Social Media for Small Businesses

May 29th, 2010

The Client asked: What can social media do for me?

The Consultant answered: Beats me.

Like many marketing/PR professionals, my practice is one that serves micro-businesses. On top of that, my clients are almost always local, single-site professional practitioners and B2B enterprises. Visualize a law firm with three attorneys; a financial services advisor; a general contractor building eight or ten projects a year.

Trying to figure out how social media like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can be of tangible benefit to folks like that has been a challenge – and it’s one that’s not yet been met, in spite of a genuine desire to do so, and a lot of good-faith effort.

Excellent sources like Mashable and Ragan Communications provide more insight, information and ideas on a daily basis than most of us can digest without abandoning other work. There’s an abundance of seminars and classes to take. And colleagues are always generous in sharing what they find and receive. But very little of it pertains to really small businesses.

It’s reminiscent of the days when TV advertising first became affordable for local advertisers. (Note to Young Readers: This was B.C. – Before Cable.) The client knows what it does and how it works. He/she just needs a cost-benefit ratio to justify the investment. 

In the case of social media, that “investment,” for many micro-businesses, is the owner’s time, which has a value to him or her that is superior to most of the other associated costs; or staff time, which the owner would rather be spent on other, more revenue-related activities. 

No grown-up business owner I’ve ever talked to wants to spend an hour a day – or even an hour a week – adding connections/contacts/friends to his/her network or updating his/her page, much less writing a blog. And no amount of repeating “Resistance is futile,” as an early iPhone adopter friend does, can move people who understand their time is precious and/or want to see bright lines between their activities and their ROI. 

When a colleague recently sent me the latest incarnation of Eric Qualman’s video on the subject – which includes a transcript providing sourcing for all the “statements” in it – I  couldn’t resist the temptation to analyze and comment. Here’s the gist of my review:

“Like most of the stuff I read/see on social media, this piece raised questions immediately. For example:

The video and transcript state that:

1.  “Over 50% of the world’s population is under 30-years-old;” and

2. “96% of them have joined a social network”

That might lead one to believe that 96% of all the people under 30 on Earth, including Biafrans, Afghanis and Somalians, are on Facebook or an equivalent. However: the source information (Grunwald Associates National Study – Trendsspotting Blog/Millenials Conference) addresses ONLY the US.

Item #9 is sourced as a “personal quote”, and #19, #24, #29, #37-#41 are ID’d as “Opinion, not a statistic.”  That’s nine of 42 statements, or a little over 20% of the total. Items #7, #10, #14 and #36 all emanate from Facebook-affiliated originators; about 10% of the total.

 So at least 1/3 of the “data” provided here could be reasonably interpreted as less than purely objective and totally accurate; and that doesn’t include a half-dozen other statements attributed to sources with a clear vested interest in promoting social networks.

It’s kind of like Facebook’s claim of 400 million members/pages: my nephew’s cat is one, and my other nephew’s rooster is another. And I know people who have multiple pages…”

 None of this is to suggest that Mr. Qualman, my iPhone friend and everyone else who touts social media as THE new media are wrong. Rather, it is to say that like TV advertising in the 1970s, it’s just not something we all know how to use to our advantage yet.

 Any suggestions?

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