On the minds of some business owners is the choice to use social media or to abstain from it. I had a conversation with one such business owner who is in a highly competitive, cost-conscious industry and serves customers locally. We discussed many different aspects his social media use, interest to engage and core business needs.
Here were a few questions he posed:
[Discussing social media] “So, I get that I need to be on Twitter and Facebook and all that … but how does that really make a difference to get customers in the door?”
[Discussing content] “So, what’s to stop someone from seeing how I do [service] and not becoming a customer?” Related: “So, I get a video with 90 million views on YouTube, now what?”
[Discussing resources] “I don’t have all day to do social media, so what can I do?”
As you can tell, these were real, valid concerns for business owners. After all, they need customers in order to stay in business. This guy had the mindset (and which isn’t wrong), that advertising is a gamble, and social media just has lower odds. I can’t blame him. You advertise on two or three sites and you get a finite set of customers out of it. As he explained further, those advertising costs far exceed the amount for a FTE to be interactive and social online, let alone paid interns.
So, is a social media a threat for small businesses? For this guy, it very much can be. I didn’t feed him the bullshit that it’s time to “engage” and “collaborate.” I’m not that expensive of a social media professional to suggest that. It’s business and his industry is highly competitive and focused on cost and sharing proprietary knowledge does cost him customers to competition.
We talked a bit more. I suggested for him to view social media as a “controlled threat.” It’s only as transparent and free flowing as he wants it to be. Just as much as he could walk a customer through performing their services, he could just as easy get customer testimonials, performance/benchmark tests and highlight current activities in the office. He doesn’t have to bite off more than he can chew. If that means an hour a week, then so be it. It’s an hour to read, respond and interact with customers and prospects online when right now, there is nothing. Presuming there is a sense of achievement, he could shift that towards 30 minutes daily, possibly an hour a day and so on.
Social media is a time investment. No lie there — even I wonder where my days go and I am a full time social media professional. Start with only few minutes. Weekly, even. Just invest yourself, and then invest your staff when they show they’re interested. While exploitative, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to tap the local college for interns or college kids looking for a job. Go after the communication and PR majors and you could go very far for very little.
It’s also about knowing your positioning. He has the view that he rivals against a well-known, highly publicized company. I asked him more about that, like who’s downstream and upstream competitors – he listed upstream, but not downstream. Surely this guy isn’t all scrappy. He has some downstream competitors. I suggested that it would be a good idea to become the well-known source of providing [services] in Phoenix. Once he has a flow of customers in Phoenix, target all Arizona, then southwest, then western half of the US and so on. Again, he is a specialty, not a novelty so staying focused regionally and locally is prudent.
As an addendum, he explained what makes up the best-fit customers. When asked about the worst-fit customers, he didn’t really have an answer. If there’s one thing I learned at Infusionsoft, it’s this: when you go after everyone, you go after no one. Be something to some people.
Let’s get back to social media.
His upstream competitors have established social media programs. The industry thrives on it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are social media programs.
I explained that none – not one – of his competitors in Arizona are doing social media right. It’s piss-poor at best and all about me-me-me. Nobody wants that. He has a real opportunity to be in a leader in [services] locally and be able to field questions from the media, industry peers, customers and prospects. He doesn’t sell to customers in New Jersey – he sells to customers locally, so why not focus on rocking the local social media scene?
And you know what? He can do it. Not all businesses can, but with his wealth of content, skill and ability to communicate with customers professionally, he would really rock at it.
Here are my takeaways from this:
- Social media is a controlled threat. When you are the producer of your own content, you can shape the focus of it. Not all social media necessarily steals customers away. Loyal customers are your most profitable and satisfied customers. If they see a YouTube video on how to perform your talents, they will come back because they trust you. Social media only builds that further when you’re actually … social. Keep in mind, before patronizing this guy, I performed extensive of research online among YouTube, forums and blogs — I imagine many of his customers do the same.
- Know your ideal customer and your role in the ecosystem. Behind every business, there exists an ecosystem of customers, prospects, suppliers, vendors, events, news, business development and competitors. Think about your ideal, target customer and their needs. Once you’ve established their needs, think about how you’ll service them at multiple times.
- Drink some of the inbound marketing Kool-Aid. One-way, broadcaster style of advertising is getting tougher. In a highly competitive market, the highest CPC [marketing budget], wins. Further, you are shown in a sea of competitors in the back of a magazine, you have no differentiation. Be different and start attracting customers to you versus going out and hunting them. (HubSpot has a tons of free resources to learn concepts and practices of inbound marketing.)
- Start small then grow big. Don’t fret when you see a 900-lb gorilla. Just realize they’ve got more money — and likely — more overhead, more legal issues and more experience. This can be learned and when you start small, you are agile, nimble, fierce and you have freedom to try whatever you want.
- Social media is not just another advertising expense. It’s a customer service, loyalty, marketing, research and development engine. It has many moving pieces and renders most people slightly different results in using it. It’s more than a money-in-money-out formula. It costs money and time and some attitude re-alignment.
Nothing is a 100 percent odds these days. Don’t buy into all the hype and FUD you hear. Do your research and approach problems with an open, but calculating mind. I feel this business owner missed out on the honeymoon-phase of social media and will experience even greater challenges adopting in over the next year. It’s only going to get more complex, more dizzying and more fragmented as we move forward. The longer business owners wait on getting into social media, the higher the stakes become. Right now it’s affordable to get in and be social – but what if it won’t be one day?
I feel social media is ultimately as great a threat as it is an asset. I know you’re thinking that was a loaded question, right? But really, doing nothing in social and lying to customers will tarnish your reputation and revenue. Doing something earns you free press and marketing.
Agree? Disagree? Am I way off base or right on? Sound off in the comments and help other small business owners decide between the red or blue pill.
[Image credit: pasukaru76]