Friday, November 18

Stalling: Small Business And Social Media

According to a new survey conducted by OfficeArrow and SocialStrategy1, small business executives are increasingly aware that social media impacts their business (42 percent) but are still unable to take advantage of it (67 percent). Thirty-one percent are not even sure where to begin. Small businesses have concerns about social media.

• Personal and professional information issues.
• Time commitment and basic understanding.
• Information overload and general confusion.
• Outcome measurement against investment.
• Lack of security and inappropriate content.

The outcome of these concerns is that only about one-third of small businesses will be dedicating additional funds to social media in the near future. Most (67 percent) are hesitant to invest more (or at all) in social media because they don't know how to prioritize their efforts beyond gathering intelligence.

The "Social Media Problem" For Small Business Isn't A Social Media Problem.

The challenge that most businesses have with social media isn't a social media problem. It's a strategic communication problem, punctuated by the fact that most small businesses don't have any semblance of a communication plan, which ought to be the driving force of any social media effort.

Without a communication plan, companies adopting social media are virtually predestined to feel overwhelmed. In fact, even those firms that have some semblance of a communication plan tend to be in over their heads. It doesn't even matter if they attend classes and seminars, hire someone internally, or outsource some of their social media program to a firm. They often hire the wrong people.

Sometimes I liken it to hiring the best mechanic, but without ever knowing how to drive. Or worse, for companies without communication plans, it's like hiring a mechanic to do the driving but without any destination in mind.

Right. The most common approach to social media today is to jump in a car for the first time and drive solo at high speeds on the highway. And the second most common approach is to hire someone who will randomly drive to as many locations as possible with the hope that a miracle will happen if they visit enough places.

Ironically, the problem isn't new. Twenty years ago, brochures were the most common communication tool of business-to-business or business-to-consumer communication. But if you asked a small business owner why they needed one, the most common answer would be because everyone else had one. And when websites supplanted brochures as the priority, the same story played out all over again.

Social Media Doesn't Start With An Expert. It Starts With A Communication Plan.

Whether you are a small business with less than 10 employees or more than 200 employees, you need a communication plan. Simply stated, a communication plan is the blueprint of all communication.

You can even divide the plan into two parts. The first part brings together the mission, vision, values, history, and an assessment of current internal and external issues that are aligned with the company's goals.

The second part considers the company's most important publics, its most important messages (partly dictated by what people already are saying about the company), how those messages are best delivered to those publics, when is the best time to deliver those messages, and how to analyze feedback and adjust. Sounds like a job for an intern right?

If a company could successfully fill in those blanks, social media would be undeniably easier to plan, establish tangible goals, and measure outcomes over the long term. And, it would likely be tens times more effective if companies could appreciate that while everyone online has the potential to be a broadcaster, social media is not a broadcast channel. But that subject is better saved for next week.

You can find the OfficeArrow and SocialStrategy1 survey responses here. You can ask questions in person during my upcoming social media class here. And you can find out how social media message delivery differs from traditional marketing messages next week, which is one of its principal advantages.
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