Social Networking Holds True Value for Small Business

Social Networking Holds True Value for Small Business

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When you do what I do for a living, it’s a constant battle to remind yourself that not everyone lives and breathes online marketing. The true challenge of small business education isn’t really in teaching people what they need to know…it’s in convincing them they need to know it. That’s why I couldn’t resist writing a rebuttal to an article over at Anita Campbell’s Small Business Trends site by John Mariotti called “Ten Reasons I Won’t Use Social Media Sites.”

Apart from reminding me of how far we have to go in educating small business owners, the article also reminded me of how quickly we dismiss the unknown.

John wrote:

John goes on to list ten reasons why he stays away from these sites. Some of them make sense and are quite understandable:

and

But other reasons…well, they’re stereotypical lines justifying an avoidance of something new and different.

and

It was those two lines that prompted me to craft a response to John in the comments after his post.

But the “real world” of small business is changing. I’ve spent the last decade working with small business owners…teaching them how to utilize technology and the Internet to market their businesses. I see people all over the country running virtual offices with anywhere from 2, to a few dozen employees. These companies bill anywhere from half a million a year to several million a year. I’d argue that makes them “real” companies.

The ones who have taken the time to learn about and to carefully select the social networks they wish to spend time on pull incredible reward from them. Remember that “vouching for someone” works online and offline. I travel once a month to shows around the world. Thanks to social networks, I can keep in touch with the people I meet at these shows and I can then network with the people they know and can vouch for.

I’ve watched small business owners create a community via Twitter that allows them to bounce ideas off each other, get quick access to info, offer support and close deals. I’ve seen the same happen via LinkedIn and even Facebook.

I joined Twitter as a skeptic last fall so I could write an article about how I gave it a fair shake and it’s useless. Instead, I churned out a five article series explaining exactly how to leverage Twitter for your small business.

I’m co-owner of a virtual company that does very good business online. Three of us work from virtual offices full time. We also have two part time employees and more than a dozen contractors that work with us. I work from home full time and have two small children. Heading off to breakfast meetings and being involved in the rotary and half a dozen professional organizations simply isn’t feasible for me at this point in my life.

But thanks to my involvement in social networks, I have thousands of contacts around the world, hundreds of which I have now met personally. On top of that, my contacts are not limited by geography which gives me true access to the best of the best.

I understand the new technology can seem overwhelming and finding the diamonds in the rough can be difficult…but I always thought the thing that really made small business owners stand out was their ability to adapt with the times and to find creative ways to use new technologies. If you find these types of networking options to lack value, it may simply be that you don’t know how to properly use them.

Or, it may be that they don’t work for you. Either way, I’d hate to see any small business owner pass up the chance to create strong and lasting business relationships via these tools because you convinced them it wasn’t worthwhile. As one of your commenters noted above, the truth is often somewhere in between.

I’ve often wondered at the marvel of online networking. I’m an incredibly social person, but my personal life and my choice to be a full-time caretaker to my children severely limits my ability to attend networking events locally. Sure, I can arrange for childcare when I’m traveling, but there’s a big difference between asking the grandparents to keep your kids for a few days every month or so and asking them to keep your kids a couple times a week. (Especially when they live a few hours way.)

Thanks to online networking tools like LinkedIn and Twitter (especially Twitter) I can not only keep in touch with contacts around the world, but can be introduced to new contacts. In fact, I spent a huge amount of time leveraging Twitter to network with local marketers in Houston before our spring Unleashed conference. I’ve also been able to leverage Twitter to meet a dozen or so new Ohio marketers that I haven’t yet met in person, but will soon.

Then again, all of this is being written by the person who owns a company with someone she’s worked with for four years, but only actually met last summer. So maybe I’m a tad bit biased? Or maybe John is.

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

We’d have to say we agree with you.
In his case, ignorance is certainly NOT bliss. People dismiss invaluable things on a daily basis – shame!

I can see some good marketing value in social networking as long as you are able to update your information and have a good base of contacts to send to. If you have say about 100 contacts and they each have 100 contacts then when you update or send into to them it could have a potential of going to 10,000 people.
Jay

Jennifer: The answer is that both you and John are right, and both you and John are biased. The solution, is a mix of online and traditional and online social networking. You have achieved success via the online world, yet you also raved about the face-to-face experience of Unleashed.

Neither form of networking is better than the other. Really, it’s a puzzle, not a contest. How can you fit the two pieces together so that they form a recognizable picture?

Jennifer,
I saw your post today, from a twitter post from Jay, themarketingguy, and agree with you completely! There are certainly multiple ways to do things, and there is much value in each person’s opinion, but some are very closed off to the new business paradigm, and it is happening, absent their approval. We own and manage a small boutique apartment management company Urbane Apartments in Royal Oak, MI and we ONLY use Digital Marketing and Social Network sites such as MySpace, FaceBook, Flickr, YouTube and now Twitter for traffic and branding. The apartment business may well be the most antiquated business on earth, and so these new forms of marketing and branding are seen as whacky and too far out there for most. But, to your point, we have been able to connect with other apartment maniacs with similar views throughout the country and have further fueled our progress. What is really staggering is the fact that we achieve rents that exceed the market by $250-$350 per unit type, and while our product is diametrically different and significantly sets Urbane apart, we also believe our unique approach to Underground Marketing and Management, and focusing on the Residents Experience drive the success. And yet when I chat with the local apartment guys (who are very successful by the way) they just look at me like I have a horn growing out of my head!
Great work, we appreciate your posts!

Hi Jennifer,

I will confess that I am about to shamelessly plug my website. Now that I have that out of the way….

I agree that social networking is of great benefit to small business. I direct a conference center and I’m always looking for referrals for small and even home-based businesses that can meet many of the needs we have at the conference center.

This past January, I began hatching an idea for a social network that would also serve as an easy way for small-businesses to have a customizable web presence, even if they don’t have their own webpage. Just this week, we launched Bizjay.com. I would be curious to get your feedback on the site. As I’m sure you can guess, I’m hopeful that it meets a need and truly catches on.

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