I’d like to start with an excerpt from a a recent Gregg Morris post. This is an email from one of his associates, expressing frustration at an inability to convince small businesses to engage in social media marketing:

Social networking is making zero inroads into any of the businesses (SMBs) we have visited and interest in “mining” those networks is similarly zero.  It’s not that they are rejected as future possibilities, but rather that SMBs haven’t time for it, since they sense the costs far exceed the benefits … The facts are the facts – SMBs are still the same as they always were: overworked, scratching for dollars, but now fighting even harder for market share. They are competing not just with local competition but also with online, distant suppliers and, of course, big box retailers.

To the point: Joe average – architect, restaurant owner, retail store – are not stupid, nor are they unaware of the need to handle their customers better. All I see … is the same, stupid Social CRM Expert-type of messaging. A bunch of esoteric bullshit skimming the surface of the problem, with no real solution offered. Everywhere I look, they all say the same thing: “You have to communicate with your customer…”, “you need to serve your customer…”, “you need to do this, that or the other…”. Lots of “you needs”, but few “here’s exactly how”

This little rant hit a chord for me because I teach a social media marketing class for small businesses and I constantly hear these same concerns.

There is a business cultural gap that is keeping many SMB’s from working this channel: Typical SMB “advertising” is a hand-off. All the work is done by an ad agency and/or the advertising sales people.  There is little personal time expenditure and the cost/benefit is usually easily measurable. Not so with social media marketing.  There is more hands-on doing and the results may not be immediate.

When I consult with small businesses, I recognize that for many, the time commitments and demands of maintaining a consistent, effective presence seems overwhelming so I help them cut through the hype and FOCUS.  I encourage them to consider five very practical questions:

1) Do I know enough about social media marketing to make the right decision for my business?  Not knowing the possibilities would be the same disadvantage as operating a business without knowing such a thing as television advertising existed.

2) What is mybusiness strategy and how could a social toolkit align with my key initiatives?

3) Are my customers using the social web?

4) Are my competitors using this channel, and what are the competitive implications if I decide to participate or not?  Could I create advantage by being an early adopter?

5) Do I have the resources, or can I acquire the resources, to conduct limited, focused experiments to see if working through the social web can provide a cost-benefit exceeding traditional advertising?

After my students walk through these questions, they usually conclude a) yes, this is something with a lot of potential and b) there are practical and manageable methods to approach this if I stay committed and focused.

Does this make sense to you?  What is your experience with SMB’s and the social web right now?

{grow} community alert: Pete Mosely, a frequent contributor to {grow} has a new eBook out on promotion fundamentals which is a nice companion piece to this blog article.

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