Small Business Not Ready for Prime Time – Yet…

eyteachThis 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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