Remember when we used to say that “people” are the power behind the social web?   Can we can honestly claim that any more?  The social web has rapidly become just another a mass-marketing channel like TV or magazines, dominated by the mega-brands.

Think about the videos going viral these days.  What was the biggest hit of the year?  The Nike Tiger ad, a bizarre production certainly aimed at the viral potential of the Internet more than any paid TV opportunity. In fact eight of the top 10 most-viewed You Tube videos of 2009 were professionally-produced:

  1. Evian roller babies (see above to view)
  2. New Moon movie trailer
  3. Wedding entrance dance
  4. David after dentist
  5. Britain’s Got Talent – Susan Boyle
  6. through 10 – professional music videos

And all of the Top 10 Facebook pages belong to big names:

  1. Texas Hold ’em Poker
  2. Mafia Wars
  3. Michael Jackson
  4. Barack Obama
  5. Vin Diesel (Vin Diesel???)
  6. Starbucks
  7. Lady Gaga
  8. Twilight
  9. Coca-Cola
  10. Skittles

Remember that just a few years ago, there were few, if any, corporate videos on YouTube and Facebook was a hang-out for college students.  This commerical development is not surprising. If there is a way for money to be made, companies will find a way to exploit it.  Capitalism at work.  So what are the implications for small businesses trying to carve a niche? Is it too crowded?  Is it too late?

No, I don’t think so. There are plenty of social media marketing opportunities for the savvy small business professional, even with the brand titans bringing their game:

Think local. All marketing is local.  Can your small business still have an impact on the social web? Absolutely.  I’m working with a marketing manager for a very successful regional chain of restaurants. One restaurant already has 5,000 Facebook fans. I think that’s pretty impressive. If you’re providing meaningful connections with your local crowd of customers, who cares if Evian babies rule the web?

Raising the bar. Not long ago, grainy home videos dominated YouTube.  Just about anybody, at any time, had a chance of going viral.  The novelty of the social web has passed and expectations for quality are increasing. If you hope  to compete for attention on the national or international level, bring lots of money.  But I believe that even on a local level the bar has been raised and there is an increasing expectation for quality … maybe not along the lines of the Evian babies, but an expectation for something entertaining nonetheless.  To stand out, you’re going to have to provide remarkable content.

Importance of Twitter. Twitter isn’t flashy.  It rewards real connection and conversation, something monolithic companies typically don’t do well.  I have a small business but have more followers than Pringles (one of 2009’s Top 10 Facebook pages). I think there’s a message there. My hypothesis: Of the major platforms, Twitter may actually favor the local small business owner.  How can you leverage this powerful tool on a local level?

Keeping it real. Unless you are going to simply “buy” fans with coupons and discounts, you need to let your personality shine through. Coca Cola, probably the best-known consumer product in the world, is doing a great job at this. They feature their Facebook personalities right on their front page and each tweet is attributed to an author. Of course Scott Monty is a recognizable social media personality for Ford Motor company. Still, these are exceptions among the big brands. Real people and small business owners can normally have an advantage connecting with their local clients.

Watch and learn. The big guys are spending millions to fine-tune their social web offerings.  Learn from them.  What are they doing to be successful and how can you capture that success on a local level?  What methods are they using to engage and reward their customers? What channels do they employ and why?  What devices like online games and contests could be used in your business?

While the future of mainstream social media ultimately belongs to the behemoths, I do believe there are opportunities for small business success. Do you agree?

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