While researching our newest book, The Social Media Advantage, co-author, Amanda Walter and I interviewed hundreds small businesses owners across the U.S. about their use of social media and how they plan to integrate it into their overall marketing and communication strategy. There were many similar responses:
“I don’t have time.”
“We don’t need it.”
“We just haven’t gotten around to it yet.”
“I don’t know where to start.”
Even today, with its wide-spread use, many small business owners are still claiming a lack of time, resources and understanding of social media tools, as well as intimidation by the vastness of the social media space as primary factors for not yet integrating a social media strategy into their communications efforts.
While some small business owners are still watching from the sidelines, cautiously dipping their toes into the waters of social media, there are millions of professionals who’ve already dived into social media and are riding that wave with some exciting results. These social media savvy professionals are watching their efforts exponentially ripple throughout the industry in powerful ways. They are successfully branding themselves as innovators in their industry by turning their social media connections into their most powerful advocates. But like any tactic, the results are always better when they are directly connected to business objectives.
One of the major driving factors leading small businesses to investigate the effectiveness of social media as a communications or marketing platform has been the recession. “At the beginning of 2009, our phone stopped ringing,” shared Laura Davis, architecture principal and director of marketing for HPD Architects in Dallas, Texas. “It became apparent when 197 people showed up for a pre-submittal meeting that our chance for success in winning the project was dwindling. We realized we had to take action to bring in business.” HPD included social media as a way to support their face-to-face networking and to expand the reach and influence of the firm’s brand.
Howard Blackson, principal and director of planning for San Diego, California-based PlaceMakers, a multidisciplinary planning and urban design firm with seven principals located in seven different cities, also points to social media as an asset for today’s economic climate. He refers to social media as not only a way to conduct research and distribute thoughts and ideas, but as the core of their “New Economy” business model, which relies on the internet and social technologies to function with no overhead, no full-time office staff or central office. For PlaceMakers, social media tools allow them to run a more efficient business, bringing in expertise from all over the U.S. and Canada to easily collaborate on a single project.
Businesses of all size are quickly learning that social media tools enhance the efficiency of both internal and external communication needs. A single tweet or post is not only quicker than traditional forms of communication, but can reach more people faster and has a longer “shelf-life.”
According to a 2011 survey from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Market Research, more companies than ever view social media as an essential asset to business communications, with 86% reporting that social media technologies were “very important” to their business and marketing strategies in 2010. According to the survey, 71% of businesses used Facebook in 2010, 59% used Twitter and more than half surveyed blogged. Of this group, 85% view Facebook as successful in helping them meet their business goals, while a whopping 93% report message boards as a successful tactic.
As one social media advocate, Vik Duggal, said “The internet is about 17 years old, just about to graduate high school and is about to really blow up.” Social media is even younger.
Although still young, social media has already become an essential piece of most businesses’ overall communications strategy. Business owners are sharing ideas on Twitter, growing their customer base with Facebook, promoting their expertise on blogs – and seeing measurable return on investment for their efforts.
Today’s social media tools aren’t only about technology. They are a direct response of today’s business world where communications happen in real time. Think of social media as the new cell phone. Just as each and every one of your employees and consultants has a direct cell phone number to power their everyday business and communications, social media can also be leveraged for this purpose – but contains a longer and stronger shelf-life than a single phone call. But unlike a phone call that is between a closed or private group, social media communications allow for outside input and influence, which will help your ideas and your business expand and thrive. Social media offers the ultimate “listening tool” to gain honest input from customers, feedback on your products or services and your business, as well as to discover new and more efficient ways of working.
How is your company using social media to expand its influence and customer base?