When venturing into the world of social media for the first time, with the intention of increasing your business growth as a result, it’s sometimes a daunting and slow process, with a lot of uncertainty and insecurity thrown in for extra discomfort. But a look into the effect of social media on small businesses is sometimes enough to turn even the most archaic workplace into a haven of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
Let me hit you with a scary statistic. The world’s most widely read newspaper – and this will come as a shock to devotees of USA Today – is the Times of India, with over three million copies read every day. Add to that the rest of the top ten and their respective circulation figures and you’re looking at around 18.7 million papers being read on a daily basis in the top ten around the world. That’s almost twenty million pairs of eyes looking at advertising, news, gossip and other sources of information that would, surely, cancel out any effect of word-of-mouth product, service and business recommendations. Right?
Wrong. Twitter, as of January this year, has 75 million users and climbing. Say each of those users don’t post more than once a day, but they read the hundred or more tweets of other people. That’s a 300%-plus advantage over the papers we read, filled with adverts that are never taken is as readily as a friend’s opinion, be it positive or negative. In fact, Buzz Agent is commonly quoted as indicating that a word-of-mouth recommendation will do more for brand awareness than 200 TV adverts. When you consider the budget involved in producing and maintaining a run of 200 ads on television, and compare it to the non-price of a few good tweets supporting a recent product or service you offer, the choice is clear.
Jack and the Digital Beanstalk
But statistics and opinion are nothing without examples. A mere several months ago, a man called Ramon DeLeon was simply a manager of seven Domino’s outlets across Chicago. A regular manager of a small group of franchises, advertised globally but still never seeing any major changes in operation or surges in demand across the year. However, when an unsatisfied customer turned to Twitter to berate one of his outlets for delivering a cold, incorrectly-made pizza, he took to social media to apologise. The resulting video was then embedded almost 100,000 times – everywhere from blogs to major newspaper outlets.
Social media is all about the individual. Twittering as a business is a great way to interface with the public in a more relaxed forum than, say, a one-way TV advert or sponsoring a sports event. Even so, allow the public to put a name to the person behind the businesses’ Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn page. These people will have opinions, visit industry events, and become an ambassador for your business in the new era of the first online source of digitised interactivity to outrank the pornography industry. Of course, there are risks, and these usually come with careless employees who aren’t as well-read on social media as their peers, but chosen to be the businesses’ digital ambassador simply because they’re young and hip.
For small businesses, it’s an important first step. Twenty years ago, starting out as an entrepreneur with a dream was a risky venture, and usually ended in tears. For those of you involved in one of the many, many dot com collapses in the early millennium, it seemed like a risk to attempt to launch an online business. However, what most people missed out on until the rise of sites like the IKEA online store or your local florist was that we were looking at the problem from the wrong angle. It wasn’t necessary to build a business as an online-only entity when it was in its starting phases. The key was to develop the business as physical presence – an office, a shop-front – and then build its online presence alongside it to maximise potential customers.
I Came, I Saw, I Hash-Tagged
Men and women striking out on their own and winning big is a common fairytale, and one we’re reminded of all too well by Alan Sugar, Duncan Bannatyne and the like. But when we take the plumber uncle we see at a family gathering and the business cards of his we give out to locals who are suffering a broken pipe after a holiday, and transpose it onto Twitter, Facebook etc, it stops becoming a willfull word-of-mouth in person, and becomes a series of online adverts.
Anyone who insists the internet isn’t viral is lying through their teeth. Every single successful site on the web was put there by customers, and the same can be said for any physical business. Amazon, Twitter – these things are spoken about on forums, in bars, on iPhones, and in chatrooms. They spread faster than wildfire, and you’re never waiting for the newspaper the following day to see if your shop launch was a success – as of late, that make-or-break announcement will be coming to you directly through social media sources.
Of course, there’s a trend to be noticed, and one covered well by many social media industry sources: you’re relying heavily on the customer to do your work for you. Word-of-mouth is a fickle beast – either something goes viral and explodes across the web, or it fizzles out within a few re-tweets. The main thing you have to remember is that Twitter is not a replacement for a good reputation – keep satisfying customers, and more importantly let them know that your avenues of feedback have expanded to incorporate social media and the web. The ability to tell someone my pizza is not only cold, but has anchovies instead of chicken on it, and have them respond with a video watched by hundreds of thousands of people, is a pretty good indication that business cares about its customers. And when did you last hear of Domino’s Pizza going bust? Tweet away and remember: it’s not what you’re selling, but how you’re selling it.