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Social Media and the Small Business

September 13, 2011 4 comments
by Todd Hamann

I searched online this week for a few articles that spoke to the small business that doesn’t yet use social media.  The two that I decided to highlight are from www.forbes.com and www.mashable.com.  I chose them for their focus.  The forbes.com story “10 Social Media Mistakes Small Businesses Can Avoid” by Pamela Springer is a bit of a warning, but with projects I’m working on right now I want to avoid mistakes if I can.  The second article “Social Media for Small Businesses: 6 Effective Strategies” is more of a cup-half-full approach and I chose it to balance out the first.

Have a Plan

In the twenty or so articles I read this week, I found a common theme that Pamela Springer identifies as mistake number one.    Small businesses that just throw out a bunch of disorganized noise as social media without an organized plan. In effect, they are shotgunning social media and hoping that something works out as a result.  They do their best but I would imagine they don’t have the time or resources to invest in a proper social media campaign.    Creating a social media plan may be a time commitment up front, but for an organized social media campaign it is time well spent.  An organized social media campaign can streamline your image and do wonders for your bottom line.

Manage, Not Control

Social media is a matter of management, not control.  Let me repeat that for emphasis…social media is a matter of management, not control.  Once a small business tosses its hat into the social media ring, the organic nature of social media will take over.  After that, it is management.  Small businesses have control over what part of the ring to toss their hat, then the company’s online reputation will take on a life (or death) of its own.

Springer’s second avoidable mistake is to take on too much social media at once.  ” This can be a huge mistake because it’s easy to get overwhelmed very quickly,” she writes.  Know your resources and time constraints.  Social media will work if managed properly, no matter how large your business is.  I am starting to run as a way to get myself back in shape.  There is no chance I would sign up for a marathon right now because I’m still working on handling a 5k.  Similarly businesses need to pace themselves.  If you are a one man operation and don’t have time to put into it, then don’t explode onto the scene with a push on all social media fronts.  You may have a good run now, but you’ll pay for it later.  Let it come organically.  As business increases and your online presence expands then open up new avenues.

Social Media is Measurable

The third common problem small businesses jump into is not measuring their ROI of social media.  ROI in businesses (especially in small businesses) is a religion.  You don’t have the time or resources to sit on a campaign that doesn’t produce dividends.  On the flip side, you wouldn’t want your business to grow stagnate only to find out that you’ve been sitting on the golden egg an not realizing it.  Each social media outlet has it’s own reporting structure.  Make sure you can measure progress.

Get your logos and slogans out there!

Mistake #4.  Underutilizing branding opportunities.  Springer makes a great point here.  Put your logo and slogan everywhere.  She says that there are so many spaces on profiles that are not filled in that become wasted opportunities to share your message.  Mistakes #5 and #6 are similar in nature.  Make sure that you are listening and not just promoting, and make sure that you respond to negative feedback.  The medium of social media craves two way communication.  We all know those companies with the worst customer service, the worst websites, the worst payment options.  They are too big or bullheaded to care  what we as the customers think.  These are companies we avoid when we can.  Don’t be that company.  As a small business you can’t afford to. Negative feedback is worth it’s weight in gold.  It’s market research you don’t have to pay for.

Mistake #7 Not using what’s already there.  Do you know Google Places?  Do you know Yelp?  I surely didn’t before this week’s research.  There is a chance your business is listed and reviewed and you don’t even know it.  Google search yourself.  Your company may have an online presence that you don’t even know about yet.  If people are talking, you need to be listening.  These profiles can be gold if you start managing them.

Mistake #8 and #9, not putting in the time or having the passion for social media, are cousins to each other.  Social media is probably not going to be a get-rich-quick story for your business…that’s the reality of it.  It is however a fantastic avenue to interact with your customers and build your business over time.  If done right, it will work as it’s own search engine for new customers.  You must have the time and commitment to follow your plan.

Lastly, Springer notes that not all social media outlets work for all businesses.  Learn what to focus on.  Learn what not to focus on.

In a nutshell, these are Pamela Springer’s warnings to the small businesses:

  1. Have a Plan
  2. Don’t Take on Too Much Too Soon
  3. Make Success Measurable
  4. Use Social Media for Branding
  5. Listen to Customers While Promoting
  6. Address Negative Feedback
  7. Claim and Manage Existing Profiles
  8. Put in the Time
  9. Develop the Passion
  10. Know What Platform to Focus On.

Google+, Online Privacy, and a Street-Wise Public

September 5, 2011 2 comments


Two articles struck me this week.  Oh they are not new, in the social media world they are ancient history (weeks old!).  But they caught my eye and have messages worth repeating.  Eric Convey, managing editor of the Boston Business Journal, wrote an article on his blog  BBJ The Bottom Line entitled Google+ vs. Facebook, a verdict.  The article compares Google+ and Facebook and the most interesting part of the article centered on the inherant flaw in Facebook’s success.

The second article was prompted by the first.  I started to wonder exactly why people broadcast their hidden secrets and most embarrassing moments online.  Why do people seem to think their privacy is protected in social media?  The term “social media” itself implies that the people are going to see it.

First though…on to Mr. Convey’s article.

Eric Convey’s article caught my eye with a great title.  I searched for a reportable article for a good 20 minutes, sorting through all the noise out there in the ‘world wide web’.  I saw the word “verdict” in the title and clicked before a second thought.

Fortunately for me as a curious reader, Mr. Convey held to an objective comparison of what Google+ is trying to do, compared with what Facebook has already done.  He reviews what has turned Facebook into the Mocrosoft of social media.  Convey reviewed how effectively Facebook has connected people, “in a controlled environment.”

He also discussed how such a success has turned into Facebook’s largest weakness.   “If lore is correct,” wrote Convey, “numerous careers have sputtered after postings meant for friends were seen by bosses. Who doesn’t have an embarrassing photo from a college party that no doubt would have drawn howls from friends who long forgot the soiree, but scorn in certain professional circles?”

Google+ now enters the fray with it’s own take on the issue of separating information with it’s emphasis on circles.  Circles allow people to partition their online identities in a way that is more similar to real-world interactions.  People can separate their contacts into circles of interest, thus separating social, family, and work updates and notifications.

So, Google+ capitalizes on Facebook’s inherent flaw (or success, however you look at it).  The major problem Google+ has right now lies in numbers.  Facebook only has hundreds of millions of more accounts and many years of experience more than Google+.  Google+ has a lot of catching up to do.

Convey suggested, pit against each other on an even playing field, Google+ has the upper hand.  In the evolution of social media happening right in front of our eyes however there is no such thing as an equal playing field.

Now, on the blog The Modern Archivist, Elle Byrum delves into the question of privacy in social media.  Her article, “The Perils of Social Media” highlights Isaiah Lester, who won a $10.6 million wrongful death lawsuit he initiated in the death of his wife.  Two years after the lawsuit, Mr. Lester posted compromising pictures of him wearing a shirt that said “I [heart] Hot Moms.”  This started a chain reaction (trying to delete the photos obviously did not help) and now Mr. Lester stands in a position where his court victory could be reversed.

There is no privacy online.  Entire careers are made in archiving traffic online.  The fairytale of online privacy must dissolve into “streetwise” social media behavior.

I spent two years in Los Angeles, Calif. working with the less fortunate.  Most of my time was spent in the “jungle” (it’s common name) of south central Los Angeles.  At first the scenery and culture were completely foreign to this sub-urbian Oregonian.  After a few months of pounding the pavement and surviving the hazards of a low income urban environment, a sixth-sense developed.

By the time I left Calif. I could tell what streets were safe, what were dangerous, and when it was time to leave.  You see, in the evening the city shifted and some safe zones during the sunshine turned to crime centers by moonlight.

It is the same with social media.  It is a requirement that we develop an online sense of what is safe, what is not, and when that changes.  Today online scams and cyber-bullying damage so much more than stealing lunch money did in my youth.

So, this weeks emphasis is simple.  Social media is not going anywhere.  With Google+ jumping in to take on Facebook, our future is embedded in social media.  Social media is social.  It is not private media.  It wasn’t designed to be so.  It will take a new kind of “streetsmart” to understand how to manage social media.

What an exciting time to live, eh?