Ideas for Social Media Types (from a Small Business Owner)

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Full disclosure: I own a small business, which happens to be a hotel (B&B), and I use social media.

(Editor’s note: Big thanks to the ever-intelligent Chris Brogan for helping to spawn this post with his offering yesterday, Ideas for Hotels and Hospitality. Also, hat-tip to Jade Craven (@cravenjade), who was discussing on Twitter how she would like to help small businesses with social media, but was not quite sure where to start.)

The Customer Cult
When I lived on the Pacific Island of Papua New Guinea I was fascinated with the Cargo Cult religious movement that some of the villagers (that I knew quite well) believed in.

Members of the Cargo Cult have the basic conviction that manufactured goods (cargo) such as radios, televisions, cars, and refrigerators will fall from the sky (or somehow magically appear) if they just believe and pray hard enough.

Many small business owners, who are new to the medium of social media as a method of promotion for their venture, have a sort of an analogous “Customer Cult” mentality.

Meaning, these particular business owners have the misconception that as soon as they sign up with various social media sites, customers are going to fall from the sky in droves and they’ll immediately be inundated with more business than they can handle.

Social Media and Small Business
Presently, within the social media and small business communities, we find ourselves facing an interesting dichotomy.

There are many small business owners who would like to use social media to help with online promotion, but they aren’t necessarily familiar with the tools and how to use them effectively.

Likewise, there are many well qualified social media professionals who have never owned a small business, and as such, they are not necessarily aware of the every day struggles that small business owner’s face.

How SM Professionals Can Help Small Businesses
I FULLY realize that many social media professionals are already doing some of the things that I’ve listed below.

However, when I was getting started and struggling with promoting my business online a couple of years ago, the following items are what I would have wanted in a social media marketing professional if I could have afforded one:

Help us to define realistic goals.

When we as business owners are — new to social media, worrying about covering our business mortgage, and trying to find customers – it would be of great benefit if you let us know what social media can and cannot do effectively. Once you have schooled us, please help us to define goals and set sensible benchmarks.

Provide constructive input on our websites and then give us a well-structured plan for improvement.
For any small business that wants to have a comprehensive online strategy, it all starts with the website. With all of the CMS options these days, I am sure it seems crazy to those of you who spend a good portion of your day online, but there are many small business owners who don’t get beyond a website that looks as though it was developed in the 90’s. A clear and concise explanation of SEO is always appreciated too.

Ask us how we became small business owners and then assist us with tweaking out and developing our story.
Many small business owners have struggled to get funding and have a real passion for what they are doing. The story of any small business is important to tell and we need some professional input in order to get it right.

We need customers to survive (and to keep hiring you), work with us in defining and identifying our online customer base.
Having the wrong clientele or customers patronize your establishment or procuring your services can be a disaster. Not only does it make the life of a small business owner difficult, it can lead to disgruntled customers, constant negative feedback, and eventual loss of revenue.

We’ve heard all about these crazy powerful tools, now give us a clear description of just what the heck they are.
Most small biz folks have limited time because they are not only trying to run a business, but are also doing all of the administrative and day-to-day management tasks as well. A simple description and walk through of the potential usefulness of various social media forms – blogging, relevant forums, Flickr, Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter would be extremely helpful.

How do we use the tools to build a distributed social media footprint?

In conjunction with a description of the tools, work with us to devise a plan for how to go about creating a social media footprint. If it’s not going go happen overnight, be honest and let us know about the fact that it can take quite a bit of time and effort.

What are the social media innuendos, lingo, and social norms that we should know about so we don’t look like wankers?
Before you send us off into the world of social media, inform us of the social norms that most sites like FaceBook and Twitter (e.g. RT’s, DM’s, etc) have.

Naturally we want more customers, but how do we engage, interact, and provide value.
Some of this is common sense, but as a social media professional, what are the best methods for posting and interacting without being spammy?

Provide us with tips and guidelines and mentor us on how we can use social media ourselves every day.
We are very happy to have your services, but small business owners are self starters and risk takers, teach us how to effectively use this stuff and measure ROI ourselves through technology transfer and education.

Constantly remind us that social media is not only about promotion!
With the current economic situation and the fierce competition to bring in customers, we need to be reminded that successful social media starts and ends with connecting, learning, engaging, and listening.

As a final thought, I know this sounds counter intuitive to the social media experts who are trying to earn a living, but if you can figure out how to successfully teach small biz owners effective social media strategy to promote their business, I am certain you will gain a customer for life and you’ll have successfully added another person as you head on your way to 1000 true fans.

What do you think? Feel free to let me know below or on Twitter @mark_hayward.

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Mark Hayward


15 thoughts on “Ideas for Social Media Types (from a Small Business Owner)

  1. Fantastic article!

    I’m a Web Marketing Consultant and the “items” you described in your post are exactly what my experience with small business owners has taught me about working with them.

    Being a techy, I sometimes forget that not everyone knows what I’m talking about when I started talking about Web design, development, Internet marketing, and Social Media.

    But then I started to ask more questions and do more listening when I had small business owners on the phone, and began to see that a lot of them have great intentions, but unrealistic goals based on their budgets and available resources.

    Ultimately, this allowed me to be able to provide them with realistic options and solutions that some of them may not have liked, but were workable for their situation.

    I’ll be subscribing to your blog and tuning in from time to time to see what’s new and what’s not so new.

    To your success,
    Dhane Crowley

    P.S. This was a very helpful and insightful article and helped me (a Web Marketing Consultant) have a better understanding of what you (small business owners) are looking for out of me. Thanks again.

  2. Hi Mark,

    I just read through this article very carefully as I deal with SMEs, startups and corporates on a regular basis and focus on all the points you have listed above regarding educating, engaging, learning and interacting with the business in SEO and social media, helping to plan how they use the tools and what they could or should be doing online, but theres a but, theres always a but I suppose.

    While I believe 100% in the power behind it myself and have been working on SEO since around 2001 I have continually come across three major stumbling blocks all levels of business.

    These are:

    You rightly pointed out in the first few paragraphs with the reference to the “customer cult” that expectations are warped if not completely unrealistic for businesses in the online world. I spend so much time tempering and explaining the realistic expectations that I nearly end up removing the passion and drive that the business may have had in the first place, its not what they want to hear when you mention the words, effort and dedication in the same sentence especially with their daily business to contend with as well.

    Businesses expect the whole thing to happen overnight and this again kicks on from expectation. Once they realise that time is a major issue they loose a lot of steam in spending the right amount of time taking advantage of these tools and often loose focus or simply forget how important it is.

    and of course Budget
    This is the worst. Its impossible for businesses to understand what these services are worth because so much conflicting information exists on the web. I cannot count how many times I have heard “but I can get that done by my nephew for 50 dollars” or ” but that website will only cost be 99 dollars, why can we not use that?”.

    Even when you work on the ROI of the investment, whos to say, especially in Social media, what that ROI will be as it is the effort that the business applies which creates results as much as the training they have undergone and the time and ability they have to allocate to actually indulging in social media. Dont even start me with SEO, it follows the same lines as the quotes above where I continually get “special offers” rubbed in my face from some spam email guaranteeing number 1 positions on google for 5-99 a month.

    If businesses want to succeed in SEO and social media then they not only have to engage but they have to take it seriously and budget for it seriously as well (as you say, we need paid as well!) and its quickly becoming more and more expensive (SEO especially) as it needs continual and constant maintenance and adaptation and the larger companies who can allocate budgets tend to be ahead of the game.

    Basically, education is key before anything else but even this wont come cheap in my honest opinion.

    Just some points to “chew the cud” on.

  3. Hi Mark,
    Well done it is a wonderful piece! I too would have LOVED this information for my business it would have saved me an abundance of time and money not mention my stress levels! I loved your honesty and it is very informative.

    Love & Happiness & oodles of money
    Bra Queen x

  4. Hey Justin – sincere thank you for all of your input. As a small business owner, I could not agree with you more, with respect to, social media professionals getting paid. You guys provide a much needed service and it sucks that there seems to be an abundance of “Get More Traffic in 5 Minutes” spammers out there.

    Just checked out your site and your helpful posts are exactly the kind that I hope keeps you rolling in business from small and big business.

  5. Hi @braqueen – I’ve never had royalty stop by before…thank you! Do you now do your own social media? Or, do you have ‘people’ for that? ;-)

  6. Hi Mark, no problem at all, just thought it needed to be said. Maybe we could discuss at some point what SMEs expect, and what they can or could budget for effective returns in a future post. Get in touch with me on twitter if you wanted to co author something, I’m sure it would prove very interesting.

  7. Why Thank you ;-)
    I do my own, I was flying blind 12 months ago however now I am on track with a clear direction in this arena!
    I have posted your article on my blog.


  8. This is EXACTLY what us professionals need to read and listen to! I actually didn’t start in the social media realm. Originally we started as a web design/development shop, but always had a focus and passion of turning sites into business solutions (tools that increased productivity, customer retention, and provided measurable ROI.) When social media hit it big, my friends were surprised to see it took me a while to jump on the bandwagon. Well, I’m a small business owner myself and everything you just stated is exactly the questions I had.

    Now that we are more of a strategic marketing consultancy, questions such as these are our primary drivers of an engagement with our clients. We know this is what they are wondering, so this is now what we educate them on and how our services are provided.

    Thank you so much for sharing this and I can assure you this will be appearing on our blog!

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