Small Business Saturday takes place this weekend

Small Business Saturday 2011 is slated for this weekend, falling right between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Founded by American Express in 2010, Small Business Saturday is an effort to encourage consumers to shop at small businesses during the holiday season. The inaugural Small Business Saturday was held Nov. 27.

“Last year, we saw a 28 percent rise in sales volume for our small business merchants versus the same day in 2009,” says Mary Ann Fitzmaurice Reilly, senior vice president of American Express OPEN.

To help get cash registers ringing this holiday season and beyond, American Express has created a few tools designed to help small businesses move beyond traditional advertising and marketing efforts.

For instance, Google and American Express have partnered to offer My Business Story, a tool that allows business owners to create personalized, professional-quality videos for YouTube, social networks, and business websites.

Companies that effectively leverage video can expect better customer engagement and retention, according to Google, which claims online video boosts brand recall by 50 percent and likeability by 26 percent.

Additionally, American Express OPEN has created YourBuzz, a tool that helps small businesses view and respond to customer reviews and online mentions all from one place.

YourBuzz aggregates conversations across influential review sites, such as Yelp and CitySearch, and social networks, such as Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, to ensure listings are accurate, build customer relationships, and mitigate the damage that can be done from poor reviews.

American Express’s Small Business Saturday toolkit, available at Facebook.com/ShopSmall, also includes downloadable, point-of-purchase displays for small businesses to let customers know they are involved with the initiative. The displays allow merchants to include their own branding, details about their business, and any special offers they are promoting for Small Business Saturday.

Customizable email templates are available for businesses looking to conduct email campaigns for customers and prospects.

If the results of the American Express OPEN Small Business Saturday Consumer Pulse survey are any indication, the need for Small Business Saturday remains.

Forty-six percent of respondents say the strength of the small business economy is worse than five years ago.

Nonetheless, “nine in 10 Americans believe small business success is critical to the health of the U.S. economy, and Small Business Saturday translates this sentiment into dollars and cents for independent retailers,” Fitzmaurice Reilly says.

Last year, 1.5 million Facebook users, 130 public and private organizations and 41 elected officials declared their support for Small Business Saturday, and more than 100,000 small businesses downloaded related marketing materials.