A few months ago, I wrote a column for USA TODAY in which I advised small businesses to not use Twitter. Blasphemous yes, but my point was that, especially in this economy, you have to be careful about where you put your efforts because there is little room for error. Was Twitter the best use of your time? I wasn’t convinced.
The Twitterati didn’t like that one bit.
And then something interesting happened: That column received more play and more feedback — by far — than anything else I had ever written. Why? Because it went viral on Twitter.
There’s no doubt social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are changing the face of business generally and small business in particular. Social media is powerful, immediate, inexpensive, and can be high-impact. It’s the word-of-mouth advertising of the 21st century.
One person who gets that is Portlander Tara Reed (TaraReedDesigns.com). Reed is a gifted artist with an eye for both watercolors and business (maybe not surprising given she has a degree in marketing). And these days she uses that know-how not only to license her own products — her designs can be found in stores everywhere and on everything from dishes and kitchen textiles, to fabric, rubber stamps, garden flags and much more — but also to teach other artists how to license their art.
And that’s where social networking comes in.
Whether it’s her 2,500 followers on Twitter (@ArtistTaraReed), her constantly updated Facebook page, or her popular blog, Reed has grown her business significantly by expanding into social media. She uses it to corral new clients, meet mentors, expand e-business and plump profits. “Social media is a fun and free way to connect with your market and if done right, can really help your bottom line,” she told me.
Often, small business people are hesitant to try out new things because of the learning curve. Who’s got time to learn another new trick? Yet while learning and mastering social media won’t be fast, it need not be overwhelming either.
Want proof? Tara Reed took her first class on e-marketing a little more than a year ago.
Chris Nordyke is also a believer. An insurance agent in Corvallis, Nordyke says that thanks to social media he now gets one to two new clients a month. In fact, he loves social media for lots of reasons. “It significantly increases our customer loyalty, our discoverability and our speed of handling questions, service requests, and so on,” he says. “We’re extremely visible, and that helps establish trust.”
Or consider Christine Slocumb, president of Clarity Quest Marketing with offices in Roseburg and elsewhere.
Her company responded to a request for proposal that they found on LinkedIn, leading to a five-figure deal.
By posting whitepapers and recommendations on their Facebook pages, they found that former clients started to come back.
Putting their whitepapers and blogs on Digg, a content- sharing site, quadruples hits to their site on the day they post. “It also builds great links to our site,” says Slocumb.
And finally, no discussion of social media and small business in Oregon would be complete without discussing the Boring Funeral Home.
Elizabeth Fournier owns Cornerstone Funeral Services and Cremation in, you guessed it, Boring, Ore. While there are many benefits to a rural lifestyle, getting attention and building a vibrant business in an out-of-the-way place are not easy, and that’s why Fournier uses social media in a different way: as an economical, effective branding tool.
By using video, blogs, e-mail and social media sites, Fournier has created such an online name for herself and her company that she became the star of a reality show.
When Toshiba went looking for two drably named towns (Boring, and Normal, Illinois) and for some of the biggest eccentrics in those towns, they found Fournier. How? Because of her strong online presence. As a result, she was given some cutting-edge technology, became part of an online reality show and her town won $15,000 worth of laptops for the local school.
Nope, there’s nothing boring about social media. Just ask me on, alas, Twitter @SteveStrauss.
Steve Strauss is the small business columnist for USATODAY.com and the author of The Small Business Bible. He lives in Portland and can be reached at sstrauss(at)MrAllBiz.com. Join the discussion on his blog at OregonBusiness.com/steve.