How Small Businesses Can Tap Into Social Media

Search for “Will It Blend” on Google and the top result will throw up Blendtec, a Utah-based company that manufactures a $399 heavy-duty blender. George Wright, Blendtec’s marketing director, conceived the idea of creating a video series where the company’s founder attempts to blend various unusual items (a hockey stick, cubic zirconia and even an Apple iPhone) to demonstrate the sheer power of the blender. The videos, which cost a few hundred dollars, were posted on free social media sites like YouTube and Digg, generating six million downloads and 10,000 comments in just a week. Following the first few videos, sales at Blendtec went up by 20 percent, followed by appearances on national television shows.

Blendtec offers a great example of how small businesses can exploit the power of social media to drive business results. Before the rise of social media, most organizations needed to either buy expensive advertising or receive media coverage to attract the attention of their customers. The Web, however, acts as a great equalizer and creates opportunities for both big and small companies to build brands virtually and interact directly with customers and other target audiences.

Today, most consumers look for the right product or service to satisfy their needs when they are online, and using tools like Web sites, podcasts, blogs, microblogs and social networks, you can deliver useful content to your audience when they are seeking it versus one-way interruptions through advertising or direct mail messages.

Getting started with social media:

Listen

The first step should be to listen to what your customers or prospects are saying about you by monitoring online conversations on blogs, social networks, forums and microblogs like Twitter. This will eliminate the need for conducting expensive research to understand your customers’ needs and perception of your brand. Listening will also help to learn about your industry and competitors. 

Using these insights, your organization must define its goals and develop a social media strategy to determine whom you want to target and how you want to reach them. Tools like Google Blog Search and Technorati can help you identify influencers and blogs relevant to your business or company, while an RSS reader can provide regular updates from various websites on specific subjects. 

Participate

Once you have defined your social media strategy, the next step is to participate in these conversations. You can tweet company news or events, leave comments on blog posts, start discussions and ask or respond to questions. While engaging in online conversations, it is important to be personal, authentic and transparent. Social media tools should not be used as just another channel to spread the “corporate message” but to put a face to your company and to build relationships with customers, employees and prospects. 

You can also use social media tools to drive and influence media coverage by connecting with journalists and influential bloggers who look for sources and story ideas over social media channels. Dell’s Guide to Social Media for Small Businesses offers a good example of this. Pinder, an online retailer of lightweight, stylish laptop and computer bags, identified and reached out to an influential marketing blogger, who reviewed a sample of the company’s latest laptop sleeve. After she wrote about the product on her blog, Pinder’s sales went up 30 percent. 

Sustaining conversations with social media tools takes both time and effort, but it can work wonders for your brand and company, if used correctly. As David M. Scott, a virtual marketing strategist and well-known author says, “Word-of-mouse is the single most empowering tool available to marketers today.”

*Sources: Dell’s Guide to Social Media

The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David M. Scott