Could Your Small Business Survive Without Social Media?

Think your small business doesn't need social media? Here's why you need to join the conversation.
August 23, 2011

Could your business survive without social media? If the answer is “No,” you’ll be just as surprised as I was to discover that in a recent survey by small business insurance provider Hiscox, a mere 12 percent of small business owners surveyed described social media as a “must.” In comparison, a whopping 50 percent said word-of-mouth was essential to their businesses.

These two figures reveal a strange disconnect. Aren’t “social media” and “word-of-mouth” pretty much the same thing?

Word-of-mouth has always been a major marketing tool for small companies. Social media hasn’t changed that; it’s just amplified the power of word-of-mouth. Instead of your customers sharing their experience with a few people they happen to run into over the course of a week, they can now broadcast it to hundreds of their friends, or to thousands of people reading their blog posts, or to millions of people reading online reviews.

Many times, small, well-established companies that rely on a local clientele—such as retailers, restaurants or service providers—are the ones that scoff at the idea of social media, saying they “don’t have time” or their customers wouldn’t care. Yet ironically, these are the very businesses that stand to benefit from social media the most.

Consider the power of social media if you’re a bar or restaurant owner. I number a lot of foodies among my friends, and when these people go out to eat or drink, they invariably check Yelp first. If your establishment is on Yelp, you’re going to benefit immensely. If not...well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Last week, one of my business partners saw a Facebook friend posting about a new gastropub in her town. It was 5:00 p.m. on a Friday night. She went on Yelp! to read reviews, Facebooked with a few more friends to see who else wanted to check it out, went there that night, had a great meal and told all the friends she saw over the weekend they should go there, too. A week later, three of her friends have already eaten there…and you can bet they’re telling their friends on Facebook, Yelp! and Twitter.

Increasingly, social media is where we connect, discover and learn about new things. Using social media not only keeps you in touch with your current customers, but opens you up to a whole new world of their friends, their friends’ friends (and Twitter followers). Why would you cut yourself off from that?

I’m always surprised when I learn that otherwise-sophisticated small business owners aren’t making use of social media. Let me share one more story with you. Today I made a purchase for my business at a local store and was, quite frankly, shocked when the owner laboriously wrote out a handwritten receipt, using one of those carbon-copy receipt books you get at the office supply store. (And no, I wasn’t shopping at a quaint antique shop on Nantucket—this was a franchise of a large, national chain in a big city.) As I waited (and waited) for her to copy out that receipt, I had time to start worrying about the quality of service I was getting from this business. If they weren’t “with it” enough to print out a simple receipt, how well were they handling things that happen behind the scenes?

That’s kind of what social media is like these days. Yes, word-of-mouth still matters. But increasingly, social media is where world-of-mouth happens, and if you don't at least join in the conversation, you’re going to get left behind.

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