Small Business Marketing Strategy: Is Social Media Marketing Viable?

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Network Solutions recently published an intriguing report about small business success metrics. Their Small Business Success Index research (opens PDF of executive summary) contends that small businesses excel at customer service - but that small business marketing leaves much to be desired.

Why is this? How can small businesses improve their marketing without costly ad campaigns?

The State Of Small Business

Network Solutions breaks out six key factors that influence success for small businesses - capital access, marketing & innovation, workforce, customer service, computer technology, and compliance. (Details about each factor are included in the full report, available on their website.)

Customer service is the highest ranked of the six factors, meaning most small businesses do well at pleasing their customers. But marketing and innovation records the second worst score.

The problems become more apparent when marketing and innovation is broken down into sub-indices.

Where Are Small Businesses Failing (And Can Social Media Marketing Help)?

Out of seven marketing and innovation sub-indices, I'd like to examine the four lowest ranked and determine whether a social media marketing strategy could help improve sagging attributes.

Consider Michael Stelzner's report published last month: Social Media Marketing Industry Report. In his extensive survey, Stelzner details how marketers are using social media to grow their business.

Consider Network Solutions' marketing and innovation sub-indices when paired with Stelzner's benefits of social media marketing:

  • Finding efficient ways to advertise and promote your business - Network Solutions score: 67 (lowest sub-index)
  • 81% of marketers reported that social media marketing generated exposure for their business (Stelzner)
  • Converting marketing leads into buyers - Network Solutions score: 68
  • 35% of marketers reported that social media marketing helped them close business

  • Positioning your organization as having the same capabilities as big organizations in your industry: Network Solutions score: 71
  • 61% of marketers reported that social media marketing increased their traffic/subscribers/opt-in list (key positioning/branding tactic)
  • Identifying new prospective customers - Network Solutions score: 71
  • 48% of marketers reported that social media marketing generated qualified leads

Social media marketing isn't for everyone. It takes a lot of time and energy. These solutions are often highly personalized to your business (read: one size does not fit all). I have a history of warning marketers before they dive right in.

That said, I think the Network Solutions research and the Stelzner survey prove that social media marketing might be exactly what a lot of small businesses need right now.

So What Does This Mean For Me?

Later this week, I will drill down into the Networks Solutions data. I'll give specific examples of how small businesses could improve their scores in the marketing and innovation sub-indices.

What's this mean for you? Well, my hope is that you'll garner something from my advice that provides a solution to your own small business marketing problem.

If you leave a comment about your personal small business marketing problems, I will try to address it in that post. Please join us later in the week for this follow-up - the easiest way not to miss out is to subscribe.

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(Image courtesy of shashiBellamkonda via Flickr)

No One Cares, You Are Doing It Wrong, And That Is Awesome

Courtesy of jbhill via Flickr Marketers are confused these days. The things that have worked for decades aren't working anymore. Can you imagine if you worked for 30 years in your given vocation and then, almost over night, all the rules changed?

In truth, marketing is only now becoming what it truly should have been - a conversation. Less lies, less spin. Marketers have been shoveling marshmallow fluff down the mouths of Americans and telling them it's broccoli. And suddenly, as quick as you can confuse metaphors, we find that the emperor has no clothes.

I admit I've been frustrated with the old-school marketers. "What is with these guys, and why can't they get it together?" But that's not fair. Their whole world has shifted beneath them. I came to a better understanding watching a recent Robert Scoble interview with IBM engineer Mike Moran. (I highly encourage you to check it out: Robert Scoble's interview with Mike Moran. It's only 12 minutes long and well worth your time.)

Moran gives a cogent explanation of why marketers are having such a difficult time in the new web 2.0 environment. Here is a small sample:

"The change that's really happening is you have to learn how to attract people to your message rather than pushing it at them. You have to figure out how you're going to listen when they talk back. And you also have to watch what they do. Those three things are really critical because once you do them, you have to figure out how to respond.

Those three things are really critical because once you do them, you have to figure out how to respond. When I say 'Do it wrong quickly,' it's not you trying to do it wrong, it's that you kind of admit that what you're doing is probably wrong because it usually is. And then you have to look back at the feedback from your target market to see how far off it is so that you know what to do next. And that's really a tough change for a lot of marketers.

That seems really simple, but think of it: a whole industry has changed in a matter of what, less than a decade? That is pretty outstanding. It's going from monologue to dialogue, from lecture to conversation, from directing to caring, from crossed fingers to metrics.

Likewise, David Meerman Scott had this to say a couple of weeks ago at Podcamp Boston 3 on an edition of the Marketing Over Coffee podcast:

You truly have to think differently than you ever have before, if you've been a marketer or PR person throughout your whole career. So many people have an idea of what marketing and public relations is. Marketing is typically advertising and you interrupt people and you coerce them to do something. And PR is you convince a handful of journalists to talk about your stuff.

Everything we're talking about here [at Podcamp Boston 3] is about creating something interesting that doesn't talk about your product and service - no one cares about your product and service - but gets an idea across."

All of this then reminded me of an excellent post by Josh Klein. (You really ought to subscribe to his blog. Seriously.) He was speaking about roughly the same topic, with a special focus on television. And Josh nails it when he talks about how things have changed with the internet.

"The internet wasn’t built for businesses, it was built to share information, first for the military and later for academics. Business has grown out of this original purpose, but it wasn’t the intention...

The web is not a passive medium. It’s built for engagement.

Why do companies insist on putting up brochureware websites, then wonder why nobody is visiting? Who gave them the right to take up valuable cognitive space without providing anything of value? This brings us back to the line that got axed from my presentation.

'Nobody cares about you.'"

Do you see how these three quotes all fit together into a meme? Moran says everything has changed and failure is good. Scott says you must create instead of interrupt. And Klein says this medium is built for engagement and, to engage, you must focus on the desires of the customer (not yourself or your company).

No one cares about your product, you're doing it wrong, and that is awesome.

No wonder this scares the pants off the old-school marketers - I don't blame them! Everything went topsy-turvy all of a sudden. A type of newspeak has become the norm (i.e. sell by not selling, convince by entertaining, fail to succeed).

Researching all of this has made me a little more understanding; it has made the hand-holding necessary in our industry a little more tolerable. I encourage you - whatever your age or experience - to consider the great shift in marketing when you deal with the old-school folks.

Do you think I'm correct or am I totally off base? I'd love to hear what you think in the comments section below.

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