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Online Social Media the Key to Small Business Success?

In the early days of the Internet, it was touted as the new television (mass communication with minimal interaction), and then the new distribution channel (which worked out quite well for anything digital, but I've yet to get my pizza delivered through my DVD drive), and now online social media is the new "big thing." In fact, it's such a truly "big thing" that a number of marketing types are hyping online social media (yes, as in Facebook) as a critical element in the success of businesses, particularly small businesses (see a recent article by Brent Leary).

On the positive side, we know that connections are important in the business world, from sourcing products to hiring employees to finding paying customers, and social media may help us in those very tasks. But are there potential negatives to what appears to be a treasure chest of interactive golden opportunity? In fact, will this treasure chest end up a Pandora's box that, once opened, will curse us with a continual need for attention?

Let's ponder a few challenges about business use (particularly small business) of online social media:

1. What to do and how do we do it? Do we just "make friends" or do we actually need to "interact" with them? If we choose to interact (the likely choice), how do we do this? For example, does my dry cleaner need to start "liking" my status or commenting on my photos ("wow, that shirt looks well-pressed!")? Do we try to start open dialogue with current and/or potential customers? Do we spend time updating our page with new info? Do we set up strict rules for our company's "friendmaster" or do we offer wide leeway to facilitate a casual atmosphere and potential creativity?

2. How intimate do our online "relationships" become? Do we simply report back with info now and then with an occasional birthday e-card or do we (or our front-line online customer contact people) actually become something along the continuum between an acquaintance and a good friend? What happens when our friendmaster truly becomes friends with those online customers? Does the dynamic of our company-consumer relationship change? Or is it truly a company-consumer relationship, rather than an employee-consumer relationship and could this somehow get in the way of efficiency?

3. How public do we make our interactions? Do we carry on debates about our service quality in online forums and risk group consensus against us (which may spawn customer defection stories and sway readers to join them)? Or do we keep conversations in quiet whispers like we might do in dealing with a customer face-to-face? Do we let our competitors listen in?

4. How much time (time=money) do we spend on this? I've known teens who insist that they need 4 hours a day to keep current with their online friends and maintain only several hundred online friendships. What kind of time commitment are we talking about when a small business has several thousand (or many more) contacts who we are trying to move along the path to brand loyalty? Is true individual attention a required component of our online social media success or can we fake it with clever market segmentation? If one teen needs 4 hours a day for 300 friends, would one business need 40 hours a day (that's 280 hours a week or five 8-hour employees per day or with a 40-hour workweek 7 full-time employees) for 3,000 relationships? Likely not so much, but the question remains as to how much time would be spent.

5. What types of legal issues will arise as we build our online social community? Will our employee advice, relationships, discussions, etc. require us to seek legal counsel? Will the potential permanency of online communication help us or hinder us in terms of legal defenses? And what happens when inconsistencies in online interactions are deemed discriminatory by customers?

Obviously these questions depend on the type of business (e.g., service- vs. goods-focus; target markets; one that can offer coupons to its "friends" versus one that shuns "price-off" or "value-added" promotions with concerns about reducing the prestige factor of the brand; and other types of delineations). But whatever the business, going social online likely entails much more than expected, and once your online social business presence is established, it may be quite difficult to take a vacation without a few thousand of your best online friends tagging along.

Be sensible.
Anthony

Join The Conversation

  • Apr 11 Posted 6 years ago caron (not verified)

    Social media is one of the most popular way to gain high search engine results.Social networking sites are much popular these days and are also responsible in increating search engine ranking and hence overall online marketing.

  • e-marketing for sensible folk's picture
    Mar 2 Posted 6 years ago e-marketing for...

    Dan,

    Definitely share those results with us.  The challenge in understanding the true costs and the true benefits of social media campaigns is one of the greatest obstacles to its effective and efficient use.

    If we can learn from a real case study, we can move our knowledge forward.

    Anthony

    E-Marketing for Sensible Folk (@sensiblefolk on Twitter)

     

  • Feb 27 Posted 6 years ago DanGreen

    We are wrapping up a use case on a three month initiative, with returns from the time of the campaign along with projections for remarketing to the new base. I'll be happy to share the results here.

    I think it will be interesting also to look at the time spent on preparing reports and analyzing data from so many disparate sources. We're working hard on streamlining this because to be honest, there's a lot of unbillable time right now, despite having some great tools.

  • Feb 24 Posted 6 years ago Singleton Enter...

    Anthony,

    I found your other article. Thanks, Daryl

  • FGJohan's picture
    Feb 24 Posted 6 years ago FGJohan

    This begs the question as to the optimal number of followers.  One would think that there is some number that maximizes exposure as well as interaction.  I noticed in your reply to Daryl that you address the issue of too many on your other post.  Perhaps we can pick this up there and involve others in the discussion?

    I will continue at:

    http://socialmediatoday.com/e-marketing-sensible-folk/272585/e-marketing-sensible-folk-social-media-needs-connections-not-just-l?ref=user_profile_other_posts_by

  • e-marketing for sensible folk's picture
    Feb 24 Posted 6 years ago e-marketing for...

    Martha,

    Without knowing much about either artist, my answers might be a bit general, but here goes:

    For the painter:  a visual-oriented blog with not only final pictures, but also process pictures would be helpful to get people involved in the process, particularly if the process is something unique that contributes significantly to the end product.  Another opportunity with the blog is to create meaning behind the works.  So often we view art only as a standalone product (which, of course, some art critics would say is the only way to do so).  Yet, when we understand the meanings, processes, and people behind the art, it sometimes influences our views, often in positive ways.  The blog, or even Facebook, would also help the artist to connect with people.  But here I would be a bit cautious depending on the price range of your painter.  When we see very-high-priced art, we may connect with it in emotional ways, but we likely don't have a friendship with the artist.  Once we start to have that friendship, the question remains as to whether we'd be willing to pay those very high prices, or if we might have some expectation that the artist would discount the work for us, his or her friends.  In that the art is assumed to be priced based on demand, it wouldn't be fiscally responsible for the artist to discount on a frequent basis.  For example, I know a photographer who becomes annoyed when friends request photo shoots and expect her to drastically discount the price for them.  The friends figure that they'll cover the costs of her materials and that her talent as a photographer should just be given away.  What they don't understand is that her talent is the primary benefit of her work that adds to its value.  Connecting with clients is important, but some distance may be useful in maintaining the professionalism of the exchange process.

    For the performing arts group, my guess is that whether the groups uses blogs or Facebook, the key is to have video capabilities in the presentation.  In contrast to the painter, closer relationships might be worthwhile, particularly if the group performs in venues where they don't control the admission process (otherwise, the issue of discounts comes up).  Having the various group members interconnected with each other and their "fans" would be nice as well.

    Of course, these are generic recommendations since I don't know the artists.  If you'd like more specific recommendations, email me and let's talk more.

    Anthony

  • e-marketing for sensible folk's picture
    Feb 24 Posted 6 years ago e-marketing for...

    Daryl,

    Glad to hear about your successes with one-on-one social media.  It's amazing that so many people think social media is all about groups when the one-on-one component is so amazingly powerful.

    As for the other article, it's here:

    http://socialmediatoday.com/e-marketing-sensible-folk/272585/e-marketing-sensible-folk-social-media-needs-connections-not-just-l

    Anthony

  • e-marketing for sensible folk's picture
    Feb 24 Posted 6 years ago e-marketing for...

    FG,

    There are definitely organizations that are allowing their social media managers to become "spokespeople" or "corporate personalities" that represent the firm.  You raise an interesting question.  Does top management give so much power to one employee?  And if so, what types of contracts are in place to ensure that when/if the employee moves on to another firm, the corporate personality stays put? 

    Legislation and legal protections rarely keep up with technology.  And this seems like a clear example of that.  I wouldn't be surprised if non-compete clauses begin to address this issue in some manner.

    In the meantime, Jayme's comment about having an overriding strategy from the beginning seems to apply here.  The problem with social media is its potential unpredictability.  What might start out as a simple method to communicate simple information becomes an emotional connection for a large portion of customers.  But now that connection must continue to be nurtured, and hopefully in a way that will result in cost-effective savings or revenue generation.

    Anthony

  • e-marketing for sensible folk's picture
    Feb 24 Posted 6 years ago e-marketing for...

    Jayme and FG,

    I agree that the size of the firm, as well as their focus on two-way vs. one-way information flow, will have a strong influence on the intimacy of the communication.  Jayme's example of David Meerman Scott's throng of Twitter followers is a great example of the type of evolution that organizations may go through when their social media efforts start to take off.  My guess is that in the earlier days, his tweeting was more interactive, but as Jayme points out, there's just no way to do that when the numbers are so large.  Thus, her report on his change in strategy, moving from two-way to one-way information flow, at least for Twitter.  In fact, the next step for him would potentially be to segment that large Twitter market in terms of the types of information followers want to receive.  That way, messages would be more targeted, resulting in a higher ratio of relevant-to-irrelevant material for each individual follower.

    In her blog post on this topic (http://soulati.com/blog/how-do-you-twitter-your-business), Jayme mentions that Davids followers "find value not in engagement with him necessarily, but in hearing what he has to say."  Indeed, this may have changed for certain followers over time, and much of that change would likely be due to the fact that few people would expect a Twitter account with 50,000+ followers to offer much in the way of personal interactivity.  Of course, this means that David's posts much now fulfill that broad desire for content, which isn't necessarily an easy task to accomplish.  This is particularly important because even if he ever got to the point of not providing that value, he likely wouldn't know at the outset because people don't normally drop their subscriptions at the first sign of irrelevant information.  Thus, the value of huge numbers of fans, followers, and subcribers is at times deceptive.

    My thanks to both of you, Jayme and FG, for the comments and dialogue.

    Anthony

    http://e-marketingforsensiblefolk.blogspot.com

     

     

     

  • e-marketing for sensible folk's picture
    Feb 24 Posted 6 years ago e-marketing for...

    FG,

    Thanks.  I appreciate your interest in these issues and agree that much of the social media thinking is rather shallow and reflects the fact that the strategic thinking behind it is fairly new.  In fact, it's serious discussion of these issues that really will bring Social Media Marketing to the forefront of corporate strategy and not just something to pass onto an intern with Facebook skills.

    Anthony

  • Feb 24 Posted 6 years ago Jayme Soulati (not verified)

    Thanks for the invite to dialogue, FG. Kudos to Anthony for such a strategic look at social media impact on all sizes of business.

    Where this exercise is most helpful is pre-launch -- looking at overall marketing strategy with business goals in mind and integrating appropriate channels of communication to attain those goals.

    Social media is not a one off; it blends with public relations, content marketing, direct marketing and brand, among other disciplines and tactics.

    In the response to my post Why Not to Get 50K Twitter Followers, David Meerman Scott shares that he no longer uses Twitter to engage his community; rather, he's using it as a promotion tool for his books, speaking engagements, blog posts, etc. While he does answer tweets and DMs, he needs to be more selective.

    To tackle (topline only) some of what Anthony is referencing about social media for small businesses, (which I'd like to repurpose and credit for my second blog The SMB Collective -- http://smbcollective.com) I think it's important to understand how consumers enter the social marketing supply chain. For a dry cleaner, location-based marketing is a critical aspect of online engagement; consumers who engage that way can be communicated and nurtured differently.

    Because people relate to people, building relationship for a brand will be more strategic. Ultimately, a human is going to be required to put a face and voice to a logo.

  • FGJohan's picture
    Feb 24 Posted 6 years ago FGJohan

    Anthony,

    So sorry to post so often today, but I just read an interesting article here

    http://socialmediatoday.com/soulaticom/272268/why-not-reach-50000-twitter-followers

    where the author, Jayme, talks about why 50,000 or any other large number of followers is not a good idea.  I think this relates to your comment about intimacy versus popularity.  I hope you don't mind that I have invited her to join a dialogue to discuss these issues here.

    FG

  • FGJohan's picture
    Feb 24 Posted 6 years ago FGJohan

    Anthony,

    I'll start the dialogue I referred to earlier with a combination of issues #1 and #2 above.  What happens when we have one person doing the social media interaction for our firm?  Doesn't that one person now represent the personality of the firm and become invaluable to the firm?  I assume that all the "connections" that our employee makes really belong to the firm, but will the personality of that employee transfer over to the next person in line for the job.  If we assume that the employee will someday want to move up to a higher-level management position, do we plan for that in advance?  If so, how do we do that?

    Just to let you know, I've invited a few other authors here at Social Media Today to discuss these issues here.  I hope you don't mind.  I'd really like to get a dialogue going about these issues.

    Best regards,

    FG Johan

  • FGJohan's picture
    Feb 24 Posted 6 years ago FGJohan

    You bring up a number of interesting questions that really need to be addressed by the social media community.  Most of what I read here on Social Media Today and other portals is "how to get more followers" or "things to think about in social media" or "how to convince your boss that SM is worthwhile".  But no one gets to the serious questions.  Perhaps you would be willing to get more in-depth with these questions and start a separate dialogue about each one.  I, for one, would be willing to participate and hopefully we could brainstorm ideas with other people here or elsewhere.

    FG

  • MJensen's picture
    Feb 24 Posted 6 years ago MJensen

    Thanks on this as well! Cost/benefit is such an important part of any marketing.

  • MJensen's picture
    Feb 24 Posted 6 years ago MJensen

    I'm actually doing some work for two types of artists.  One is a painter trying to use social media to market his works online.  The other is a small performing arts group that does some dancing, singing, and comedy.  Do you have any suggestions?

    Thanks!

    Martha

  • e-marketing for sensible folk's picture
    Feb 23 Posted 6 years ago e-marketing for...

    You're right, an hour a day is probably not even enough time to read your emails and posts to your account, much less create content and build/maintain relationships.

    As for metrics, which type of artist are you talking about?  (It makes a difference.)

     

  • e-marketing for sensible folk's picture
    Feb 23 Posted 6 years ago e-marketing for...

    Daryl,

    I think people avoid the one-on-one with social media because it's so visible as a group product (for example, all the hello's posted on someone's Facebook wall that are for everyone to see).  Glad to see that you've had successes in one-to-one communication.  It's hard to think of a situation where it wouldn't be appreciated by the other party.

    Anthony

    P.S. Remember that the posts here are moderated.  If they don't get it posted soon, I'll post it at my blog and let you know.

    <a href="http://e-marketingforsensiblefolk.blogspot.com/" rel="nofollow">e-marketingforsensiblefolk.blogspot.com</a>

  • e-marketing for sensible folk's picture
    Feb 23 Posted 6 years ago e-marketing for...

    Martha,

    Thanks for the interest.  Yes, I'll put something together on social media cost/benefit.  I'll see about posting it here (but remember that the posts here are moderated).  Otherwise, it can be at my blog.  I'll post a message here when it's up (and email you as well).

    Anthony

    <a href="http://e-marketingforsensiblefolk.blogspot.com/" rel="nofollow">e-marketingforsensiblefolk.blogspot.com</a>

  • Feb 23 Posted 6 years ago Singleton Enter...

    You know, the concept of social media as private one-on-one is something that people rarely consider.  Everyone these days seems to think that social media is all about the shout out that everyone else sees.  Some of my best successes have come from the one-on-one's that show I'm not just using the conversation as an opportunity to reach 500 other people.

    Thanks for the article.  I came here from your blog link!  You mentioned another social media article you wrote here, but I can't find it???

    Daryl

  • MJensen's picture
    Feb 23 Posted 6 years ago MJensen

    Anthony, you definitely should follow up on Dan's question with another article.  A solid cost/benefit analysis article would be very helpful!

    Martha

  • MJensen's picture
    Feb 23 Posted 6 years ago MJensen

    Anthony,

    I like the idea of running the numbers regarding the time to really do a decent job on social media marketing.  Too many people just think that an hour a day is plenty of time to run a social media campaign and it's not even a drop in the bucket.

    What types of metrics do you suggest for a campaign for a budding artist?

    Martha

  • e-marketing for sensible folk's picture
    Jan 13 Posted 6 years ago e-marketing for...

    I like the analogy Adriane.  In fact, evidence that online social media is growing doesn't necessarily mean that it's becoming less wild.  Extending your analogy, it's kind of like the California Gold Rush days, lots of new players with very few rules, a great deal of confusion as to where the gold is, and a lot of people willing to sell you claims that turn out to be fools gold.

    Stay sensible!

    Anthony

  • Dec 11 Posted 6 years ago GTK Solutions |... (not verified)

    Great article. Great content as always. We just tweeted this article for our readers to read. Thanks.

  • e-marketing for sensible folk's picture
    Dec 10 Posted 6 years ago e-marketing for...

    I agree wholeheartedly that social media needs to be cost/benefit analyzed, academically studied, and taught in schools of business, advertising, and journalism.  As for the implementation in business organizations, I’m not so sure about the idea of a separate department.  Although social media is more interactive than most previously developed media, we never had the television department, the radio department, or the banner ad department (although the telemarketing department was an unfortunate reality for some firms).  Most importantly, a cohesive marketing strategy is hard to achieve when departmentalization of marketing efforts takes place.

    The key to profitable social media use is an understanding of its potential benefits, costs, and impact on a particular organization’s marketing exchanges.  And then, of course, comes smart strategy, effective tactics, and efficient implementation.

    Anthony

  • e-marketing for sensible folk's picture
    Dec 8 Posted 6 years ago e-marketing for...

    Dan,

    I like the idea of a clear cost/benefit analysis with bottom-line implications.  I wish more consultants, whether the focus is technology or social media, would use such an approach.  Of course, many don't because either they don't know how, or they're afraid that the numbers will suggest that their services aren't valuable to the client.  Unfortunately, eventually the organization will figure this out and then consultant reputations are damaged as well as company profits.  Guess I may have to address the cost/benefit analysis in a future article.

    Thanks for the insights!

    Anthony

  • e-marketing for sensible folk's picture
    Dec 8 Posted 6 years ago e-marketing for...

    Ritch,

    I think the time issue is a valid concern, which hopefully can be overcome by working through the degree to which the organization wants to be "connected."  At the start, it may be nothing more than a weekly blog and some responses to comments.  As the target market interest and participation in the social media grows, and as the organization comes to understand the potential value, a move to more active (and interactive) media can take place.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Anthony

  • Dec 7 Posted 6 years ago DanGreen

    Yes important questions Anthony,

    One of the things we do with clients is to work out a specific 30 and 60 day plan and do a labor estimate, then a comparison of what returns might be generated, either through sales or cost savings through efficiencies, if the same resources were invested elsewhere. Then we look at the longer-term. We find this eye-opening and keeps businesses from becoming victims of a "me too" initiative, or even worse, not addressing more important areas of their businesses that , if improved, would provide greater or longer-lasting benefit.

  • Dec 6 Posted 6 years ago Ritch Brandon (not verified)

    Anthony, great questions!  I find that many of my small business clients fear the time commitment and the technology initially.  "I don't have time to do this!"  While others enthusiastically embrace it and see the potential.  As social media evolves and adoption rates increase, some of the resistance will lessen...but the questions you pose will always be relevant.  Thanks for the post! 

  • Dec 3 Posted 6 years ago Adriane (not verified)

    Anthony, great blog and thought provoking. This is evident that on-line social media is still the wild wild west

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