What Can Social Media do for Your Small Business?

April Fool’s Day is probably the world’s least memorable event. It’s funny for a few moments, but not the sort of funny that really sticks. Granted, there’s the odd exception, but most of those carefully crafted blog posts and spoof news stories disappear without a trace.

But this year there’s one post I found myself still thinking about well after the event. There’s a theory that humor often relies on the joke communicating an underlying truth. Spice’s Social Media Intelligent Language Engine does just that. If it were real, business owners small and large would indeed be queuing up to try it out.

And it would be one of the worst ideas ever.

Why? Because social media is about communication, not broadcast. It’s your chance to talk with people, engage with them, and really get to know them, not fob them off with a machine.

Getting Real About Social Media

When the telephone was first invented, it was a gimmick, a novelty. Letter writing worked just fine. Or, if you want a more recent example, I remember laughing at the first person I knew who had a mobile phone (and I was far from the only one).

Social media is no different. It’s currently in gimmick land. There’s a lot of focus on the tools, rather than what they’re for.

Dodgy shortcuts and spammy tactics abound (Twitter auto DM and follow bots, anyone?) There are huge amounts of hype and countless “experts.” But within a few years, like the telephone, it’ll be a normal part of social and business life for most people in the Western world (for many, it’s been there for years).

And again, like the telephone, social media, when you strip away all the features and options, is really just about something simple: talking with people. Maybe just one person at once. Maybe dozens or hundreds or thousands. But talking. Not shouting. Not broadcasting. Not messaging.

Social Media… Marketing?

A lot of the hype, confusion and fear associated with the words “social media” comes from that sticky word, marketing. It got slapped on the end there pretty quickly, and it stuck as the main reason why any small business would want to get involved in Facebook, Twitter, and the rest.

The first question I’m often asked by new clients is, “Do people really buy stuff from social media?” Well, the answer is “yes” (depending on your niche), but that’s the wrong focus entirely.

Yes, social media can work as a marketing tool, if used wisely, and you can make sales directly from it (I know, because I’ve bought plenty from companies I’ve found through it, and I can’t be alone). But it can be much more than that. Remember that “talking” thing?

  • It’s customer services: Solving a problem for a client is just about the best marketing event there is. Solving it in public is one better.
  • It’s a knowledge base: Got a tricky, industry specific question that Google can’t answer? Your contacts on Twitter or LinkedIn often can.
  • It’s a sounding board: Want feedback on a new product or service idea before you go for full-blown market research? Again, Twitter, Facebook, etc., are great.
  • It’s a networking event: Which goes on forever and where you don’t need to stay stuck to the wall in flower mode.
  • It’s a temperature gauge: Social media monitoring lets you tap into what the hot topics are in your industry all the time, all over the world.
  • It’s a telephone: Letting your customers, prospects and industry colleagues call you without actually having to call you.
  • It’s a marketing channel: The trick is to engage with your contacts first and spread the word later.

And it can be dozens of other things with a bit of imagination. Any ideas?

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