I’ve spent some time this week attending a few online webinars and catching up on my blog reader and I noticed an interesting trend. The conversations, research, presentations, and case studies focused entirely on large corporations.

For example, I sat through a Forrester presentation on new social web marketing analytics and their ideas on measurement took resources that were way out of reach of the small business owner, meaning … most of us.

Look through the success stories in your blog reader. Nike. Ford. Coca-Cola. And of course the ever-present Zappos. Is anybody paying attention to the little guys?

We keep hearing about the great opportunity for small businesses to “take part in the conversation” but is that really true?  In the daily dogfight for consumer attention, are they being overwhelmed by the big brand mega-productions, online promotions and games?  Are small businesses going to be crowded out by the big chains and big marketing budgets?

No!  It’s time for the small business owner to rise up and embrace the social web!  Local businesses CAN have an advantage through social media for these three reasons:

Local angle — Social media’s greatest power is when it is used in a way that is targeted and local.  I could care less about a tweet from a mega-brand, but I would certainly be interested to get to know a local shop owner in a personal way.

Here’s an example.  I don’t follow Starbucks on Twitter and probably never will. However, I do follow Brian Myers, the owner of JaVerde Coffee here in Knoxville. We became friends over Twitter.  Although his shop is 15 miles from my home, I go out of my way to support his small business entirely because of our personal Twitter connection. That’s how business works!

Personal touch — One time Brian saw this tweet come through: “On my way to JaVerde Coffee but forgot my wallet!”  The shop owner replied, “Come on by, this one is on me.” He just won a customer for life.

Even though companies like McDonalds may fill a room with tweeters, I don’t think they  could ever match the connection and loyalty a local business owner can drive with its customers.  If Bank of America tweets every minute of the day for the rest of my life I am probably never going to connect with a real person.  And for a small business, that is everything.  It’s not just about coupons. It’s about caring.

The ROI advantage — Culturally, I think it is difficult for many large businesses to do anything more than check a box on social media because they expect all the results to be neatly assembled on an Excel spreadsheet or infographic. If you have a moment to spare, I encourage you to watch this three minute news story about a small bakery’s use of Facebook.  Here are some of the social media benefits described in the clip:

  • Higher customer loyalty/number of visits
  • Higher rate of spending
  • Frequent customer connection
  • A channel for customer service
  • Emotional connection to the brand
  • Source for new product ideas and customer polling

Now if a customer provides an idea for a great new pastry, how do you measure that?  I suppose you could create a pie chart.  Pie chart!  Get it?  Oh, never mind.

For a local business using an essentially free social media platform, this list of benefits is pretty impressive.  In fact, it’s revolutionary.

So while small businesses may not be getting the spotlight on the blogosphere, there is no question that, done right, there can be great opportunity in this critical segment of the economy.

What is your experience? Do you have any great case studies from your city you would like to share?

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