A guest post by David Lifson

Small business owners. They’re an impressive group that must handle every element of their operation – from accounting to inventory, and hiring to firing.

Maybe the most important part of the business they need to manage? Marketing.

As we continue to define and quantify the value of social media marketing, small business owners are slowly joining the party. However, we have to remember that they aren’t here in mass yet. In truth, the number of small business owners who understand, use, and capitalize on social media marketing is minuscule.  Yet that’s something we tend to forget, which in turn, widens the gap between the evangelizers and innovators of social media.  We continually have to put ourselves in their shoes.  And when we do that, we really need to understand the hurdles that they’re facing when it comes to social media marketing.  So let’s look at few obstacles… and what we can do to overcome them.

Newness
It’s important to remember that social media marketing is still new.  It’s difficult to tell a small restaurant owner that they should scrap their 25 year old phonebook ad and fire up a Twitter account.  And it’s safe to say that the majority of them are thinking “Why should I blog?” (they may also be asking what a blog is, for that matter).  Either way, it’s important they feel comfortable. Let me explain: you know that feeling you get when someone rambles on about a new technology that you know nothing about and then that person acts mystified that you aren’t in the know? That’s how most small business owners feel when people talk about social media. And it doesn’t feel good. Social media marketing evangelizers and innovators need to remember that not everyone lives in the tech world. When on-boarding small business owners, keep that caveat in mind.

Time Commitment
The beauty of that 25 year old phone book ad is that it’s been on cruise control for 25 years. It requires minimal time investment.  Social media on the other hand, is perceived as some abyss for small business owners to get lost in.  They “heard from a friend of a friend that the guy who runs the hardware store down the street got lost in Facebook last week and hasn’t been seen since.”  And to be honest, small business owners who don’t have someone to tackle their marketing also lack the extra time to spare on social media.  Instead, it needs to become a small part of their day, like going through email or balancing cash drawers.  The best way for the small business owner to take a  proactive role in the social media marketing is to carve out a schedule.  Spending 10 minutes a day, three days a week parsing through comments, mentions and reviews can be a great way to start. Think of it this way — why not do your social media posting and updating during your coffee break?

Fear
For the small business owner, social media marketing still has that wild west feel.  From pondering what their first tweet should be to dealing with less-than-friendly reviews on Yelp, small business owners are scared they’ll do the wrong thing.  Some don’t want to do anything at all. One way they can combat this when first dipping their toe in is to just listen.  It’s important to get a feel for how they’re perceived in the social web.  It might make sense to scope out what their competitors are doing in social media.  (Nothing turns fear to fight like a little competition, right?)  Set some Google alerts, search by keyword on Twitter, get a feel for what people are saying.  Listening to what customers and influencers are saying on the different social media channels can help small business owners overcome the fear that they may feel when first diving in.

Value
We’ve heard it time and time again: “How does social media marketing impact my bottom line?”  Small business owners are accounting for every penny and every hour. Time spent doing something that doesn’t directly impact their bottom line is often eliminated, and quickly. The way to scale this hurdle is twofold. First, explain that social media levels the field. Customers can interact with businesses and vice versa. Reiterate that.  Social media gives small business owners the ability to interact with their customers.  Secondly, to get a sense whether or not social media is having any financial impact, small business owners need to understand if their traffic is coming from social channels.  Train cashiers to ask how customers heard about the shop.  Have a customer email list?  Poll them to find out what social networks they use.

It helps to remind ourselves every now and then that the vast majority of small business owners still see some major roadblocks when it comes to social media marketing.  And that’s OK. What’s important though is that we help them out.  Show them around. Don’t talk down to them. On-board them in a way that’s… well… social.

David Lifson is the CEO of  Postling (postling.com), a web tool that helps small business owners manage social media marketing.  Follow Postling on Twitter at @postling.

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