Should Small Business Owners Embrace Social Media?

I order a package of vacuum cleaner bags online. The site cheerfully requests “Like us on Facebook!” Kobe Bryant announces that in order to help the Lakers, he won’t tweet during playoff games. A friend tells me that he is the mayor of a local lunch joint on FourSquare.

sm_overloadThis column features at the bottom not only the opportunity to tweet or like, but to share my weekly topic on LinkedIn, Google+, Baidu (does it translate it into Chinese?), Bebo, Orkit, Netlog, Stumbleupon (really?), Blogger, Delicious, Friendfeed, Tumbler, Viadeo, MySpace (THAT’s still around?), Reddit and Digg. I’m not sure why that share widget doesn’t include Pinterest, but we offer it separately. Good thing!

The traditional media reports celebrity tweets as hard news. Fast food chains start hashtag discussions about a new sandwich. My 17,000 Twitter followers are a nice number, but even if I was the Sheik of Araby I couldn’t marry a fraction of those followers who have suggested it (and I’m only including the ones who ask in English).

For a small business owner, the deluge of attention surrounding social media is confusing.  You read about a food truck on the West Coast with 100,000 customers eagerly following their daily location tweets, and presumably flooding to patronize it when it’s in the neighborhood. When your business would be thrilled with ten extra customers a day, that kind of following looks might tempting.

Besides, social media is free. John Wanamaker, the Chicago retail magnate, once famously said “Half of the money I spend on advertising is wasted. If I only knew which half.” When the money spent on advertising is zero, isn’t any return worth it?

This is a column for business owners. If your business is large enough to employ a marketing manager who has a social media strategy, have at it. If you use an intern from a local college who is free, or nearly so, let them fly. The question is whether you should be involved in a social media effort for your business.

Social media is a retail phenomenon. If you sell to the general public, are responsible for business development in your company, and have the time to spare, by all means tackle social media as an advertising vehicle. If you are sitting in your retail store between customers, boot up your tablet. If you are surfing the ‘net for half of the evening, get some plugs in for your business. Social media can do a few things well. It eases a potential customer’s risk tolerance by showing that lots of folks have purchased from your business before.

But I’ve stopped looking at ratings on Yelp, Urbanspoon, Travelocity or BizRate. Every feedback page has at least a couple of folks who say it was the best experience ever (friends of the owner?) and a couple who rate it the worst. I don’t know who these people are, or whether they have a clue about what a good meal or good service is.

If you sell to businesses, focus instead on your value proposition. I’m astonished at the number of B2B small business owners who think that a Facebook page can replace a business webpage. It can’t. It’s less organized, less focused and less controllable. The Facebook page for this column, which is the only FB presence I have, is “liked” by the National Rifle Association. Is that good for my business? I’m not so sure.

And by the way; I’m fully aware that I could have hugely raised my SEO score by linking all the websites mentioned above. I didn’t, because there is no chance that they would generate a new client. It would just have been 15 minutes of wasted time.

Picture Credit: Neocloud Marketing

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5 Responses to Should Small Business Owners Embrace Social Media?

  1. Bob Dodge says:

    So, John, if you spent that fifteen minutes on Soical Media, it would no longer be “free.” I agree; have a college intern to it, but if it is the buisness owner, think of the other things not being done while he or she is maitaining the social networks (consistency and regularity are likely required) that would have positive impacts on revenues, cost, margin, qulaity, employee development, customer acquisition, etc.

    As usual a thought provoking article. I “like” them, but I am not going to take the time to do the social media thing, however.

  2. John, you blog. Often and well. Welcome to social media. Too many organizations, large and small, are mistaking medium and message. The question of whether to tweet, post on Facebook or pin on Pinterest is secondary to, as well as subservient to, where your customers are and the value you are providing to them through your marketing content.

    If all you are doing is “tell and sell” marketing, then any new effort is likely to be wasted. It’s the 21st century equivalent of door-to-door. If you are providing value-added content, then the time to increase distribution via a few clicks is de minimis.

    For most B2B products/services, Facebook provides little return…but

  3. Harry says:

    John – You have some good points here. However, for every research that shows the failure of social media to bring new business there is a counter-point showing how social media has helped improve the business. I don’t think social media can help you sell if you don’t have good products and value proposition for your customers to begin with. It can however, reach existing and new customers through additional channels and for that I think it’s worth spending your time on that. You do have to be judicious in how much time and effort you spend.

  4. Andrew Baird says:

    We use Facebook for B2B, both for sourcing and working with partners and for leads, opt ins (and yes) clients.

    People are often surprised by this, but a significant portion of these come from Facebook (and not the normal b2b suspect LinkedIn – although we do get results from it as well).

  5. Webdev1 says:

    Social media may costly but for me it really helps to gain costumers. But it is necessary to maintain the high quality. Me as a consumer, I rather choose good quality than popularity.

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