Real Life Examples of Business Owners Using Social Media

When speaking at events, I get the best response from talking less and asking more … in other words, encouraging the audience to share their examples and ideas. It’s more interactive that way. It’s more interesting. Everybody benefits from a wider set of experiences.

The event I attended this past Monday with a group of small-business owners in Houston, Texas was no exception.

At that event I asked those attending whether they were using various social media websites and online Web 2.0 tools. For those who responded “yes” I would then ask “what kind of results are you getting?”

In this post I’d like to share with you some of what those business owners said about using social media in real life situations.

About the Event

The event, entitled Women in Business, was hosted by HP for the benefit of Houston members of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) and WBEA (Women’s Business Enterprise Alliance). It is part of HP’s outreach to women businesspeople and small business owners, to create a dialog to better understand the issues small businesses face. While most of the attendees were women, I counted about a half dozen men, too, mainly co-owners or employees of women-owned businesses.

This is the second event in the HP Women in Business series that I’ve attended — the other being in San Diego. Each one has been nicely low key and characterized by a real desire to talk back and forth … and listen. Consequently, asking questions and getting the attendees to share their thoughts seemed very much in keeping with the overall tone of this event.

NAWBO and WBEA attendess at HP Women in Business event

NAWBO and WBEA members attending HP Women in Business event

Good Experiences

Some of the positive Web 2.0 experiences that the business owners shared included these:

  • Blogs and Forums — One business owner reported getting new/return business from participating in several discussion forums and blogs. Her business is a muscle therapy business. Being a source of information — i.e., sharing knowledge and answering questions on the forums and blogs — demonstrates value for clients and potential clients.
  • LinkedIn — Several business owners reported good results from LinkedIn.com. One, a business coach, gets high quality business leads from LinkedIn, via making connections and being findable in LinkedIn. She points out that the people using LinkedIn tend to be professionals and corporate people (i.e., those in a position to actually hire a service provider). Her experience was a good recommendation for LinkedIn, especially if you are a professional service provider.
  • Facebook — Two business owners reported getting substantial results from Facebook. One business owner has a business profile page on Facebook, as well as a personal profile page. Another business operates a Facebook group and attracts interest in the business and develops loyalty through the Facebook group.
  • Online press releases – One person routinely puts press releases online and attested to their value at getting her website found in the search engines.
  • Online video — The owner of a product company reported getting good results with videos that were loaded at YouTube.com and also available on the company website. The video brought people in to the site and also engaged existing visitors on the site.
  • Twitter — One business owner admitted to being something of a Twitter-holic, using Twitter.com regularly to make and reinforce connections and to spread word of mouth about her business. However, she was decidedly in the minority.

Lisa Baker, VP introducing the HP Women in Business event

Lisa Baker, Vice President of HP kicks off the program

Concerns

One of the other things I did at this event was encourage questions. Often questions reveal concerns that business owners have with using social media. So it’s a good way to find out what’s bothering or puzzling people. Here were some of the main concerns expressed:

  • Lacking time to learn and use social media tools — The biggest concern expressed over and over was, “who has time for all this social media stuff?” As several others in the audience pointed out, the best strategy was to pick one or two tools and focus on doing those well. Another spoke about dividing up the effort, by having several employees sharing the updating responsibilities on the company blog. (As an aside, it seems to me there’s a great business opportunity for some company to provide contract help to perform social media activities.)
  • Feeling uncomfortable putting information online – One business owner said she frequently received connection requests for LinkedIn but had not felt comfortable putting her information on the Web. Another business owner in the audience assured her she would not suffer a lot of spam through LinkedIn, but could actually make valuable connections with other credible business people.
  • Questioning the ROI – One business owner wondered aloud if anyone ever got real business from these social media tools. If the audience responses and experiences demonstrate anything, they show you can if you pick the social media tool that fits your type of business best. LinkedIn seems very good for business service professionals, whereas forums may be better when dealing with consumers who are researching answers to questions they have about health or purchases.
  • Worrying about spam comments on blogs – Two business owners worried that a blog would lead to problems due to spammers. I pointed out that you are in control at all times and can moderate spam or abusive / inappropriate comments.
  • Questioning the difference between a blog and a forum — Several people were unclear of the distinction between a blog and a discussion forum. Although there are a number of differences, the chief one I pointed out was that on a blog, the blog owner controlled the subject matter to initiate discussing (even though readers contribute to the discussion). With a forum, anyone can initiate a discussion topic.
  • Wondering how to get started with a blog – Several people asked how and where to get started with a blog. I recommended experimenting with setting up a free blog at Blogger.com or WordPress.com, to see if you like blogging on a regular basis. An audience member recommended Blogger.com as the blogging platform she uses.

There was much much more, but this gives you an idea of the experiences and also the concerns of small business owners around social media.

Yvonne Bourquin, who spreadheaded the HP Women in Business event

Yvonne Bourquin of HP, who spearheaded the day

Resources

Finally, I’d like to point you to some of the materials I offered at this event — feel free to download and share if you’d like:

100 Best Kept Marketing Secrets (PDF)
Best Business Blogs EBook (PDF)
10 Business Blogging Commandments (DOC)
Online Marketing ROI Chart

Many thanks to HP for inviting me. I’d especially like to acknowledge Yvonne Bourquin, who did a beautiful job organizing the event, along with Lisa Baker, Sheila Watson, Bill Seidle and numerous others who supported the event and my participation. And many thanks to the NAWBO and WBEA members who were so open with your ideas and concerns — we all learned so much from you. You ladies (and gentlemen) rock!

47 Comments ▼

Anita Campbell - CEO


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses, and also serves as CEO of TweakYourBiz.com.

47 Reactions

  1. Brent Leary

    This is great stuff Anita. I recently spoke at a minority business conference and heard many of the same concerns you list above. All I can say is the rewards for investing some time in understanding how social media can impact our small businesses can be significant. Even if you’re not ready to take the plunge, it’s critical to understand what it’s about because this stuff is here to stay. So at least stay tuned to sites like this one to learn.

  2. This is a great stuff, Anita – thanks for putting it all together. It’s all anecdotal, of course, but I think there’s a lot of value in hearing the real experiences and thoughts (good and bad) from the business owners out there in the trenches every day.

  3. Anita — I luv this!!!! This says exactly what I think, “who has time for all this social media stuff?” OMG! how true.

  4. 23 Babylon — I think that’s probably a pretty common refrain. No doubt you’re not alone. But let me ask you this? Do you have time for networking in your community? That’s always the first thing they tell you when starting a new business, right — “go to the Chamber of Commerce and meet people”, etc.

    Social media is the online version of that. That’s all. Done right, it’s a chance to meet local people who might potentially be interested in your product or service. It’s modern-day prospecting. :-)

  5. I recently had a quick demonstration on how to start a blog, creating an account on YouTube, how to track site traffic, etc, for a fellow member of Toastmasters. He is now hooked on the social media thing and he has started to blog. He wants to publish a “survival guide for speakers” with plenty of tips, suggestions, and inspirational stuff for your public speaking engagements. Here is a quote from his first blog post, The Beginning of Free Speech:

    “In this blog I intend to publish my thoughts about the importance of communication. I will invite your personal stories and experiences.”

    http://paulsfreespeech.blogspot.com/

    In the latest issue of NSA Speaker Magazine, Ford Sakes had an interesting article called “Everybody’s Talkin’ – How to use Social Media Marketing to build your business and improve your search engine rankings.” http://www.nsaspeaker-magazine.org/
    I will write a blog post on this article.

    I must comment on the use of YouTube. I have my own account and right now I have a few clips of the family cat Morris. I now and then adding YouTube clibps on my blog as an fun element. Business wise, I think you also should look at specialized services. I will send out personalized video email messages to my friends, business partners and customers. Click on my name for an introduction to Talk Fusion.

  6. I spelled Ford Saeks name wrong. He has his own blog at: http://www.primeconcepts.com/blog/
    The article, “Everybody’s Talkin’” is in the June issue of NSA Speaker Magazine.

  7. Nice examples on how social media is helping business owners take off. Although, you do need a great product or service in order to survive and can’t rely on one thing alone!

  8. It is so important to make sure you don’t just join any and all social networks, but the ones that are suited for your particular business – that is a great point, that I learned the hard way! However, I’ve managed to downsize my memberships and am trying (always trying!) to make sure I only spend a certain amount of time each day or every 2nd day as it really can be quite time consuming.

    Great article! It reiterates the value of the web 2.0 tools and the new way of doing business.

  9. Great article Anita and it is interesting reading the summary of responses to social media. I think it is like most things in marketing, go where your key target market is.

  10. Anita,

    Good stuff here, especially pointing out the concerns. Here’s a real life story.

    In 2003 I was a one person asymmetrical marketing consultancy.
    In 2004 we were a One and a half person asymmetrical marketing consultancy.
    In 2005 we were a three person asymmetrical marketing consultancy.
    In 2006 we were a seven person asymmetrical marketing consultancy.
    In 2007 we were a 12 person asymmetrical marketing consultancy.
    In 2008 we are now a 20 person asymmetrical marketing consultancy.

    I did i with no outside marketing except for one thing. My blog. The blog is very focused and targeted one initial audience. As the size of the agency has grown the pedigree of the clients we have attracted has risen and vice versa. The blog and the blogosphere has been our stage.

    In the time we’ve been in business we’ve seen over a dozen of our clients acquired by the likes of Yahoo, Google, eBay, IBM, Cisco, Nokia as well as by competitors and private equity. Once again the blogosphere for many of the clients was the stage.

    The bottom line is a focused, strategic effort, and an understanding of audiences, and how to reach them has led first to our clients’ success, and in turn to ours.

    By understanding the medium and using it right is clearly a path for success.

  11. Yep – as you’ve shown, social media tools are still only used by a tiny minority, and the ‘how do I get the time?’ comment is quite frequent in online classes that I run.

    To which I respond ‘how do you manage your marketing time now?’. The fact is, much small business marketing is done by throwing money, rather than brainpower, at the issue – it’s easier. Social media does need time, care and creativity – plus a willingness to learn new skills, yet again!

  12. Anita Campbell

    @ Brent Leary: Brent, a bunch of us should compare notes and come up with “the top 50 questions/concerns about social media from small business owners” or something like that. I think it would be eye opening. And a useful way of presenting information, because it would get directly at what SMBs want to have answered. I’ll put it on my editorial list.

    @ Matt McGee: Matt, I think your point about social media being the online equivalent of networking is spot on. In many ways, social media is much more time-efficient than in-person networking, too. I’ve made some excellent connections and gotten a lot of value out of in-person networking and met some terrific people. But in other cases I’ve wasted a tremendous amount of time driving to the deepest darkest corners of Ohio to attend networking events from which I never “clicked” with anyone I met and no lasting relationships were formed. Just like with in-person networking, the online social media will sometimes yield results and … sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re getting anywhere.

    – Anita

  13. Great post! Yes, many businesses are becoming increasingly enthusiastic about Social Media, but as you discovered are struggling to find the time actually do it. In order to address the “time issues”, there is now a growing number of businesses that are hiring Virtual Assistants to manage their “Online Presence” and carry out a variety of pertinent social media activities such as updating profiles, commenting on related blogs, setting up and moderating facebook groups and events, tracking Twitter conversations etc…

    Last month at VAClassroom.com, we ran a Virtual Assistant event, “How Virtual Assistants can Profit from the Social Media Explosion in 2008″ and we saw an awesome response given the growing interest and involvement in Social Media. As a result, we are now providing specific training equipping Virtual Assistants to do Social Media Marketing tasks to address the current demand.

    So, my suggestion for businesses is that if they simply don’t have the time to leverage the potential of Social Media Marketing, then hire a Virtual Assistant (with Social Media Know-How) to help them grow their presence in this new Web 2.0 world!

  14. Anita Campbell

    @23 Babylon (Marie): yes, I hear you, Marie. Lack of time was the biggest refrain.

    Again, I think there’s a promising business opportunity for someone to provide independent contractor staffing to actually carry out some of the social media activities. I know there are a lot of social media consultants out there, but most are focused on teaching small businesspeople what to do — they teach but don’t do. And you can find blogger/writers.

    But beyond that, it’s very very hard to find affordable, reliable, trained people to assist with other activities on your behalf, such as updating Facebook pages, submitting to social media sites like Digg, and so on. Marketing agencies and SEO companies will do it, but often their services are priced out of reach for really small businesses of under 10 employees.

    – Anita

  15. Anita Campbell

    @Craig: your comment came in as I was writing my last comment.

    Thanks so much for the suggestion about virtual assistants. A social-media-savvy VA could be a great option for outsourcing some of these social media marketing activities.

    – Anita

  16. Side Note: I noticed you went from full posts to summaries in your feeds. Makes sense but you lose those nice pictures on FeedBurner. Any reasons? Thanks.

  17. Anita Campbell

    Actually, Robert, I only go to excerpts for a few really long posts, because they make the main page of the site incredibly l-o-o-ong. I use the “more” feature in WordPress. Only problem is, it doesn’t show the full feed in FeedBurner for the posts where I use that feature. That’s a downside to using the “more” feature. I understand there is now a way to show an excerpt on the site, but show full posts in the feed. I am looking into that.

    I also do extracts, only, for the press releases. But that’s just a special section because it’s much easier to scan the press releases to see what you’re interested in.

    Everything else is still full feed.

    – Anita

  18. Anita – thanks for sharing some of the nuts and bolts of SmallBizTrends. One more factoid – using the Page feature in WordPress will abruptly end the post on Feedburner mail (no “more” link). Still love WordPress though!

  19. Referred to this site from the Wall Stree Journal article. What a great resource for small businesses. Thanks!

    Although I run a small web design and development company I’ve been reluctant to jump on the social media bandwagon, but social media tools have become crucial in marketing your business online. I believe the new phrase is “Social Media Optimization”, which takes longer to materialize but will result in larger numbers of qualified long-term leads than search engine optimization alone.

    Thank you for the great insight, I will definitely be back.

    - Chris

  20. Great discussion Anita,

    As a 60 year old gal launching a new business online I have found that
    the key to using blogs and social media is that they need to be part of your business strategy to ensure focused, helpful postings on your blog and friendly, helpful posting and questions in social media.

    Rather than use blogging tools like Blogger, I recommend a fully brandable and integrated website/blog SYSTEM like http://www.BlogProfitZone.com

    Using the built in features of this system has given me top search engine positioning for my keywords, without spending a cent on AdWords etc

    Your thoughts?

    Your ValuesCoach, Karyn Clarke
    http://www.winatworkzone.com/blog

  21. Brent Leary

    Sounds good to me Anita. Let’s do it!

  22. Anita Campbell

    @Karyn Clarke: I agree that a blog has to be integrated into your business strategy in order to drive value.

    I’m glad you’re finding the Blogi360 platform useful. I don’t know much about it. Two thoughts:

    (1) After watching the promotional video for Blogi360, while there may be some value in the i360 platform, it strikes me that few things are as effortless and automated as we’d all like. Anyway, at first when you’re still trying to figure out whether you like blogging or not, I’d start out with a free blogging platform like Blogger.com for 90 days. Then if you like it and feel committed, jump to #2 below.

    (2) WordPress.org (where you make your own hosting arrangements) is generally considered the world class blogging solution. Long term, that’s the solution I recommend.

    But if Blog i360 is working for you, more power to you. The most important thing is that you are finding it valuable to your online presence.

    Good luck, Karyn!

    – Anita

  23. Great post and thought provoking discussions.

    I find a lot of posts debating, justifying, or showing skepticism in the value of social media. I don’t think one needs to doubt that any more – plentiful anecdotal/statistical evidences around.

    I also find posts and comments on “how to..”. However, majority of them are primarily focused on tools (wordpress, blogger, blah…). In my opinion – another relatively easier problem to tackle.

    What I find extremely hard to do and to (and unfortunately I do not see many posts on this ) is to generate meaningful and engaging content that can attract and engage visitors. Drawing parallels from in-person networking – you can only build a good network in person if you have substantial, thought provoking, informative or insightful things to talk about. Same goes with social media. However, if you have the content, it will be a lot more effective and far outreaching in building your network.

    Anita – do you have any tips on how to develop meaningful content for social media? I understand that the content has to community specific, but any general tips could go a long way in helping small businesses participate.

  24. Thanks for sharing these 2.0 success stories. If I could ask, next time, please provide links to the examples!

  25. Sanjay – I started to add my 2 cents about your question here in the comments, but it started to get unusually lengthy, so I posted on my blog with some thoughts on creating content for social media. It’s the link in the comment above — 12 Tips on Creating Content for Social Media. Thanks for inspiring me. :-)

  26. Martin Lindeskog

    Matt McGee,

    Great tips. I went to your site and added an item (guest bloggers) to the list.

  27. Thanks for the post. For those of you who still have doubts about the strenght of Social Media, I would highly suggest that you read the recently published book “Groundswell” from Forrester Research. You can visit forrester.groundswell.com for more information. FYI, I don’t work for Forrester, just a big fan of the book. The book is a great help to determine your social media strategy. Keep it up. twitter.com/timmylevad

  28. It is really nice to hear other business owners experiences using social media. You can tell that nothing is ever cut in stone. We all have our own “recipe” for own business needs; add a little of this, a pinch of that…..

    Matt McGee, Nice list you put together, really helpful stuff. That is why I like sites like this, it helps inspire new content for our own articles.

  29. We are working with several small businesses (many of them women-owned) and we are having these same discussions. Many of the business owners don’t have any knowledge of Web 2.0 tools and that’s where we need to do a better job of educating our small business owners. Thanks for taking the time to do it in Houston!

  30. Seems that many people are all asking themselves the same questions about social media. And it also seems that while some experience successful results, others may not. I have to agree with Paula here in that it’s really about creating your own recipe when it comes to this topic. Because what works for one industry or business, may not work for yours. And this depends on whether your in the service business or sell products and so on.

    Someone may experience much success in forums when it comes to products but someone dealing in services may not get the same reaction from the community. I think it’s a matter of trial and error and finding the right mixture for your business. There really isn’t a set pattern or rule with social media. You can’t just participate and see results each and every time. You have to experiment and it does take lots of your time. Someone mentioned virtual assistants and it does seem that social media can become a fulltime job in and of itself if you want to be aggressive about it.

  31. This was a very interesting post for me as a business owner and also being in the business of selling social media training.

    It very daunting for me when I re-entered the Internet business with all the new web 2.0 technology and having to figure out what was what. Now I use it on a daily basis and work as a sales consultant for web 2.0 trainers like Tactical Executinon. As a user and marketer, I have fully come to appreciate the benefits. Social Media is definitely here to stay and one cannot afford to not be involved or at least start getting involved. Like any technology, you do need to be aware of the downside and make sure you protect your business.

    For a free full year of business and social media coaching and numerous podcasts visit http://www.tacticaleexecution.com to sign up. If you live in the California San Francisco Bay Area or know someone who does, mayby you can benefit from a $50 off coupon on a 2 day Strategic Online Identity (SOI) Boot Camp offered by Tactical Execution by signing up at http://www.tacticalexecution.com/services/b2b-solutions/level-6-training/. Just use coupon code “sjobe” at the time of registration.

  32. At Internet Marketing and Management Group http://www.webimmg.com we utilize some of the strategies mentioned to promote our clients. We also keep our eyes open for any ideas to strengthen our SEO tactics. And yes, I’m one of those team members you might call “virtual assistants”. In today’s changing landscape of marketing/advertising where television/radio/print is giving way to the Internet, I can’t imagine that businesses have much choice BUT to learn how to use this media.

    Thanks Anita, for such an informative blog! Incidentally, reading these blogs for my work has led me to create my own personal blog for fun. I’m at blogspot.com and love it!

  33. As always Anita, BRILLIANT!!!

    I have already sent your info to the neighborhood Staples for printing! Can’t wait for our weekly staff meeting to pass out this exceptional collection of knowledge!

    Stay Brilliant!

  34. I am encouraged to see articles such as this one. Any tool which enables small business to grow exponentially is an excellent and valuable resource.
    I noted one comment regarding business owners lacking the time to maintain an online presence, much less design, and execute social media marketing strategy for his/her business.
    Anita also mentioned it is a great opportunity for a business venture to offer these services–my company does just that.
    I have a background in marketing and writing, and have implemented the application of social media as part of marketing strategy for small business clients.
    My company website is currently under construction, but feel free to view my profile at http://www.linkedin.com/profile?viewProfile=&key=13040755&trk=tab_pro and contact me.

  35. Excellent Anita, I have used this identical process for a long time now. The fact is, even as this recession deepens, I am making more than ever. I recommend that everyone take the time and make the effort to follow this plan step by step.

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