The Socialization of Small Business

Social Media impacts every business, every brand, and in doing so, connects a network of distributed communities of influence, making the world a much smaller place in the process.  Small businesses are in fact at an advantage in Social Media Marketing as they can focus on hyper-local activity that can offer immediate rewards or at the very least, the real-time feedback or lack thereof says everything about next steps.

A recent survey conducted by Citibank offers a contrary point of view, citing small business executives who believe social networks offer no benefit or promise to expanding their business. This isn’t all that uncommon however. The truth is that without knowledge or direct experience, it’s virtually impossible to envision the potential of something where they’re most likely absent as a consumer themselves.

But, if a conversation takes place online and you’re not there to hear it, did it actually happen?

Of course it did…and it continues – with or without you.

The “I” in ROI does not stand for ignorance. It does however stand for investment and in cases where new media is “new,” it also stands for intelligence. We’re learning together and that’s both an opportunity and an impediment. We need guidance to better understand the promise and also how to reap its reward.

Ad-ology published its “Small Business Marketing Forecast 2010″ report that revealed that among the other benefits of social media, lead generation is the biggest benefit of online networking. Other benefits ranked as follows…

Keeping up with the industry

Very Beneficial: 16%
Somewhat: 29%
Not Beneficial: 55%

Monitoring what is being said about your business

Very Beneficial: 16%
Somewhat: 28%
Not Beneficial: 55%

Generating leads

Very Beneficial: 16%
Somewhat: 34%
Not Beneficial: 50%

Competitive intelligence

Very Beneficial: 14%
Somewhat: 29%
Not Beneficial: 57%

Improving customer experience

Very Beneficial: 12%
Somewhat: 29%
Not Beneficial: 59%

Resolving problems

Very Beneficial: 11%
Somewhat: 22%
Not Beneficial: 67%

Finding vendors/suppliers/partners

Very Beneficial: 10%
Somewhat: 28%
Not Beneficial: 62%

Recruiting for new employees

Very Beneficial: 8%
Somewhat: 19%
Not Beneficial: 73%

Background checks – employees, suppliers, etc.

Very Beneficial: 7%
Somewhat: 20%
Not Beneficial: 72%

Among those surveyed, Facebook appeared as the most beneficial social network. Perhaps tied the reverberation of activity across social graphs. LinkedIn, while cited less often, ranked just below Facebook, but ahead of Twitter – for now at least.

Facebook

Very Beneficial: 10%
Somewhat: 23%
Not Beneficial: 14%
Do not use: 53%

LinkedIn

Very Beneficial: 6%
Somewhat: 15%
Not Beneficial: 13%
Do not use: 67%

MySpace

Very Beneficial: 6%
Somewhat: 11%
Not Beneficial: 15%
Do not use: 68%

Twitter

Very Beneficial: 6%
Somewhat: 13%
Not Beneficial: 12%
Do not use: 69%

YouTube

Very Beneficial: 5%
Somewhat: 10%
Not Beneficial: 12%
Do not use: 73%

The study shows that education and awareness are needed among small businesses to better understand the promises, advantages and the commensurate commitments necessary to generate visibility and ultimately the activity necessary to sustain or at the very least, contribute to a lucrative and growing business.

31 percent of small businesses claimed that their primary hurdle was the perception that “our customers do not use social networks.” Equally, business owners complained that they do not have the time or resources necessary to run an effective social media marketing campaign. Sound familiar?

While yes, it’s true, small business owners must focus on the core products, services, and values of their business. However, without visibility, customers do not possess the information necessary to connect the dots between their want or need and you.

The Top 10 Ways to Monetize Real-Time Conversations in Social Media

No story is complete without providing ideas to move forward and compete for the future. By competing for the future, we also cultivate a flourishing state of “now.” One of the primary advantages of social media for small businesses is the relatively low cost associated with uncovering relevant conversations within your geographic or service area. It’s how we can identify and personally connect with customers. It’s how we learn what they’re seeking. It reveals interests and cravings.

For example, take a moment to run a real-time search activity search using Collecta to get a feel for the volume and velocity for relevant conversations online. Then, run a local search on Twitter (choose by geography) using a keyword related to your business, but not necessarily that of your business or product name. For example, Pizza, Coffee, and local yogurt shops are searching those words specifically to offer specials and free items to those within proximity to stop in and give it a try. Business owners report that while offers and freebies reflect a notable investment, they always increase clientele and business overall.

To help entrepreneurs and small business owners capitalize on the “now” or real-time conversations populating social media, Web 2.0 investor extraordinaire Ron Conway offered his vision for the top 10 ways to monetize real-time conversations.

10. Lead generation
9. Coupons
8. Analytics, analyzing the data
7. Enterprise CRM
6. Payments
5. Commerce
4. User-authentication, verifying accounts
3. Syndication of new ads
2. Advertising – Context and display ads
1. Acquiring followers

New mobile social networks such as FourSquare, Loopt, Gowalla are also emerging that connect people within local areas based on where they are and what they’re doing. These services require you to “check in” to a location or an establishment and as such, local businesses are encouraging patrons to do so by offering incentives, “check in here on FourSquare and get a free slice of pizza or a free beer.” Why? Each time someone checks in, their social graph follows the establishments they frequent and as such, brands the venue within a very trusted circle. There are also opportunities for paid sponsorships. Each time I check in to venues in Redwood City, a local wine shop and tasting room, Savvy Cellar, pops up with a “nearby special.” If I pop in and show my iPhone with the special, I receive 50% off any tasting. Brilliant.

To learn more about specific examples for increasing awareness and revenue using Social Media, please read Forbes’ piece on 21 Top Twitter Tips (Story | Through Pictures)

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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