Why Small Business Have A Huge Advantage Over Brands In Social Media

Small business advantage over brands in social mediaI currently have the fortune to experience two different fronts of digital marketing. Under Plural, I work with brands and, with SocialMouths I mostly jam with small business, personal brands, and bloggers.

One of the reasons I absolutely love this setup is that they are two different worlds in how the social web is approached, how it’s handled and how success is measured.

So I’m here to tell you that, despite the ridiculous budgets and unlimited resources, small business has a huuuge advantage over brands when it come to social media.

Here are my thoughts:

Strategy. Or Not?

This is a touchy subject, I’m sure you’ve seen tens or hundreds of blog posts about the importance of having a strategy in place. Listen to what I’m about to say here: An entrepreneur does not need to elaborate a huge document to handle social media marketing. You need the necessary product and industry knowledge and you need to have the sensibility on how to use the social networks.

Having a set of goals in place and knowing what you are aiming to achieve with your daily activities is enough for an entrepreneur to dive in and adjust as needed.

When it comes to big brands, that’s a whole different story. The requirements to manage social media presence are different. You now have to consider the involvement of employees and even outsourced efforts. We’re talking about heavy documentation here on how to represent the brand, the language, the tone, how to respond to problems and inquiries and even how to handle a crisis, when things are escalated to higher ground.

A brand without this type of documentation is just an invitation to media disaster. One of the beauties of open voice channels is that the consumer can take your brand down in a few hours. If policies and processes are not in place, guess what…

Being Human

Small business can be human in social media

There is a huge gap here. Brands that are successful on social media have implemented communication channels for specific needs like customer service or promotions but they fail at reaching true engagement. Even in those areas most brands fail to reach their full potential. We have lately seen how Social Commerce and Social Customer Service are not performing as well as we expected.

Brands are far from becoming human and getting the user engaged for real. It’s simple, the average social media user is not online to interact with their bank in a conversational manner. They will take advantage of your special deal or rant about bad experiences but that’s it.

When it comes to small business, it’s easy for an individual to become the voice of the company, a personal brand that builds trust around a product or service with a human touch. This person becomes a resource of good advice, a problem solver that people feel comfortable interacting with. In fact, they’re responsible for huge part of the company’s success online.

I have a couple of examples of these individuals that do an amazing job representing a product and making it human: Leo Widrich from Buffer and Oli Gardner for Unbounce. These guys are not hired community managers, they’re co-founders of the respective companies, part of the key team, but they are also the face and voice, producing content, listening and interacting in the frontline and building community.

These guys are perfect examples of how a small business can be human online and reach true engagement.

Satisfaction

Another advantage of small business over brands is the possibility of ensuring satisfaction. Guys like Oli and Leo are approached with questions and issues on a daily basis (I know I bug them from time to time).

Small businesses are able to do this on a smaller scale and on a personal level.

 

There are a few brands that are able to focus on satisfaction and do an excellent job on quick responses and providing solutions. Directv comes to mind. But I’m sure you’ve seen more brands handling customer service in a very poor way. Imagine how a customer with a problem feels when arriving to an endless Twitter stream of apologies…

I have contacted Time Warner Cable via Twitter for massive interruptions to my Internet service and after not getting a solution over the phone, to sadly have no response.

Management

If you are an entrepreneur that is naturally involved in social media marketing, chances are you don’t label daily activities such as brand monitoring, content creation and curation, front-end interaction, etc. But you are performing them. Something similar happens when a small business has designated two or three people to handle things, there is a small setup with basic agreements on who does what.

The other advantage is how quick a small operation can make an unexpected turn or have a reaction without the bureaucracy that comes along with corporate land. Small business can focus on honesty and satisfaction while a brand will often take the damage control approach, usually with a bit of delay.

But when it comes to the enterprise, management can get pretty complex. We talked about the need of having a strategy in place and even though employees are familiar with how to handle themselves, there is still a lot of management needed. Those daily activities become departments that at some point need to come together to measure things.

Which brings us to the next point…

ROI

Small business in social media

Another controversial topic indeed. We often read about the complexity of figuring out return on investment. Think about it, a national fast food franchise runs a TV campaign, how do you measure if it resulted in an increased amount of sales. They do, they have systems in place that provide a clue when the needle moves in certain markets. Nothing is ever exact.

How is social media ROI measured? often times brands focus on shiny numbers like Likes and Followers. Numbers that are definitely part of social media measurement but not how the bottom line is affected. The fun part is when the CEO asks: “So now, how do we turn all those likes into actual sales?”

How is all that tied up to measure sales and profits?

Measuring ROI for global brands is still a puzzle.

Now don’t get me wrong, figuring this out can also be complicated for small business. But does it need to be?

What if you create your own formula to determine ROI? Let’s see…

In my previous business I used to run tons of advertising on different media vehicles. I used to measure the lead cost and sale cost to determine my magic number, I knew exactly what magazine ad or TV spot was working or not. In actual profit, not just percentages.

Cost per time spent. Not media.

When it comes to marketing in the social web, you do not have costs for media (unless you run Facebook ads or something like that) but you do have time spent. Either by your team or yourself. Can you measure that? Of course you can, you don’t need massive data to figure out that if you’re spending 4 hours a day to get only a couple of sales a week, things are not working that well… unless you sell cars.

A simple tracking spreadsheet can tell you if your time is being well spent.

Measure Sources

When you have a new client, do you ask him where he found you? Sometimes it’s obvious, you know you established contact on Twitter or Facebook, sometimes it’s not that easy, for example if this relationship started a while back. But the point is that by manually tracking this kind of information, you can easily get an idea of what channels are giving you better results and where to spend more of your time and energy.

I can easily tell you without looking at any numbers that 80% of my relationships turned into clients come from Twitter, even tough I generate more traffic more Facebook. That is enough for me to know I need to be present there but it also indicates that I could improve things on other networks as well.

Of course no system is perfect, my point here is that for a small business things are easier to establish and track, with a simple custom approach that fits your company needs you can get a better idea of your performance.

Final Thought

You, as an entrepreneur, might not have the budget and resources big brands have but I can guarantee you, the average digital citizen will interact with you before interacting with a brand and that right there, gives you a huge advantage.

The social web levels the field, if you are there to deliver what a brand can’t, you might just be able to create great opportunities. People like doing business with people.

Dive in with a short set of goals, be human, focus on satisfaction, manage your efforts and track your results in a simple way.

Your Turn

Do you have a strategy in place? How often do you revisit and adjust this strategy? How do you measure success? How do you approach issues? Share with us in the comments section!

Photos are mine, I’m a “saved by the filter” wannabe iPhone photographer. The coffee shop is Single Origin in the L.A. Farmer Market, they serve hand-brewed coffee that rocks your world. 

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  • Antonio Santos akwyz

    Great post Francisco…and great coffee has well I suppose.

  • Marie Furmanski

    I think you’re absolutely right. Small business is great on social media because each customer knows the business owner personally. The greatest thing about social media is you bring many of your customer’s friends into conversations too

  • omnibeat

    Great post! I loved the article.  It really hit home and represented what we have been talking about for awhile now.  

    We wrote a similar article a few weeks back.  It is not as robust as yours, but us know what you think.

    http://www.omnibeat.com/the-advantage-of-being-local/ 

  • Lynn Thompson

    A great post…I am a late comer to facebook, and am amazed at the interaction on the personal level. As far as my business, it’s become a numbers game between others who own a businesses and mostly markeeters looking for a “like me”.  Social Media requires work and after thought, your article is on point!

  • http://twitter.com/SmallBizTriage Small Biz Triage

    Well done.  I do employ social media strategies for my small biz clients (and myself) but it is focused more on adjusting where the time is spent versus tactics / messaging /etc…  For example, I recently advised a client to reduce their Facebook time investment by about 5 hours per week and re-allocate it to engaging in conversations on Twitter (versus just broadcasting).

    The most challenging bit is that small business owners (especially the founders) have been wearing all of the hats for so long, have a tough time adjusting their daily habits so that social media becomes a regular part of their day versus a weekly/monthly ‘chore’.

  • http://twitter.com/sbhsbh Steve Hughes

    The small business owner, entrepreneur, has so much more flexibility than big brands.  We are generally communicating with the top dog at a small business, as in your example with Leo.  With a big brand, there is a process, with many different people involved.  More can go wrong with the brand, and entry to market is much slower.  Thanks Francisco.

  • http://www.socialmouths.com/ Francisco Rosales

    Thank YOU Steve, for stopping by and contribute.

  • http://www.socialmouths.com/ Francisco Rosales

    I agree, some owners that are too immersed in the business and have been for a long time don’t want to deal with anything new, like you say, too many hats already.

    I think startups on the other hand are doing this in a much more organic way.

  • http://chrisgrande.com/ Chris Grande

    right on Francisco – I am in a stodgy field but see great possibilities and flexibility offered by a comprehensive social, web, email, video conferencing offering. I enjoyed reading this as I do all your stuff!

  • http://www.socialmouths.com/ Francisco Rosales

    And as always Chris, I appreciate your participation man.

    I think you used a word that is key here: Flexibility. The ability to make adjustments on the go. When dealing with brands, sometimes we have to wait for PR and even legal approvals to make certain decisions.

  • http://theescortboudoir.com/ theescortboudoir

    I currently have the fortune to experience two different fronts of digital marketing. 

  • http://www.boston-ma-movers.com/ interstate movers Boston

    You need the necessary product and industry knowledge and you need to have the sensibility on how to use the social networks.

  • http://www.tomorrow-people.com/blog Sookie Shuen

    Excellent post on how SMEs have a huge advantage over bigger brands on social media. I like you statement here “Small businesses are able to do this on a smaller scale and on a personal level.” – adding a personal touch really does make a difference.

    Thanks Francisco, and have an awesome weekend! (:

    Sookie

  • http://CreativeJourneyman.com Nando

    Great article, Francisco. I particularly like that, while SOHO business owners certainly need some kind of planning, you say “Having a set of goals in place and knowing what you are aiming to achieve with your daily activities is enough ”
    This gives small business owners permission not to wait until they have it all figured out. One of my main goals is to help them understand that the nature of social media allows them a flexibility that large brands cannot afford.

  • http://bfound-socialmarketplace.com/ Millan_pr

    Well explain article Francisco! I agree with the fact that the small businesses do not have the burocratic issues that major brands have.  Our big challenge as a Social Media business is to have the client involve in the strategies that we are implementing. I keep telling them that is not enough to just have a FB page in place, but their interaction and engagement is very important.
    Thanks!

  • Soderberg Dan

    Thank you for the article.  It provides me with a focus I didn’t have before.  You also confirm the great democracy that the internet and all its tools provide the average person.  As someone who worked as an entrepreneur within a large insurance company for 25 years, the brand does get in the way of being effective, to much to lose and not a great short term percentage gain.  

  • http://www.craigmcbreen.com/ Craig McBreen

    Hi Francisco,

    This is great.

    I have a business plan for blogging / social. (Okay, it’s more like a blogging blueprint) But it is something I constantly go back to, hone, refine and reassemble. It’s a work-in-progress, but it’s helped me find my reasons for being online: my value, uniqueness, my core values and how I can actually help people. Essentially what you said: “Dive in with a short set of goals, be human, focus on satisfaction.” This plan is simply for my eight month old blog, I also have a business.

    I’m currently in the design and branding business (well have been for 20 years ;)). Now some of the RFPs I receive have a section for social media, so I’ll also be incorporating elements of my blueprint, as well as what I’ve learned from places like Social Mouths.

    I want to help others in the online realm, mainly individuals, but also incorporate social into my branding business so I can help the small clients you mention (So this piece is great for that).

    Also re: Buffer. I did have a question which I emailed to Leo. He responded to one of my emails, rather quickly I might add.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.socialmouths.com/ Francisco Rosales

    Yes, @leowid:twitter has always responded in a timely manner and that makes a huge difference.

    Funny you mention the RFP’s are now including social elements, just 2 years ago at Plural we were building lots of product driven websites (or minisites) in addition to ad campaigns, today nobody cares about them. That has been totally replaced for Facebook and mobile apps, and social initiatives.

    But back to the topic at hand, the example of the blogging blueprint is perfect, a short document that keeps your goals and core values on top, not a 200-page document that nobody ever reads.

    It’s pretty much the same thing that happens today with business plans being replaced with much more dynamic models.

    Thanks for your valuable contribution Craig!

  • http://www.socialmouths.com/ Francisco Rosales

    Nando,

    Absolutely, we live in the “Beta” economy now. Nothing is static. Why would we, as small business owners, conduct our marketing in a different way. Go out, listen, test and adjust.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • http://www.socialmouths.com/ Francisco Rosales

    And because of that small scale, we are also able to track things like satisfaction with a simple question like “how many issues did we solve this week?”

    You have a nice weekend too Sookie =)

  • http://www.craigmcbreen.com/ Craig McBreen

    I was creating a few mini sites myself, and yes, that work vanished.

    Love the place, just wish I would have discovered it earlier.

    I did DM you a question regarding this post too. Thanks!

  • http://www.theskooloflife.com Srinivas Rao

    This is such a big subject that I’ll probably be back with a second comment after some more thought. But let me comment on the little guy’s advantage. No red tape. That’s all there is to it. You don’t need 30 signs offs from people who meet once a month  in order to execute.  You have an idea and you can experiment with it right away. 

    As far as the human touch goes, Leo seriously does an amazing job. The guys at Buffer have really set themselves up for success. It’s become one of those tools that I can’t live without. It took me one day of using it before I upgraded to the paid version and those guys are stellar about the voice of their brand.  I’ve always felt like brands miss that human touch.  The obsession with ROI might actually be getting in the way of creating raving fans.  But it’s a balancing act since you must justify the the cost of your social media efforts when you have such a big business. 

  • http://ilocalsearch.net/ Sadie-Michaela Harris

    Hello Francisco I’m a fan of trackable QR Codes for use by small business to ascertain which of their advertising is working well for them. They are even become more widespread in rural France! Even the Crédit Agricole bank are using them on promotional flyers and posters and that bank is owned by a bunch of French farmers! :)

  • http://twitter.com/rdopping Ralph Dopping

    Francisco, so glad I found this site. Solid commentary.
    So, if a business starts small and keeps up their “personal” engagement approach then they can certainly see success in social, no? I wonder what Gini Deitrich thinks of that?

    Agreed, that big brands entering social are not going to necessarily start small and engage primarily because of the CEO and ROI mentality. If it doesn’t make money then why are we doing it? I am having such a struggle with the firm I work in right now. I’m no SM guru, specialist or have the years of experience that goes with a title like that but I have been working hard on my own niche and have learned a ton in the last year that I think I can apply. Assessing value is always the show stopper it seems.

    On my own front I am so on board with your thought process here. A good plan and growth strategy coupled with a true attitude to providing relevant and real feedback to issues that people have seems to me to be the reason to be active in the social spaces and if it pays off the great. I think it’s a mistake to base a business model on social.

    Hey, I’ve got a long way to go on my plan so we will see. Thanks for the solid, solid content.

  • http://www.putanoffer.co.uk/ In Dupuis

    One of the reasons I absolutely love this setup is that they are two
    different worlds in how the social web is approached, how it’s handled
    and how success is measured.

  • Ilana

    Very interesting! I have to say for a one woman business I find social media very time consuming and not always productive, I try to be put a personal  touch on every transaction we do, after sale  care, foolow up complaints but still find facebook and twitter on a business level very dauting. Any sugestion for where to start? Thank you

  • http://twitter.com/SmallBizTriage Small Biz Triage

    love it

  • R Murillo123

    Hi Francisco,
    I definitely see your point where smaller businesses have the advantage over brands. Social Media in general is a great tool and those who are not effectively using Social Media will be left behind. As far as goals and strategies, yes they should always be specific regardless of the business. Thank you for this article and the insight you have provided me with.

  • http://www.abercrombieandfitchonsale.co.uk/ Abercrombie and Fitch

    You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found your blog. thanks
    my comment got eaten. Anyway I wanted to say that it’s nice to know that someone else also mentioned this as I had trouble finding the same info elsewhere. This was the first place that told me the answer. Thanks.

  • http://www.profromgo.com/internet-marketing/web-design/ Pittsburgh Web Design

    Yup, it’s the human interaction, and it works in any kind of business or marketing model.  I don’t think it’s even an issue of “big business vs. small business,” it’s simply that small businesses more often provide better customer service and personability.  In a time when you can get cheap products and services easily, customer service is one of the best ways to differentiate from competitors, even when they have more resources.

  • http://www.vibramfingersshoes.us/ 5 finger shoes

    It’s so great that you guys are sticking with it! I’ve been following the team for some time and am so happy that now (8 months after you posted this) the fire is burning brighter than ever! Way to stay positive and stick with something you love!
     

  • Judy

    OK, I confess I have been avoiding many social media streams and now see that I have to relate to it. Can you point out a good place to start to learn?

  • AlisaThinkBig

    This has a fantastic “Just do it” attitude (yes, a big company slogan but the little biz can learn from the enthusiasm)…we wrote an article recently to encourage our small business friends that social media IS the way forward…
     http://www.thinkbigonline.com.au/why-twitter-facebook-and-google-are-must-haves-in-your-seo-arsenal/#comment-7274

  • http://www.raleighflowers.info/ flowers raleigh

    You need the necessary product and industry knowledge and you need to have the sensibility on how to use the social networks.

  • http://twitter.com/CoachInAction CoachInAction

    a lovely blog to catch up with on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It keeps the social in social media if each business tailors it’s ROI to it’s own goals and markets. Great points on cost-v-reward as well.

    Looking forward to revisiting my own strategy in the next few weeks on it’s rolling review. also working with some clients who are about to start blogging and the excitement they have for their business blogs is really infectious. They’ve all struggled a little with how social to be amongst the business sides, but all have strong personalities which will shine through.

    At the small business and community brand level people still ‘buy’ people.

    Thanks for a lovely post in my inbox … Kathryn

  • http://raxxar.com/ web design new orleans

    These guys are perfect examples of how a small business can be human online and reach true engagement.

  • http://www.meinto.com/brands/diesel Lu Ainsworth

    One of the reasons I absolutely love this setup is that they are two
    different worlds in how the social web is approached, how it’s handled
    and how success is measured.
     

  • http://www.answeringservicefinder.com/ Rolanda Bigelow

    He has been a positive role model throughout my college career. I want to share this with you all because I am truly inspired by him.

  • http://www.privatejetcharter.de/charter-services/charter.php privatjet mieten

    I absolutely love this setup is that they are two different worlds in
    how the social web is approached, how it’s handled and how success is
    measured.

  • http://twitter.com/kimberly_va Kimberly R. Harris

    Enjoyed reading! Just what I needed to hear.

    Thanks!

  • http://www.bedlampaintball.co.uk/ bedlampaintball

    I’m sure you’ve seen tens or hundreds of blog posts about the importance of having a strategy in place.

  • http://jcpiech.blogspot.com/ JC Piech

    A really helpful and inspiring article! I’m at the beginning on my social media journey, and I’ve just jumped in without any strategy other than to form connections and get to know people, as well as share information that hopefully is useful to them. I can already see results from simply forming connections, but I reading this article has reminded me that I should create a simple set of goals, and to measure things more. 

    Thank you so much!

  • http://www.superjeweler.com/ wedding ring

    Mostly jam with small business, personal brands, and bloggers.

  • Ravi

    hey i have Read above topic and i like it. this is very helpful and informative. Thanks for grate article.

  • http://www.fawcttgroup.com/ Mark Fawcett

    Great Article… and I agree that Small Business can quickly kick-start a social media campaign as long as they have existing content to work with…

    1. Know who is your audience and where they hangout online…

    2. Create awesome content that compels your audience to engage with your posts.
    i.e. Likes, Comments and Shares

    3. Measure your success by percentage of Likes that truly want what you offer, converting Likes to Dollars for Your Business..!