your brand, collect data and provide your social status score in an easy-to-understand dashboard that helps you see what's happening with your brand's social presence and how you can improve it.To that end, the Brandify dashboard offers real-time insight into how the online activities of your business help or hurt your overall Web presence score. The main features of the dashboard include a real-time activity feed to show what's new with your social brand, a list of recommendations (essentially, a to-do list) to help you improve SEO and social presence, and profiles that display your data as it is discovered on search engines and review sites for local businesses."Most companies don't realize just how much they are out there in social and in search engines&mashand what wrong information about you is available," Perovich says. "But once you start looking and tracking with Brandify, you can fix these errors and clean up the information about your business online."Advice: Four Steps to Success for Enterprise Social MediaAnother important part of the dashboard is Insights, which shows how Brandify evaluates a small business' search engine, overall website and social media performance.The search engine evaluation is based on the position of your business within search results. It uses the business category you supplied at registration to determine your search engine market share.\nThe website insights section, meanwhile, shows MozRank (popularity), external links to your domain and homepage, title tags, meta description and social media links on your site.\nFinally, the social media insights tool provides a snapshot of how well you do on each platform and shows your rank compared to other companies of similar size.How Brandify Helps You Monitor Your Social BrandAs small business owners follow Brandify recommendations, their social status score changes. This lets you track progress and improvements over time. You can also edit your business information in Brandify to edit company details or business categories as you grow and change.According to Perovich, ExplorOcean started with a Brandify social score of 450. By following the initial recommendations for search engines, Facebook and Foursquare, the museum increased its social score to well over 700. "You can see exactly what factors changed your social score and track what is working the best for your business," she says.The Brandify dashboard allows you to quickly see your social score and recent positive changes.While well-suited to online businesses and brands such as ecommerce sites, Brandify is also a good tool for local businesses. According to a recent BIA\/Kelsey and ConStat study, 97 percent of consumers use online media when researching products or services in their local area. If you're a local business\u2014a restaurant or bakery, for example\u2014Brandify connects you to Google, Bing and Yahoo Local listings, tracks mentions of your business on popular review sites such as Yelp and monitors customer check-ins from Foursquare. "It's a good tool to stay current," Perovich says. "For us and many other small businesses, social is just a small piece of the pie\u2014but it's an important piece. A tool like Brandify helps you navigate through social and search engines with ease." \nBrandify is currently in beta. You can register on the Brandify website and use your account to view the data and recommendations for free.Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has been covering small business, electronic commerce and Internet technology for more than a decade. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.