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 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 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?