There was a recent article on USA Today about a small business in New Orleans that sells fashionable rain boots, among other things. The store used social tools like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Snapette to promote its boots for the Jazz & Heritage Festival after a rainstorm came through and muddied up the city. The result: their first batch of boots sold out in just a few hours.
This got me thinking about how small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are really perfect for social media marketing — mainly because, more often than not, SMB owners and their employees read the same newspapers, experience the same weather, go to the same social events, and are just as woven into the fabric of their local markets as the consumers they serve. Because of this, they are extremely well positioned to capture the attention of the growing audience that is using social media to find, connect with, and learn about local businesses.
At the Local Search Association’s annual conference in April, Facebook’s small business director Dan Levy said that about 70% of Facebook users in North America are connected to at least one local business. Additionally, with the continuing development of tools like Facebook’s “Graph Search” and “Local Search,” Google+ Local, and the many other emerging social tools (Pinterest, Vine, Instagram, etc.), the percentage of people connected with local businesses on social media is only expected to grow.
When it comes to building meaningful relationships, reputation management, and generating leads, SMBs are in a great position to use their local knowledge to compete with big business.
The Struggles of National Brands Reflect Opportunities for SMBs
According to a recent survey by the CMO Council and Balihoo, only 27 percent of national U.S. brand marketers reported operating local social pages. In addition, half of the brands from the survey said they manage local engagement efforts at the corporate level. Even when national brands do get into the local social media game, corporate management and the scope of their effort make it hard for them to compete with the flexibility and local expertise of the SMB.
For instance, listening and reputation management on social media is extremely difficult to do with thousands of locations. A recent study by VenueLabs found that national brands miss 86% of the local consumer feedback published through social networks. Not only are consumers connecting with local businesses on social media, but they are complaining to them via these platforms as well. Missing an opportunity to respond to or manage just one publicly visible complaint can hurt the reputation of a business. Managing thousands of social pages or even just one page with over a million followers isn’t easy, which is why SMBs are clearly more suited for this kind of engagement.
New, viable social tools are coming out at rate that can make any merchant’s head spin. Even so, SMBs are well positioned to respond quickly to these new technologies and are able to be more spontaneous than big corporations because the cost of failure is lower. SMBs need not be concerned with uniformity or consensus across numerous outlets. They can more easily experiment to find what works and what doesn’t, and yank those efforts that don’t. That is not to suggest that SMBs should be running to any and every shiny, new social tool. But it wouldn’t hurt to humor these emerging media outlets.
Taking Advantage of Being Local
SMBs that live, work and play in the markets that they serve are better equipped to engage with and respond to everything “local” (e.g. events, weather, news, sentiments, behaviors, et cetera). Just like the example from the USA Today article: when you are an SMB, there is no lag time when it comes to capitalizing on the circumstances of your local environment. But unfortunately, there are not enough of these kinds of examples, and the truth is, while many local businesses may be on social media, the majority aren’t getting what they want out of it.
SMBs should reevaluate their current social activities to make sure they are approaching these platforms correctly. They can see where they stand by asking themselves the following questions: Does my business have a personality on social? Are my social feeds linked on my website? Am I listening and responding to my followers? Am I leveraging my local knowledge to generate content? All “no” answers represent opportunities for SMBs to improve their engagement efforts with social tools.
Social media is merely a digital extension of local conversations. We talk about the weather, the 4th of July parade, the upcoming festival, local news, et cetera. SMBs need to always be thinking about how they can join/start these conversations in order to build fans, follow leads, offer discounts, improve their reputation and, most importantly, compete with national brands.
Joe Morsello contributes to the Local Search Insider and is the Communications Manager at the Local Search Association, a trade organization of print, digital, mobile and social media companies that help local businesses get found. Follow LSA on Twitter @LocalSearchAssn.