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5 Social Media Lessons 'Small' Business Can Learn from 'Big' Business

Small companies have unique benefits that help them in social media.

They can be more personal, more intimate, move faster, and be more flexible.

Big businesses have problems due to their size, organization and bureaucracies. But they also shine in some areas that small companies fall short.

Here are 5 social media lessons that small businesses can learn from big businesses.


Social Media Cartoon Comic - Going Viral
Image courtesy of seanrnicholson


1. Begin with the End in Mind

If business goals aren't dictating your social media activities, then you're wasting your time, effort and money.

Because your goals dictate how you organize your daily activities or short-term tactics. So it doesn't matter how many times you update Twitter, or what hashtags you use if you don't understand why you're using Twitter in the first place.

There are only three ways social media can help your business:

  1. Increase brand awareness by growing your reach
  2. Build customer loyalty by engaging more and providing support
  3. Increase sales by getting more people to purchase, more frequently

Now pick one goal, and prioritize your tactics to solve that piece. American Express first started by addressing one social media goal: customer service.

American Express first made its appearance on Twitter (in 2009) with the @AskAmex handle, focused on servicing Cardmember and merchant questions and needs. Since the beginning, American Express has built its social strategy on service, and it continues to improve its implementation by taking in user feedback.

From day one, they were intent on using social media for customer service. And by organizing their internet marketing tactics behind one goal, they are able to out-execute their competitors and achieve the maximum ROI on their effort.


2. Be a Publisher First

Online marketing can't exist without content.

No SEO. No email marketing. No social media.

That means you're in the media business. So you better start learning how to create valuable content. Mashable recently highlighted some hot media trends, with "brands building publications and entertainment channels" coming in at number 6.

Red Bull’s homepage, for example, looks like an action-sports news site. The company pumps out professional-grade news articles, feature stories and videos each day, pushing them to social marketing channels such as Facebook and Twitter. This fuels the company’s social media accounts with content and points followers back to Red Bull’s site, rather than elsewhere on the Internet.

You're creating content every time you publish a social media update, email newsletter, presentation and blog post.

So if you want to succeed in online marketing, then you need to be publisher first. All of the traffic-generating tactics like SEO and social media only fuel and optimize that content.


3. Understand What Motivates Your Audience

People always tell me that their industry is "boring". They can't create content because no one will read it.

But in reality, their industry isn't boring - they are.

Nobody cares about your business (or mine!). People only care about themselves (including you and me!).

It's not our fault. We're too busy, too stressed, and have too much going on. So the only way to focus is to worry about what's most important - ourselves!

Don't create content around you, your product, company or industry.

How many people could care less about paint, power tools and dishwashers? But look at what Lowe's does. They focus on what people are trying to do with their products.

The way you come up with blog content ideas is to understand your audience, and the benefit your products or services give them.


4. Don't Overemphasize Tactics

David Meerman Scott has written extensively about the importance of real-time marketing. But one of his biggest takeaway's is that, "Social media are tools. Real time is a mindset.”

Oprah understands this perfectly:

For example, Oprah encourages viewers at home and in the audience to live tweet responses to the topics mentioned on the show and then discusses them in real-time with her guests.

Social media provides people (and businesses) a new way to connect and talk to people. Nothing more, and nothing less.

Oprah isn't good at social media because she's a Twitter guru or Pinterest expert.

She understands (1) what her audience wants, and (2) uses these new tools to create a repoire to get them to trust her more and stick around longer.

This all goes back to number 1 - your business goal. Once you've identified the goal you're trying to reach, then you need to create marketing objectives and a strategy that will deliver on these promises.

Tactics help you accomplish a strategy. But they can't increase revenue or decrease costs on their own.


5. Enable Other People to Share Your Story

Finally, you need to let go of the message.

Some (not all) large companies are great at creating stories, movements and campaigns that people can rally behind first, while also serving their brand second. By enabling other people to carry your story, you're opening up all types of possibilities.

For example, get bloggers on your side. You have to get them to care about you, and willing to recommend or share you with their audience. These people can generate web traffic through referrals and links that you'd never be able to get on your own. Again, Oprah is the best at relationships.

Although Oprah’s Lifeclass doesn’t have too much formal marketing, it relies mostly on word-of-mouth marketing. It invites a traveling blogger corp. to its live shows to tweet during each episode and feature behind-the-scenes commentary.

Most people think blogger outreach is spamming the same cold-email pitch to 100 bloggers, asking for a link or trying to get them to pitch your terrible product.

It's not.

You just need to give people what they want. Give them (1) money, (2) exposure, or (3) access. And make them feel appreciated above all else.

However, there's always a catch.

If you're afraid of what people are going to say, then maybe you should focus on straightening that out first. Because social media can't save your brand. 

Marketing fuels demand. It can get traffic to your website and build trust.

But it can't cover-up flaws or convince people to buy. Only your product or service can do that.

Join The Conversation

  • Allenbrayan's picture
    Jan 24 Posted 4 years ago Allenbrayan

    It's surprising what you can learn from just about anyone or anything. With all the noise online, visual draws and queues can definitely help you stand out. Thanks for integrating your ideas about social media here.

    Best regards,
    Allen Brayan
    Social Cubix

  • GPowell's picture
    Nov 10 Posted 4 years ago GPowell

    Great article Brad - thanks for advice.

    It's nice to have a refresher as sometimes generating decent content becomes difficult when doing so many other things in a SMB.  Your ideas sound good and I want to try and implement them.



  • Jul 21 Posted 5 years ago johnmchugh

    These days you are more likely to read about bankruptcies than M&A activity, but Delta’s merger with Northwest Airlines last fall is an interesting case study for marketing and PR professionals responsible for social media integration.

    Social media can help with the transition, but it can also add another layer of challenges if each company has a pronounced social media strategy.  I have long maintained that successful social media efforts must reflect a company’s corporate DNA. A merger can change all that.  A botched social media integration strategy can undo years of hard work.


  • FixCourse's picture
    Jul 14 Posted 5 years ago FixCourse

    Hi Stephanie, thanks for your question! Here are a few thoughts I usually tell SMBs:

    • You don't need large follower or fan numbers to be successful in SM! Focus more on connections and using it to keep customers happy longer (so they purchase more frequentlym etc)
    • The most underutilized source you have is your current / past customers. Try to collect email addresses of all of them so you build up a nice database. Then when you want to build a social network, email this list first. 
    • Use social media promotions to get people excited and "incentivize" their action in some way. If you're using current/past customers, you can give away "loyalty points" or whatever the benefit is.
    • Finally, focus more on partnerships and business development type activities. So find complementary businesses who serve the same customers and cross-market with each other.

    Hope that helps!

  • Jul 13 Posted 5 years ago StephanieS

    Great article, Brad! One question - the examples used, American Express, Lowes and Oprah, already have huge fan bases that flocked to their social sites automatically. For small business who don't already have that pre-existing fan base or nationally recognized reputation, what tips do you have to grow a *genuine* follower and fan base, and ultimately obtain greater reach in the social sphere?

  • FixCourse's picture
    Jul 12 Posted 5 years ago FixCourse

    Hi Marcela, thanks for the question!

    Great, exceptional content (from domain/niche experts) gets a disproportionate amount of attention, sharing, etc. 

    So small companies should actually do less, and focus on where they have the most leverage (i.e. a specific type of content in a specific place to get the most traffic etc.).

    For example, there's no need to publish more than one piece of content per week on your own blog if it's really good. And then you could focus more on content syndication (contributing content to other places) and business development activities like networking to give that content a greater reach. 

    But again this only works if you're stuff is really good. So pick the format you're most comfortable with (text, audio, video, etc.), or find someone who can create the content for you. So you could interview others and let their answers be your content.

    Does that make sense? Hope it helps!



  • Marcela De Vivo's picture
    Jul 12 Posted 5 years ago Marcela De Vivo

    Brad, any thoughts on how small businesses that don't have the resources of big businesses can create the amount and quality of content to compete?  

    With today's marketing, articles alone aren't enough, companies have to produce images, videos, presentations, podcasts.  All of this is expensive and time consuming.  

    Would love any ideas on how to do this for small businesses with limited budget and resources.

  • Jul 9 Posted 5 years ago AutoJini

    I really like point #3 Understand What Motivates your Audience. One of the most important factors in a social media campaign is content. You need to post content that is interesting to your audience but still pertains to your industry. Get insights of your social media channels and see who is following you and read their bios and interests and use that as guidelines to help make content interesting for them. 

  • Syed Noman Ali's picture
    Jul 9 Posted 5 years ago Syed Noman Ali

    Nowadays social media is becoming a powerful tool for brands, to execute the marketing strategy and promotion plans. And Every Marketer should follow big brands to get more positive reuslts...



    Thanks and Regrads

    Syed Noman Ali
    Cygnis Media

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