Living the entrepreneurial dream? Kids flow in left and right into your ice-cream shop on a hot summer day, a family has a huge kitchen remodel to be done and hires you on for the job, a desperate mother calls you to fix the overflowing washing machine, and everyone in town wants your designer clothes. The dreams go on and on for every small business, but what happened to the glory days of economic prosperity? Times are becoming ever more challenging and uncertain for small businesses. People aren’t buying as much, the prices of gas and goods are sky rocketing, debt is overwhelming, job cuts are imminent, and the future of one’s small business stands on thin ice. Many businesses are doing everything they can to adapt to these challenges; many businesses are actually still ahead and in the green. The usage of technology and the internet are key to many business’s success. The new generation of consumers are looking to these sources to find their products and services. Many traditional marketing tools are less effective and could be keeping you behind in the game. A new kind of business marketing model is forming. Many, if not most, large and small businesses are catching on to these trends and have websites and/or advertisements on the internet? There is however one trend that might be undermined, ridiculed, or even overlooked and that is “social media.” We are no longer in the days of only limited chat-rooms, underground forums, and teenage MySpace pages. Social Media is the newest form of marketing available to small businesses that should be incorporated into your small business marketing plan. The excellent advantages will out weigh any doubts and difficulties associated with social media integration. Possibly to make the term “social media” more meaningful I would call it something like, “the key resource businesses have to connecting directly to their customers and their customer’s friends;” or simply “social marketing.”
The human race is very social; people like to talk to each other and find out what is going on. This social aspect in all of us is very beneficial to small businesses because they offer products and services that make us even more social. What woman doesn’t love to talk about their cute clothes she just bought at a low price, or what man doesn’t like to talk about the best steakhouse in town? Okay, there are a few exceptions but you get the point. People love to socialize and they socialize about everything. Think, what if customers were socializing about something you were selling; would that ultimately generate more sales? It is well known that word-of-mouth advertising is very effective and gets people to buy products, which builds up a good clientele. This form of thinking is driving many businesses now to think of better ways to market and really reach out to customers.
You might be thinking, “if everyone is so social, why aren’t they here in my shop buying my products?” This is understandable and brings up the point of “where are your customers?” and almost just as important, “where is your business?” These sociable people are on their computers, on their phones, and at their friends house on the computer. It is up for debate on the effects of being “connected” all the time with technology, but it is apparent that that is the place where most of your customers are, and maybe you are already there too. It is very common for people to go onto the internet to do a whole slew of tasks and among them look for products and services. Technology has made it very easy for anyone to quickly search for businesses. One example of a typical Google Search for the “nearest plumber in Logan, Utah” comes up with a list of exclusive plumbing websites; list of geographical plumbing locations in Logan, Utah with addresses, phone numbers, and websites; list of local plumbing websites; etc. There are so many wonderful resources that are fast and inexpensive for marketing on the internet. Small businesses have jumped on the bandwagon to get a website or some sort of advertising available on the internet, which has helped them tremendously. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the second quarter internet retail sales of 2011 have produced about $47.5 billion, and those figures just keep growing each year. These figures are really only about 4.6% of total retail sales but I would argue that many other sales were made because customers were able to find businesses online (“Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales 2nd Quarter 2011” 1-3) Could there be other possibilities with such a great resource and how does a small business connect into the social end of marketing online? This is where “social media” comes in, or as I like to call it “social marketing.
The internet started as a very bland and rudimentary medium for sharing research and other information between “experts.” The internet has quickly evolved in the last twenty years into a grand source for sharing information, opinions, news, music, videos, products, and now even our personal lives. Brad Stone, in Newsweek, states that even less than a decade ago many technical experts would not have banked on the internet as being a large source for revenue until “online users” came into the picture. Now it is like a bomb shell of ever increasing revenue (Stone, “Hi-Tech’s New Day”). As for myself, I contribute to these “online users” because I use the internet daily for sometimes hours on end. Much of that time is spent socializing with friends and family. Social media is growing and there isn’t just one tool. Tools like blogs, Facebook,Google+, Linkedin, MySpace, Twitter, Foursquare, and community forums, to just name a few, are all mediums for people to communicate. Advancements in social media have come in leaps and bounds these last few years. Many still might think of social media as the common chat-room or dry forums used by nerds, researchers, experts, gamers, and pedophiles that really don’tcreate much of an environment for any business to market in. These aspects of social media still exist but the environments are changing and evolving to be more public and “sociable.” It has almost become a way of life for many to update their Facebook page everyday or “tweet” until their thumbs are numb.
My definition of “social marketing” suggests that small businesses use social media to market their services and products directly into the conversations of the community. Like any conversation, one usually doesn’t cut in midway and expect to be the center of attention. In an interview with Sara Gibbons, the webmaster for the Huntsman School of Business, explained that a small business should ”start small and build from there.” She explained that with any website or social media incorporation it is important to do tests to see what works. This testing might include figuring out the size and quantity of things like posts, emails, or videos that are shared each week. She further explained the use of special offers or other incentives to get people to subscribe and share links with friends (Gibbons). People socialize, share, and discuss through things like comments, posts, and chat. This includes the famous “Like” button for Facebook, which shows others that they found something interesting. Social media is the fastest and easiest way for people to share opinions with large groups all over the world. The main purpose of social marketing is that your customers are socializing amongst themselves and other potential customers about your business, all the while leaving you “in” the conversation.
As an example, the other day I saw an ad for the Toyota Facebook page where they were advertising their new 2011 Camry Hybrid. I clicked on the ad and found myself engulfed in information, discussions, and YouTube videos all talking about this new Camry. I wasn’t looking to buy a car and I really don’t like hybrid cars all that much but I ended up spending a few minutes of my life going to their website and actually looking at their cars. I wasn’t going to take the time to socialize about this car but this Facebook page impacted me and probably influenced a whole lot of other people into getting excited about the car and eventually buying it. This is an example from a large company, but these same tools and tricks can get your business into the social pool. People aren’t just talking with their neighbors anymore, they are talking to the world.
Not everyone is totally familiar with the internet and knows how to use the tools available. Many might think that the cost is too high or it takes too much time. These and other concerns might lead you to believe that it is better to just not do it. Shara Gibbons advises that a social media marketing plan should start off small and work its way up. There are many sources now that offer website design, blog design, Facebook integration, and YouTube video editing all very inexpensively and rapidly. The best way to find out how to integrate is by looking around for local businesses who offer these services and looking on Google for resources. Shara Gibbons, in the interview, also shared some insight about how the school’s website and social networks have evolved in the six years she has worked there. “The web is never finalized… you are never done, there’s always things you can do to improve it (Gibbons).” This is very true, technology and the internet are constantly evolving which makes it so important to get informed and start into it now. Because no one solution or tactic will work for all businesses, new ideas and marketing methods will come out in the process that will specifically help your small business.
The goal of any small business isn’t to have the most so-called “friends” in the social networking world but to have the most “friends” actually buying their products or using their services. Social media marketing tools are new and haven’t yet been tested by a lot of time but I suggest that it isn’t as trivial as it sounds. Many have said things like, “it’s all about the customer.” Social media or social marketing attacks that straight on, you can get your business right to the customer and get them involved; they almost do all the advertising for you. The YouTube video“Social Media Revolution 2011” states many facts and statistics supporting social media and outlines the need for businesses to use social media. In it, it claims that the ROI for social media is high enough that you will be in business five years from now (Qualman). In these difficult economic times it is hard to say that your business will still be doing well or even be around in five years, so social media could be the security needed to stay afloat.
The economy is low and many small businesses are suffering. Your business might be one of these and even if it is not, a steadier stream of revenue could really help. Among the many good ways to market, social media sticks out as one of the most effect resources. Technology is constantly evolving and opening up doors for you to socially connect with your customers. Experienced and inexperienced technology users have many resources available at reasonable prices for integrating social media into current marketing plans. “Social Media Revolution 2011” also quotes Erik Qualman who challenges “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it (Qualman).” Your customers “like” to socialize and are out there ready to talk about your business, but are you there to talk back?
Gibbons, Shara. Personal Interview by Clinton Buchanan. 18 Oct 2011.
“Social Media Revolution 2011.” Video. Socialnomics. Erik Qualman. 2011. Web. 1 Nov 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SuNx0UrnEo>.
Stone, Brad. “Hi-Tech’s New Day.” Newsweek 145.15 (2005): 60-64. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 8 Sept. 2011.
United States. Quarterly Retail E-Commerce Sales 2nd Quarter 2011. Washington, DC: , 2011. Web. <http://www.census.gov/retail/mrts/www/data/pdf/ec_current.pdf>.