In today’s age of transparency and real-time communication, why do so many small businesses still shy away from social media? Not only is it a viable communication channel, it is the de rigueur way that people communicate. Most have migrated to consume information, exchange perspectives, discover companies, seek services, check out product reviews, and they use a broad spectrum of social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, Digg, YouTube, etc.
SMBs are supposed to be lean, mean and nimble, so what gives? The irony here is that Fortune 500s have jumped in with both feet to harness social media, leaving their smaller counterparts to continue relying on traditional media channels. According to a report conducted by the Society for New Communications Research titled, “The Fortune 500 and Social Media: A Longitudinal Study of Blogging and Twitter Usage by America’s Largest Companies,” Twitter was the social media channel of choice last year. The report found a 300% increase from 2008 to 2009 in the number of Fortune 500s linking their corporate blogs to corporate Twitter accounts.
In his recent post titled, “The Socialization of Small Business,” Brian Solis cites two major hurdles of social media for 31% of small businesses. Many believe that their customers are not hanging out on social media channels, and that as business owners, they do not have the time or resources to throw at running a successful media campaign. Ad-ology’s report titled, “Small Business Marketing Forecast” had some interesting findings, including approximately 50% of SMBs ranked generating leads, monitoring what is being said about their business, and improving customer service as — “not beneficial.”
Being on the PR side, we recommend and work with a lot of our startup clients around building efforts to integrate social media with traditional PR and communication channels. In some cases, it is an ongoing struggle, because some clients are digging their heels in, believing otherwise.
One SMB client of Ignite’s believes that their customer base is not hanging out in Twitter, and therefore, this channel is irrelevant to their business. With a quick real-time search in Twitter, Ignite found on the first page of results that included two tweets from prospects revealing interest and seeking recommendations for the type of service our client offered, one blogger mentioning our client in a very positive manner, and one competitor trash-talking our client. None of these tweets were related to each other. Despite this snapshot evidence, our client still isn’t convinced. Ignite even proactively secured the client’s Twitter handles so that they wouldn’t be taken. But by choosing to refrain from adopting social media channels, we can see how this apprehension has impacted our client vis-à-vis its competitors. Our client’s biggest and smallest competitors have essentially left them in the dust with respect to actively participating with communities in social media channels and having a much stronger market presence.
The road to social media will be a slower route for the SMBs likely for a range of valid reasons: time, unfamiliarity, professional network not as tech savvy, trust, etc. We’d recommend Twitter as a good first step. It’s free, easy to learn, and isn’t as taxing on entrepreneurs. Any small business, mom and pop, or neighborhood shop could use Twitter to gain more customers at hyper-local level by offering tips, best practices, coupons, promos, etc. According to a Twitter Brand Survey done by Peter Sorgenfrei and Warren Sukernek, 60% of respondents said they would recommend a brand based on their presence on and usage of Twitter. What’s more, 78% of respondents said they’d be more willing to purchase products from a company that had a relationship with them on Twitter.
Edelman’s annual “Trust Barometer 2010” report says we are no longer living in a shareholders’ world but are instead in a world where all stakeholders are of equal importance. Meaning, companies need to do more now than ever to actively employ a mixed bag of communication channels to stay on top of not just investors and prospects — but all stakeholders.
As they say, the power to define and control a brand has indeed shifted from corporations and institutions to individuals and communities. So whether you like it or not, whether you’re prepared to engage with constituents who have migrated to social media channels, or whether you choose to stay on the sidelines, do know that people are defining and controlling companies’ brands and perceptions and that includes yours.