Social Networking for Small Businesses

This is the result of a couple of conversations I’ve had with small shop keepers. They may use some web technologies outside of their business for personal use : ebay, facebook, email, a few e-commerce sites. They may a iPod or smart phone. They may have a one page website for the store, and are listed on (one or more) business directories, they don’t see how a FaceBook page or Twitter is applicable to their business at all. They are, literally in some cases, “meat and potato” “brick and mortar” corner stores servicing a very local market.

This got me to thinking of the HOW, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and WHY (The 5 W’s?) of Social Networks for Small Business, and in particular, the small retail business, as apposed to more service orientated businesses.

(this is likely be a expanding list and if you have additional suggestions then make a comment!)

The HOW.

So how are they going to do Social Networking? Probably either via the web browser on their smart phone (in the shop) or on their home computer at home.

They may not have a need for a Internet connection at work because it is so removed from what they do and their customer interaction, or (in the case of some coffee/bake shops) not something they would think of providing to their customers as a service or enticement.

They probably do some bookkeeping and inventory which ends up on the computer but their business are primarily paper based.

Many still have analog cash registers, and not computerized Point of Sells (PoS) systems. (This might be a cost issue of the hardware software?). The good news is that mobile computing is becoming easier and cheaper.

The WHERE

I would be tempted to lead with Twitter, because its open to all, and it does not take long to write 140 characters, although fitting everything into 140 characters can be very challanging.

And then place the same message on a public accessible FaceBook FAN with expended additional text, and an added an image (always good) about the product/person/thing.

I would also have the last several Twitter status messages (Twits) on the your website homepage, done auto-magically via a javascript tool.

You can have interesting discussion, (and a whole other posting) about if you need a web page at all now. At most these businesses might have a who are we, where are we, “when we are (our hours), “what are we” (our products, possibly just a high level list of products or suppliers). So 2 to X pages where X is a single digit. “who” and “what” can collapsed, as can “When” and “where”. The “what can be expanded to considerable details but be careful.

You might get away with only a FaceBook FAN page, if it’s open to Google but I’m a little nervous about putting to much of your on line marketing presence in FaceBook’s owned garden. From a medium to long term Marketing and Branding angle it just looks like a bad idea. But very short term is okay.

You probably don’t need to edit your company website more that once a year or season (for Seasonal product), but you do need to keep it up to date when things change. If you can’t update your web site content as easily as your FaceBook FAN page, your doing it wrong. One of the nice things about showing your Twitter stream on the home page (or on a side bar) is it is a trivially easy way to keep some fresh content on the web site.

It would be good to become aware of location based sites like of Yelp and Urban Spoon (or other in your category) as well a the newest up and comers FourSqure and GoWalla.

Seek out and learn about tools that let you know when other people mention you, and your brand.

Your Website should be usable on a mobile web browser. That means to allows for appropriate size and styling, and no flash! (restaurants and hotels are really bad at this!)

The WHAT.

What should you be messaging on?

  • The arrival of new products, a special shipment or season item.
  • Your having a sale.
  • You had to close the store temporally due to : medical emergency; water/gas leak; a holiday. But you will be open tomorrow!! (please visit)
  • You are back from the Holiday, hope you enjoyed yours and am eager to service you!
  • You are all out of stock, but more will be in on Monday! (don’t you wish you had come by earlier? Don’t worry you too can get one of these popular things on Monday, While supplies last)
  • Wish Dave a happy birthday and get a discount.
  • The First 4 people to say the secret word today, get a free Gadget-Thingy!!
  • This wonderful event is happening in the neighborhood! Check it out! (don’t we live/work in a great place?)
  • The store next door is having a promotion! (and come visit us too!)
  • We were mentioned in the local/national newspaper (with the link to the mention).
  • Here’s a interesting Fact about something we sell, it’s name comes from A meaning B, or it’s made from solvent green!!
  • Sharing information about your industry.
  • Re Twitter things that other people Twitted about your business or the neighbor. (and thank them)
  • Regular customer Sue is doing this big deal thing
  • Don’t be purely promoting your self, that is “traditional” marketing and quickly becomes being seen as spam. Do promote your neighbors and neighborhood, your customers; and promote your “industry” and peers. Grow the pie, not (just) your piece of it.

    You can do this in a funny manner, just be careful they share or understand your sense of humour. It should be done in a informal tone. Make it a win for your customers. Over all, it should be Sincere, Positive, and it should be you.

    The WHEN.

    This is a function of the HOW and the WHAT : At most daily (except for emergencies. and likely done at the beginning or the end of the work day.

    Of course, the lack of time is another reason these business don’t do “Social Networking”). Try to do it at minimum weekly (this is where the neighbourhood stuff and interesting facts come in handy) and never never less than monthly. Try doing a little learning about this “Social Networking” every day/week or month. It is a challenge to do these, when running your business is a full time job (or more). Ask for help! Pay someone (like me) for help!

    The WHY.

    Social Networking, done well, is the most cost effective advertising and marketing available.

    • Give them a reason to visit you.
    • Exceed their expectations;
    • Do not disappoint your customers (and potential customers);
    • Telling them your story and how your are different; but a face to your business.
    • Experiment, but remember the “Golden Rule” (Treat others as you would wish to be treated).
    • Showing them you are connected to the place(s) you share.
    • Be Patient.
    • Generate positive word of mouth.

    People are -probably- already talking about you, if you know about it you can : learn from listening, apologies for mistakes; correct errors; inform and educate; connect.

    It’s all about being Social!

June 14 update

Mashable post Why Small Businesses Shouldn’t Take Social Media for Granted makes some good points, including : “Simple Works”, and “Your Size Works in Your Favor” and makes a great suggestion :

Who are your most frequent customers? Make a Twitter List called “Regulars,” and add your regulars on Twitter to it.

To which I would add making a Twitter list of your (premium) suppliers!

7 Replies to “Social Networking for Small Businesses”

  1. Pingback: Social Networking for Small Businesses | False Positives « Social Computing Technology

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  4. Good intro to building an online presence for small businesses! The next step for social networking would be engaging in conversations with customers and building a community (through Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

  5. you have to remember that they see think like this. if I’m a coffee shop how is this type of account going to help. they just don’t see it. but the local market is the most under valued market, but their is all kinds of money to be made.

    Samuel

    >> building customer loyalty, and awareness in the community?

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