Why Small Businesses Need Social Media Most

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I sat down to chat with my friend Ezra Chasser, social media maestro and president of Sore Thumb Marketing, about how small businesses can boost their brand and build their business using social media. Ezra has a new book out, Level The Playing Field: A Social Media Guide For Small Business, that’s all about how to leverage the power of social to edge out corporate competition. As you can see from the “bear in Times Square” photo, the best social media campaigns go far beyond the occasional Facebook update or rogue tweet.

Thank you, Ezra, for these enlightening thoughts!

What are your clients like, and why do they seek the services of a social media consultant?

My clients really run the gamut, from an ecommerce businesses of one to a fashion company of hundreds. The common bond between them is that they are all businesses who feel like globalization has taken a part of their business away and they’re looking for a way to fight back. Social media and online advertising are the most powerful and direct tools that a small business owner has to reach customers, promote their brand, and grow their business. My job is to take what I know about social media and help my clients custom tailor it to their own business to achieve those goals.

Small business owners are all busy people, often with limited time and funds for marketing. What would you say is the single most important strategy small businesses should implement when it comes to social media?

Be goal-oriented. It’s important to understand why you’re using social media and to not just be content with the fact that you’re doing it. I encourage small business owners to monitor their data, even if it’s only for 15 minutes per month, and keep a log of how they’re performing in some key areas month over month. This will help keep the strategy focused and allow the business owner to see where they’re wasting effort (if any) and where the greater opportunities lie.

How about the most common pitfall you observe?

By far the most common pitfall I see if small businesses who feel pressure to be on every social media network and take on too much. In this case, it’s better to be a master of one than a jack of all trades. Every social media channel has characteristics that make it unique, which means that there’s a “best” network for every business but that your best network might not be the same as mine. Identify who your target audience is and where they’re spending their time online, and begin your social media presence there. After 6 months, if your community is growing and you feel like you can take on another, then do it. But beginning a page on five different networks only to get overwhelmed and let them all sit stale is the online equivalent to signing up for a one-year gym membership and only going three times. Start small and then build.

Tell me about your most interesting social media campaign.

One of the things I tell clients most often is that they need to find a way to take their customers’ offline experience, whether it’s in a retail store, a medical practice or even a law office, and find a way to move it online. People like to see, hear and touch things and the more that you can deliver that experience to them when they’re online, the stronger the bond that you will form.

One of the small businesses I work with is called Bummer Bears. They create teddy bears that are tailored to the specific injury of the recipient. Their bestseller is the Mended Heart Bear, which features a plush heart and a chest cavity that zips up and down, for patients who have had open heart surgery. Bummer Bears is an ecommerce business, so we needed to find a way to create an offline experience that would relate to the way patients feel when they hold a teddy bear. This year, we decided to take to the streets with a full-size Mended Heart Bear suit to create awareness during Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week. Heart defects are a cause that’s extremely important to the business owner, so the campaign was a great way to promote CHD Awareness while generating social media content. We hired a photographer for an hour, printed business cards with the web address on them and captured more than 60 pictures of New Yorkers smiling with their Mended Heart Bear.

We posted the photos on Facebook and asked everyone to come find the pictures of themselves. The response was terrific: The album and its photos were shared dozens of times, the photo views were in the thousands, and we saw a 10% bump in the Facebook community, all from one hour’s worth of work.

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Your new book is called Level the Playing Field: A Social Media Guide for Small Business. The idea of “leveling the playing field” seems integral to your marketing philosophy. Is that what drew you to social media as a marketing tool—its power to give small businesses viability against big corporate competitors?

I think the thing that drew me to social media as a marketing tool was the extreme level of creativity. If you have an idea for a cool 8-second video, an interesting photograph, a funny quote or a serious column, there’s a place for it online. Anyone can post it, anyone can see it, and a piece of content from a person halfway around the world with only a few followers can catch on and reach millions of people. Compare that to TV or radio or billboards—there’s no other medium like it.

My “a-ha” moment was when I realized that small business owners, the ones who have their boots on the ground and are living and breathing their company every single day, are in a much better position to leverage this power than big corporations who have thousands of stores or billions of dollars in revenue. Unfortunately, it wasn’t happening that way. So I set out to educate small businesses about just how powerful social media could be in helping them level the playing field against their biggest competitors.

I have a client who competes with some of the largest fashion brands in the country. We wanted to grow their Facebook community from the 2,000 or so fans that they had, but our advertising budget was really small. We put together a series of hyper-targeted campaigns, making sure to only target people we knew were right in the target audience, and adjusting the messaging to be as personalized as possible. In only two weeks, with a budget of $50 (that’s $3.50 per day), we were able to reach 8,000 people with our ads and add 750 new likes to the page. By being thoughtful about who the audience for the ad was and what they wanted to see, we were able to grow the community by more than 30% in two weeks, at a rate of only $0.08 per like.

Time for a prediction. Next big social media trend?

There seems to be a shift towards concerns over privacy. One of the things that makes social media advertising so powerful is the amount of information these networks collect about you, which users are growing increasingly uncomfortable with. If I had to make a prediction, I’d say that someone is going to make a play to provide a social media environment that has a much higher privacy standard than most. There are a few instances I’m thinking of already: CyberDust, which was took an investment recently from Mark Cuban, is a text messaging app that allows your messages to disappear after several seconds. Secret is a mobile app that allows users to share information anonymously with their phone contacts. And most recently Ello, which is yet to launch, but claims to be a social media network with no ads that doesn’t collect any information about its users. I’m not sure specifically of how this will turn out or whether it’s even viable, but that certainly feels like the next big trend.

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