Historically, small business owners have been limited in the ways they could effectively reach out and engage their customers. Traditional marketing efforts like television, radio and print were costly and did not provide a clear return on the small business owners investment. Additionally, to craft a message that would be effective and have the maximum impact required advertising agencies, marketing departments and PR firms - more costs that the small business owner could not afford. As a result, small business growth would largely depend on word of mouth.
The world wide adoption of social media represents a major cultural shift - a complete evolution in how people communicate and interact. The customers now have voices. For decades, advertising was simply a matter of shouting. Who could shout louder? The more money a business had, the louder they could shout. It was this way for 150 years. Look at our product! Buy our product! Whoever could shout louder, won. This cultural shift we are experiencing is a result of social media. The consumer now has a voice and with the help of social media, that voice is louder and travels farther than ever before.
Before social media, word of mouth was very slow to gain traction because the consumer had a very limited reach. Now, the consumer has the ability to tell his or her entire network about a business in a matter of seconds - whereas before that network may have consisted of 4 or 5 close friends, now on average is between 100-200 friends on Facebook. That small business that depended on word of mouth now has tools to support and amplify word of mouth marketing. So how do small businesses leverage this cultural shift. Our answer? Be yourself.
Customers don't want to be shouted at anymore - Think about traditional media for a second and tell me the last time you actually looked up at a billboard when you were driving? Do we really watch commercials anymore? Or listen to the radio? Or sign up for something we received in the mail (physical or email). A shift in technology (TiVo, Apple TV, DVR, iPods, iPads) and culture is fundamentally changing traditional media and as a result, business. The eyes and ears are now on social media and now, more than ever relationships matter.
Small business owners need to approach social media the same way they approach doing business. Social media is simply a new tool that will help you build deeper relationships with your customers and reach more potential future customers. Use social media to do what you have always done - be personable, care and thank your customers for their business. People love small business because they are everything that big businesses are not - they have real, meaningful relationships with their customers. Never forget that these social platforms were originally created for friends to connect and share experiences - NOT for businesses to advertise (shouting at customers on a platform they use to connect with friends will only result in negative sentiment). Treat your customers like friends and engage them in a genuine way through these platforms. Create interesting content that your customers will enjoy and hopefully share. Don't "do" social media - be social. When done properly - your customers will do your advertising for you. Small businesses have been caring and genuinely engaging their customers for years - don't let these new social media tools change who you are.
Don't be Goliath - nobody ever liked him.