This is a guest post from Elaine Young, who I have had some great conversations with recently about small business and social media. Elaine has some interesting views on why so many small businesses aren’t using social media, and I asked her if she’d share them with you.

2008 was the year that Twitter saw adoption grow at an astounding rate. Facebook surpassed 150 million active users and blogging become what seems to be a social norm. But does that mean small business is now ready for the social media revolution?

Facebook launched in 2004 and Twitter started in 2006. Blogs have really only started to grow from “personal journals” to effective public relations tools in the past two years, and widgets and applications have only really been in strong play this past year.

So while 2008 may have seen a surge in growth in the ways in which the different social technologies can be accessed and connected, that doesn’t mean that small businesses are ready to jump in.

Why? Because they don’t know how to effectively use social media for their business.

I consider 2008 the year of “social media euphoria”. A group of early adopters started playing – yes, playing – with the different tools that had become available. The power though, as we have discovered, is not just in the tools themselves but in two things:

  1. The ability to CONNECT the different tools to one another.
  2. The ability to CONNECT TO and COMMUNICATE  WITH the right people using the tools.

In this discovery process we are organically developing the best practices that small businesses can turn to. We have some interesting case studies.

For example many individuals are writing about how the Obama Campaign proved that social media was the reason for his overall success. While the campaign certainly leveraged the tools that were available, we need to be cautious in making broad statements about a campaign that used ALL media available and had the right message at the right time.

According to Twellow you can see that there are a total of 179,550 individuals in the US that have Twitter accounts.

When you zoom in on the visual you see that California has a lot going on and so does Texas. In Vermont there are 310 people with Twitter accounts. In our little Vermont microcosm, you can see that there are some businesses here, but most of them haven’t posted in weeks, let alone months.

There is an inherent need for small business to understand the ROI behind all of this. Even when human resources aren’t stretched tight, the small business has to be very strategic in how they approach their marketing. If the majority of their target market aren’t yet using these tools, what is the business case for them to jump in and take time to learn these tools? Particularly when they change at the speed of light (or so it seems).

So how do we move from early adopter frenzy to a small business-friendly, strategic adoption rate of social media?

We early adopters must work out the kinks and start formulating “best practices”. We are already figuring out that “selling” via Twitter is not the way to go – but connecting is. Blogs help to build credibility and Facebook – well we still are trying to figure that one out!

lijitWe must show how to measure the ROI of each tool. We have analytics for websites, we have stats for blogs and we have more companies such as Lijit working on measuring your social media “reach”. Let’s try these out and see how they work.

We must educate. Singing to the choir feels really good, BUT it doesn’t help spread the word outside of our own circles of influence. That is the power of a tool like Twitter, coupled with Twellow – we can now find people who are active with the tool who might influence and educate in different ways.

Don’t fall into the trap that “only the young” use these tools. As a college professor who works with 18 – 24 year olds every day, I find more often that they get involved with RSS and tools like Twitter not because they want to, but because I introduce them to the tools as an assignment.

Don’t lose sight of the basics. As experts we all must remember that the foundational best practices (such as target market analysis) should not be forgotten and are even more important during this time of innovation, connection and reshaping of the media landscape.

With this focus, we can make 2009 the year that began the legitimization of social media for strategic use in the small business world.

  • Dr. Elaine Young is an Associate Professor of Marketing and e-Business Management at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. She teaches courses in Internet-Marketing, Marketing Management, Social Media, Technology and Society and Computer-Mediated Communication. You can read more at her blog or connect with Elaine on Twitter.

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6 comments
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priya
priya

Good article! Not only is social media a great way to network, target niche groups relevant to your business but small businesses can also find some great organizing tools like google docs, wikis and other PM softwares!
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JeffreySummers
JeffreySummers

Great, great article. Can it be shouted any louder?

gracekboyle
gracekboyle

Danny, this is very exciting to see one of my brilliant professors, Elaine Young, who gave me classes like Internet Marketing and Online Visibility in college, collaborating with you on social media tools for small businesses. First, it's a small world and second there are some great points here.

@Elaine I couldn't agree more. I often find that a lot of small businesses want to see ROI and evaluation from their outreach or marketing practice, but think that it's hard to gauge with social media. Thanks for mentioning Lijit as a tool for ROI. The statistics that we provide around your Lijit search and blog, uncover reader intent which can help you understand reader searching habits and your blog's exposure. Definitely a piece to the larger social media ROI puzzle.

On HubSpot TV (www.hubspot.tv/) this past week a marketing takeaway was, "If the pope can be on YouTube, your old established company with lots of history and tradition can too." A powerful metaphor for leveraging all social media tools, no matter who your target market is and as Elaine mentioned "don't lose sight of the basics." It can be overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be.

What a great conversation, Danny and Elaine. This is a relevant and exciting topic! Furthermore, If any readers have questions about Lijit as an ROI tool for their blog, feel free to e-mail me gboyle at lijit dot com

JeffreySummers
JeffreySummers

Great, great article. Can it be shouted any louder?
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gracekboyle
gracekboyle

Danny, this is very exciting to see one of my brilliant professors, Elaine Young, who gave me classes like Internet Marketing and Online Visibility in college, collaborating with you on social media tools for small businesses. First, it's a small world and second there are some great points here.

@Elaine I couldn't agree more. I often find that a lot of small businesses want to see ROI and evaluation from their outreach or marketing practice, but think that it's hard to gauge with social media. Thanks for mentioning Lijit as a tool for ROI. The statistics that we provide around your Lijit search and blog, uncover reader intent which can help you understand reader searching habits and your blog's exposure. Definitely a piece to the larger social media ROI puzzle.

On HubSpot TV (www.hubspot.tv/) this past week a marketing takeaway was, "If the pope can be on YouTube, your old established company with lots of history and tradition can too." A powerful metaphor for leveraging all social media tools, no matter who your target market is and as Elaine mentioned "don't lose sight of the basics." It can be overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be.

What a great conversation, Danny and Elaine. This is a relevant and exciting topic! Furthermore, If any readers have questions about Lijit as an ROI tool for their blog, feel free to e-mail me gboyle at lijit dot com
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Ryan Kazinec
Ryan Kazinec

A very interesting guest article by Dr. Elaine young covering the importance or lack their of to small businesses. A great read.
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