Social Media For Small Business

Today I came across this article by Paul Wallbank for Smart Company, a website dedicated to business news and advice for SMEs. Paul’s one of Australia’s leading business influencers, and is quite the authority on Australian business.

I have the utmost respect for Paul, but strongly disagree with his post. Titled “Social Media Overload”, he states that:

“for those using several [social media] services it’s becoming a tiresome chore”.

“For social media services the key measures of how much time users spend on the site is becoming a game of diminishing returns, people have only so much time in the day or so much inclination to spend a large chunk of their free time online.”

“Social media services are going to have to show some value for the investment in time and the privacy costs incurred by business users, it may well be that many just don’t offer a good enough deal.”

While I think it’s fair that small businesses may be facing some difficulty trying to justify spending time, money and resource on social media, I think it’s much less because “it’s a tiresome chore” – I think they’re just not clear about WHY they’re on social.

I’ve referenced this chart before, but it most clearly reveals just how powerful social media can be on purchase intent. With online reviews second only to word of mouth in purchase influence, there’s a huge opportunity for small business to use social media to build relationships with their customers, get feedback from advocates and detractors, hold special sales for their brand advocates, generate sales leads, manage their reputation, establish themselves as thought leaders, and the list goes on.

They just need to know what they want out of it. Then they need a strategy. Take Shoes of Prey, for example. A start-up business by Michael Fox, Jodie Fox, Mike Knapp and Mark Capps, their website 22Michaels is a “diary of [their] adventures, successes, failures and everything we learn as we attempt to start a business or two”, they have used social media to establish themselves as thought leaders in the space. Smart Company has voted them one of Australia’s 25 top business blogs for two years runing, one of Australia’s top 10 online retailers, 2010′s Hot 30 Under 30, and attended an online retail forum with the Australian government to showcase how smaller business can harness the internet.

Shoes of Prey is an e-retailer that sells custom-made shoes, and they have used their website to ask their consumers what they think of their latest online shoe designer, providing them with unique intelligence around purchase intent as a result of the designer, intent to purchase, ease-of-use and general feedback, which will (presumably)  be taken into consideration for future edits and improvements on the site.

Other small businesses can just look to the current landscape to work out what best practice looks like, what they need for their business, and how to get there. Australian examples include Appliances Online, which has one of the largest and most engaged Facebook pages nationally; Shoes of Prey; Big Brown Box – a retailer with a great Facebook page; 65 degrees – a Melbourne based cafe that has established itself as the 56th most influential food Twitterer in Australia; and more that crop up every day.

In the early days of social media, a cliched adage was that businesses should be on social media because “your customers are going to be talking about you anyway – don’t you at least want to know what they’re saying?” (Channelship has a great article that says pretty much the same thing, titled “If Brands Don’t Listen, Your Facebook Friends Will” by the legendary Brian Solis).

Social media has brought companies and customers closer than ever, and have broken down the walls of communication between the two entities. It’s made companies more approachable, vulnerable and accountable – and has empowered customers to be honest about their experiences, whether positive or negative. Social media allows businesses the “right of response”, allowing them to amplify their customers positive experiences, and solve their negative ones.

And let’s not forget the most obvious avenue for social media use by small business – customer service excellence.

Although Paul says that “people have only so much time in the day or so much inclination to spend a large chunk of their free time online… the value proposition becomes less compelling”, I think the main issue lies more with available resources for small business than a less compelling value proposition.

The case has been made for the value of social media – not to mention the added benefit of how social media marketing is a scaleable effort, depending on the available resources, both in time and money – now it’s just up to businesses to decide how they want to use it.

Don’t start up a Facebook page with weekly competitions and promising customer service support unless you have a community manager that can support that activity. Don’t set up a Twitter account encouraging customer feedback and asking engagement questions if you don’t have the resource available to respond to brand advocates and detractors. Don’t set up a corporate blog that gets updated once every other month.

Look at your business goals and come up with a strategy. Focus on the platforms you need to be on to achieve those goals, and plan on a timeline the tactics you’ll use to get there. Just like any other business marketing strategy, social media requires time, dedication and discipline – but this doesn’t mean that it needs to consume more resource than is allocated.

What do you think? Does social media have a place in your business – and where?