Dave Folkens

How Social Media Really Works for Small Business

SMB social media marketing

One of the most common questions small business marketers are seeking to answer is, “How can I really benefit from social media?” Social media has certainly changed and improved how small to mid-size businesses can carve out space and connect in an extremely crowded marketplace. When companies participate on the social web in a meaningful way, it helps create a personal connection between customers and the brand.

One of the greatest benefits specifically for small businesses is that access to potential customers has increased tremendously. Rather than strictly focusing on paid advertising, word-of-mouth referrals, and in-store promotions (or a wacky mascot standing outside) businesses can now directly find customers  that may be interested in their products based on profiles, active discussions, keywords or expressed interests. This is especially key in the early stages of a business life-cycle when cash is at a premium.

If you think of the analogy of a party where you don’t know anyone, social media is the equivalent of a one page bio stapled to everyone’s coat. Instead of being stuck talking with the reclusive butterfly hunter who only leaves the house  in search of the rare Palos Verdes Blue, (yes I did have to look that up) you can quickly find the person that likes to shop, travel, and enjoy great conversation. Can you imagine all the time and awkwardness saved if you could have done this your whole life?

How is successful social media marketing done and which small businesses out there are doing a good job? How is it they avoid the pitfalls of social media? There are a lot of great examples out there and I’ve outlined just a few success stories available online below.

AJ Bombers
AJ Bombers is a burger joint in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that ramped up in a very tough economy in large part by a high level of creativity around the social media space. They have invested the time to build a personality across a number of platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and YouTube. However, they haven’t fallen in love with the tools for their own sake. The business understands it needs to drive people to the actual location and have done so with social media. The quote from owner Joe Sorge in the Forrester post highlights his smart approach,   “Customers are becoming the business,” he says.

Baby Sitters Directory
Baby Sitters Directory is an Australian company that helps parents find the right care for their child. It’s a huge market and one that also requires a tremendous amount of faith in the service as child care is a very personal decision for each family. Creator Ann Nolan recognized the overall business need but also identified the importance of online engagement via social media, particularly with women, after reading a study highlighting the high use in that demographic. Through its use of Facebook, Twitter, and blogging the company has created a base of useful shared content for parents as they work through a significant choice.

Enhance Me is a specialized portrait company that creates custom photos placing kids in magical settings and has done very well in using social media to spread the word of their unique creations. Victoria Dixon has embraced Facebook, Twitter, and a blog (though not as heavily as the other channels) to promote the business and build relationships with bloggers and customers with measurable results like getting the company endorsed by customers on verygoodservice.com.  Dixon notes that her three top tips to consider when jumping into social media include: focus on your goals, platform selection, and time commitments.

There are many small businesses out there doing great social media work to stand out from the millions of options that consumers have. The connection in these cases is be the foresight to identify and commit to using social media marketing in a creative manner with specific goals in mind. One of the great benefits of social media is that small businesses can be unique in executing a successful plan once they establish goals and metrics. Are you aware of other small businesses using social media to succeed? What’s their secret for success?

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  1. One of the issues facing small businesses, I believe, is looking at “social media” as being simply Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn. There are countless “social media” tools out there that can be used when it’s appropriate to the business. Here’s one quick example:

    Consider a local contractor who does kitchen renovations. When the job is complete, the contractor hands the customer a free one-year membership to Angie’s List, already paid for and set up. “After your kitchen is done, you may be looking at doing other types of work, so here’s a good place to find recommendations.” The result: Customers will log on to Angie’s List, post positive comments about the contractor, and the potential customers coming to Angie’s List looking for kitchen contractors will see someone with a lot of positive reviews — certainly a solid lead generation component in and of itself.

    What small businesses — and all businesses — need to remember is that social media is generally a game of long-term gradual growth. It’s about relationship-building and maintenance, not silver-bullet fast-track customer acquisition, though customer acquisition can (and should) be the eventual endgame. It’s soft sell, not hard sell.

    • Anonymous says:

      Excellent point Craig,
      Lists like Angie’s, review sites like the verygoodservice.com in the Enhance Me case, Yelp, etc are all ways to build upon successful customer interaction. The best way to keep a customer is to build that relationship and then continue to provide a better than expected experience for them.

  2. Joe Sorge says:

    Thanks so much for sharing our success story as part of your post here. Really appreciate the exposure to your audience. Funny thing is, we have so much fun with our customers that I often forget that there’s a sustainable business model attached.

    • Anonymous says:

      Glad you caught it Joe,
      Fun is a good thing and it translates well to customer experience. Glad to see businesses like yours doing creative work.

  3. Black Seo Guy says:

    Small business need to get on the band wagon if they want to move further from the competition..using social media is that first form of engaging with your audience.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  4. Marlee Ward says:

    Hey Dave!

    I just touched on this issue in an article I wrote and I like the fact that you point out the importance of connecting in a meaningful way. And I think it’s important to add – in a way that is meaningful to your audience.

    Thanks for the example case studies. It’s great to see these concepts in action.

    • Anonymous says:

      The greatest social successes I’ve seen always have connection at the core of what they do. A strategy that doesn’t take the audience needs/wants into account isn’t likely to go very far. There are plenty of ways to sign up and get lousy information thrown your way. Social users are seeking a better relationship with brands and those that understand that desire and can adapt will continue to do well.

  5. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Lauren at Argyle says:

    Great article. Worth considering that small businesses might actually have the advantage over bigger enterprises, because customers expect more of a conversation/relationship with a smaller business than a massive one, and would embrace the channel with more gusto.

  7. Definetely a big topic at the moment the nice thing about social media is it really levels the playing field and allows small businesses to get great exposure at a low cost. Giving small business owners the opportunity with a few ideas and a little imagination to catch up with some of the big players without a huge financial investment. I am a big fan of it 🙂

    • I also think that social media is a low cost marketing opportunity for all small businesses. But do not forget search!!! A combination of both, search and social media will result in the highest success rate! And by search I mean high Google rankings for products and services posted by businesses on the internet.Dieter JakobFollow: @dieterjakob

  8. Wonderful read. Social media should be a big part of a businesses marketing plan. Think abou all the benefits of having a FB Page for your business and all the targeted traffic that you can send to that page. You can target the traffic to your Fan Page and then direct them to your website. I love the power of social media marketing.

    • We like it too 🙂 Our Facebook Fan page now has over 6,500 connections. It’s a great channel to connect with other marketers and customers.

  9. Using social media to engage and interact is important for a small business, especially looking outside of Facebook and Twitter as you’ve said! I would love to see more small businesses utilizing Youtube to post videos on their products and services. It’s an engaging way to get people’s attention, and also can reach a lot of people at the same time. -Blair Stover

  10. Anonymous says:

    I believe that small businesses can simply ‘talk’ to their customers/audience, like they would do in the real world. We’ve recently had a blast filming our take on social media marketing gone wrong with our YouTube flick called “A Lesson in (NOT) Social Media Marketing” – and the moral of the story is, people don’t talk like some Twitter bot in real life – they engage. If small businesses can master that, I guess they’ll succeed like Zappos in no time. Thanks for the insights you wrote here.

  11. Hi
    I feel that Social media is effective option of connecting with potential customers. It is certainly here to stay. We have got many new small business clients who use it.It is important that the business decides before hand what they want to acheive.

  12. Thanks for the shout out Dave.

    Babysitterdirectory.com.au has seen social networking as a key part of the marketing / communication mix since day one. Social networks like FB and Twitter provide a wonderful way to directly connect with our target audience be it parents looking for a babysitter/nanny or parents and babysitters looking for a family. But our blog (www.babysitterdirectory.com.au/blog) is also another key part of our strategy. It provides a ‘talking point” and allows us to raise issues that parents and babysitters / nannies are discussing.

    Mind you I would say for any SME entering social media its important to have a strategy. Its so much easier to judge ROI if you set some goals and objectives in the first place.


  13. yep… especially if the small business just run like my friend(he sells t-shirt, and use facebook to promote his product)

  14. I agree it’s important but I see many small businesses being too spammy with their accounts and not using it properly.

    An example would be a voucher company with a Twitter account. All they do is post offers and don’t interact with people. This isn’t how to do it.

    • What you describe is pretty common. It’s not that a Twitter account dedicated to pushing offers is so bad, but whether there’s an audience for it or not. Dell’s @delloutlet has sold over $3million in refurbished computers through such a Twitter account. But it works in conjunction with other social channels and Dell knows there’s an audience for that kind of content on Twitter.

      Whether the voucher company you mention has done that homework or not is a question worth answering.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Great points here Dave. Social media not only helps businesses engage with potential customers, but it also helps them build a positive online presence and boosts SEO rankings. With more and more consumers going online to research and read reviews before purchasing a product or service, businesses are recognizing the need to build a strong, positive online presence. That’s why we’ve designed an easy-to-use tool that helps small businesses figure out how they rank on local search, get listed on prominent search engines, and monitor the chatter about their business across the web. Right now we’re looking for partners, so check out our agency page here: http://www.chatmeter.com/partners/chatmeter_partners.php

  16. Interesting Tips! I agree, choosing your target market is important to create good outcomes. But I would also like to add that doing social media marketing will give you greater opportunities and chances to find quality clients. Adding good contents to your site and allowing visitors to leave their comments will also give you more chances of interacting with people who could remain as your loyal client.

  17. very good post. Social media is a powerful tool. Undeniable

  18. I like the niche businesses you share here Dave.  Social media is an amazing business tool when properly implemented and executed.  I think that is the next wave of information that business owners are seeking, which is, what specific social marketing plan will work for their specific business.  That is the area I focus on and see a tremendous value as owners (online and offline) find the power of social media.

    Appreciate your article and the message you share here.  Glad I stumbled onto your blog today!

  19. ChampionShip says:

    Appreciate the great posts here. Social media has become indispensable indeed. 

    Leadership Retreats

  20. some companies provide services by increasing your facebook fanpage likes, youtube views and twitter followers… these are all genuine and authentic too – no bots. i actually work for that kind of company. i really think it could jumpstart your social media presence a bit, but it is only the beginning. there are tons of other things you can do to increase your social media presence. you can check this out if you want to learn more about our services : http://mysocialmediapromo.com

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