Lee Odden

Social Media Helps Small Business Boost Sales, Keep Customers

small business social media marketingThe business press is full of stories about how small companies are using social channels to attract and engage customers. But while there are plenty of individual success stories, the confidence in what to do specifically is not always clear for small business owners that are strapped for time and online marketing resources.

I was talking with a small business owner recently who was lamenting not updating his website and also that his competition was showing up “all over the place” online.  The nature of his product requires some education and an effort to dispell common mis-perceptions. The rapid advancements in technology of his particular product category are not very well known amongst his target consumer market. But there’s a substantial amount of search volume and interest in the solutions his product provides.  He’s also a small business with limited time and budget.

To me, this was a classic opportunity for the power of persuasion through storytelling.

My tip for him was to start a blog that answered the most common questions prospects and customers ask. And to do so in a compelling way that his competitors were not:  with video, images and text. Each new blog post would be another potential entry point to his website via Google and social networks where people share links. With 1 post a week, he’d have 52 more pages and videos on his website in a year, each offering interesting, useful content that could position himself above competitors. Along the way, he’d be able to gather insight from web analytics, social shares, comments and interactions with the blog posts to refine message effectiveness.

A few key questions to start with his blog content plan:

  • Why do current customers buy your product? This can come from sales people and/or the business owner.
  • What are the mis-perceptions & objections? Document the things that are education opportunities.
  • What type of information helps them change perception?  What are the tipping points from skepticism to confidence? Is it demonstration, 3rd party data, credibility of the company, word of mouth?
  • Where do prospects look for information on this solution? Talk to sales people, look at website stats and any logged information about lead sources.

By answering these fundamental questions, this small business owner can create a blog content plan that specifically addresses the questions, concerns and triggers that will influence prospects to trust, buy and refer.  Understanding the key features of the product most relevant to the target customer as well as prospect tendencies towards finding a solution of this type can literally translate into topics for him to write or talk about on the blog.

Those topics can be run through Google AdWords Keyword Tool to identify the keyword phrases that people are searching for most often. Relevant search phrases can inspire blog post and YouTube video titles, categories, descriptions and tags.

Some basic next steps might include:

  • Set up a WordPress Blog, template and hosting (Genesis, StudioPress & Synthesis make this a no-brainer). Plan to write one blog post or publish/upload 1 video per week (2-3 minutes) that answers a key question prospects and customers ask.  The video can be captured using an iPhone  or other smartphone and iMovie can be used for editing. If you’re on PC, you can use Windows Movie Maker to edit the video.  For people not comfortable just talking to a camera, have an employee ask the question(s) and answer them while being captured on video.
  • Create a YouTube Channel and start connecting with other channels and video publishers on relevant topics, 5-10 min a day. After uploading a video, embed on the blog, and share on existing social channels like Twitter and Facebook as well as through email to existing customers or opt-in prospect list. Ashley posted some great examples of SMB Twitter promotion yesterday. When embedding the video on the blog, write a description of what is talked about in the video so search engines can make it easy for people to find.

The initial focus for a basic video and photo blog should be on getting used to the habit of creating useful content on a regular basis.  I know many readers might be thinking that more substantial SEO and social media tactics should be setup as well, but without good content, social networking and optimization won’t work to convert prospects to customers anyway.  Time is usually limited for small businesses, so getting a small base of content built is a great starting point.

Creating a cycle of listening for questions, answering them through content and refinement can go a very long way for small business content marketing. Once things are setup, 20-30 minutes per day can be spent interacting with blog comments and social networks. Establishing a feedback loop means you’ll always have ideas to blog or talk about. It also means you’re connecting with real people, interacting with them and providing something of value that they can share and act on.

In time other promotion channels can be added starting with Facebook, Twitter and Google+ as well as SEO best practices with more specific keyword research and link building. If the initial customer research identifies Twitter as a substantial opportunity, a Twitter Marketing strategy might be involved at the same time the blog and YouTube channel are created. The reason I’m keeping these suggestions simple and basic is that I know how much small business owners can get overwhelmed. As needs grow, outside online marketing consultants or training can always be used to speed things up.

What else? An email newsletter that re-purposes blog content and the Q/A that happens on Facebook, the blog and Twitter can be delivered to existing customers. Viewing every channel of participation as an opportunity to interact and share will help grow networks, trust and credibility as the “go to source” for the product category being promoted. It’s important to create value, but also to not lose sight that this is business. Don’t be afraid to suggest solutions or promote offers. Just do so in a relevant way.

Finally, make sure web analytics (Google Analytics is free) and basic social media monitoring (Trackur starts at $18/mo, search.twitter.com is free) are set up to assess how people are finding and interacting with blog content. Watch for trends in network growth like fans, friends and followers but especially with quality of interaction through comments, likes, shares and the effect on blog/website traffic that drives inquiries and sales.

For a lot of small business owners not used to online marketing, SEO or social media, these suggestions might be out of their comfort zone. But with the way consumer behaviors are changing and increased competition, getting out of the comfort zone and into a place where direct customer interactions drive content and inspire business outcomes is an essential investment.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. This is a good article. Interacting with customers directly and monitoring what they are saying is a growing trend. One thing that SMBs should remember to be aware of is to manage their online reputation. A bad review or comment can seriously soil an online reputation.

  2. Avatar Jeff Emmerson says

    That’s a great article, Lee! Man, you hit the nail on the head a few times, and especially at the end (last paragraph). Thanks for being so true to our industry! #socialmedia #seo #copywriter #Toronto

  3. The Sales Lion, nee Marcus Sheridan, is big on answering FAQs as blog content, good way to drive organic, inbound marketing. This is good advice and I agree, many small business managers need to get out of there comfort zones and get active, get noticed where their customers are shopping and searching. FWIW.

    • Another person that has built quite an empire in part by answering questions through social channels is Gary Vaynerchuk. 

      Ironically, as a small business owner myself, I need to get out of my own comfort zone and start following the advice about videos. I can talk to a room of 500 or do interviews on video for others no problem. When it comes to doing my own videos…. lots of opportunity 🙂

      • That reminds me, video is on my own ‘not comfortable but need to do’ list. Thanks.

      • I’m right there with ya on video Lee… 

        I can record screencasts, no problem. But last year I only did 2-3 videos with me in front of the camera. They were received well, but I just haven’t broken out of my comfort zone. I can record/interview others on video, just haven’t gotten comfortable there myself I guess. 

        Time to change that I think… 

  4. This is a fantastic reference for small business…Congrats.

  5. Really wonderful post.If you planning to start a small business, then this all tips are reallyhelpful. Small business owners are seeing the greatest results from social media marketing. In fact, 88% of all marketers found social media helps get them increased exposure. Thanks for nice information.

  6. Avatar Daniel Milstein says

    That is so true, Lee.  A lot of business owners tend to not understand the fact it is important to get out for their comfort zones and adapt to the changing consumer behavior. A lot of business owners still do get finicky about the whole social media part of marketing. One thing I learned before I became a bestselling author and long before Inc Magazine voted my company as one of the fastest growing companies is that business owners can achieve a lot of brand mileage with the basic social media strategies like blogs. It really is a great way to boost a business.

  7. I think that small businesses these days will have to do double-time when it comes to getting noticed on the Social Web.  I love that you wrote: Creating a cycle of listening.  I think that content should be targeted at every engagement level your brand has with its customers/prospects.  On the side, do you think that SOPA will just make it worse for small sites trying to compete for attention on the Web?

    • Glad you liked it Aaron. Content is a great way to nurture leads. In fact, many customers on the B2B side of things are nurturing themselves through online content. The question is, whether that content is yours or a competitor’s. 

      I don’t think SOPA will be good for anyone. 

  8. The most common objection I hear real estate agents (my niche) say about starting a blog for their presence is: “I don’t know what to say.” I call baloney! 

    You have subject matter expertise on a topic people want to learn more about. Period. Whether that’s real estate, mortgages, or any small business. The more you write, and communicate what you know, to educate others, the closer you’ll draw people in to making an informed purchasing decision with you. 

  9. The question is, how to find “perfection”. 

  10. I read this on a newsletter with the headline: What To Do When You Have A Limited Time And Budget.  After reading this post, I realize that’s a typo, they meant Unlimited Time.  Being small businessman, my time is not unlimited and I don’t see how I could implement a fraction of what is mentioned above.  The whole deal of creating videos, uploading them to you tube, managing the you tube channel in a professional way, would be incredibly timeconsuming.

    • For people who aren’t used to creating videos, it can seem overwhelming but once you do it, it doesn’t take that much time to shoot a 2-3 minute video once a week. Uploading and tagging takes another 10-15 minutes max per week. The most time is in the planning and then networking and promoting for 20 min a day. 

      If you don’t spend time marketing your business, how will you get new customers? 

  11. Good for you Kami – I hope your business is a great success.

  12. Avatar Claire Broadley says

    This is a fantastic post, thank you. We create content for websites, and we’re regularly met with all sorts of conflicting opinions on what makes a blog valuable and how it should be written. Some clients have been advised to cram their posts with keywords, regardless of the content – so we have to follow suit, as much as it hurts! Some clients have been advised to post 15, 20 or even 30 times per week – some once a month – yet they have no analytics to show them what’s working and what isn’t. Your post gives a very sensible overview of the value of web content and blogging; I’ve bookmarked it to show our future copywriting clients.

  13. Avatar Elan Spreiser says

    This article has been very useful in helping to decide the direction I want to take my company’s social media presence! I have set them up with a Facebook and a Twitter account that has helped to drive awareness, but I never put too much thought into a blog! This will hopefully open many doors for the company I work for, as I will soon be getting them even more up to date, and get a blog! Thanks again!

  14. Avatar seocompany delhi says

    Insightful post, as I think of social media, it is a set of tools that organizations can
    use for a variety of purposes – customer service, branding, promotion….

  15. Thanks for this great advice. My small translating business while at first grew consistently, has begun to plateau a bit. With some of these SEO tips I am more confident my business will continue to expand and compete with my bigger opponents. Since I have recently began a blog, I will surely use some of your strategies towards setting myself apart from the competition!

  16. Hi Lee,
    You’ve laid out a pretty good marketing plan here for most any business. It’s always best to pick one approach that resonates with the business owner and let them implement it. As with anything it gets easier the more you do it and you can keep adding as you go along.