SMBs Looking to Raise Their Profiles Need to Examine Their Own Experience


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Over the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to speak at several small business conferences throughout the Southeast. Many of the attendees had a great deal in common. They’ve been in business for years and have been quite successful. The majority of them worked in or owned business employing less than 50 employees. A good number of them also have businesses participating not in the exciting high-tech industry but in traditional, boring segments like professional services. Those same kinds of businesses this country was built on.

But just like principals of larger, high-tech firms, small-business owners and principals are searching for ways to increase their brand awareness and expand the pool of prospects, giving them more warm leads to work with. That’s no surprise. Just about every survey focused on the concerns of small business owners rank finding, catching and keeping good customers as their top challenges.

But while many of the conference attendees have turned to CRM applications and services in hopes of addressing their most important issues—as well as spending a great deal of their business development efforts on time-consuming networking events, pumping out email marketing campaigns and optimizing their web sites to show up in Google search result lists—few of the folks I talked to felt closer to solving their awareness and expansion challenges.

Yet, there is something they can do to raise their profile to prospective customers, and it’s something small business owners are already aware of. And that’s simply social media optimization.

Just about every survey focused on the concerns of small business owners rank finding, catching and keeping good customers as their top challenges.

When I asked small business owners if they’ve considered adding a blog or creating a profile on LinkedIn, the vast majority viewed these as strictly social endeavors which would add little business value while wasting precious time.

But when I asked them if they have ever read a blog before, about half the attendees said they did, with a good number of them considering themselves avid followers of more than one blog. And the blogs they followed were all business related in which they’ve used some of the tips included. They even emailed links to many of the blog entries to colleagues. And many began to see how blogging may be useful to them.

So I asked if any of them had though about creating a podcast, with no affirmative responses returned. But when I asked them how many have purchased a business-related audio book a good portion of people have purchased several. And with a good number of iPod owners included in the number of audio book buyers, I was able to get them to agree that it would be nice to listen to audiobooks on their iPods. And they began to see how podcasting, although more involved than blogging, may be helpful in expanding their reach.

Finally I asked them if they have posted any of their content on a social networking site. With visions of YouTube, Flickr and MySpace in their minds, most people had thoughts of home videos and photo-sharing in mind, not business. Now admittedly these sites are more focused on the personal more so than the professional. While not nearly as popular but more in line with business usage, can be viewed as the YouTube for Powerpoint presentations. If you put together some interesting presentations you can upload it to and have people view and comment on it. even makes it easy for those people who like your presentation to incorporate it into their blog or website. And each time someone views your presentation keeps track of it. If it’s really popular your presentations can show up on the homepage, bringing your site a whole bunch of traffic, and potential customers.

And the facts are the way business is done has been changed because of the new ways to interact with each other. According to Technorati’s State of the Blogosphere, 100,000 new blogs come online every day, with the number of new blog starts doubling every 236 days. Each day 1.3 million posts are written, equating to more than 54, 000 posts every hour. And business and information-based blogs make up the majority of the top 100 blogs on Technorati’s list. Because of this, a recent article in Entrepreneur magazine identified blogging as quickly becoming a business staple.

Although podcasting is still in its infancy, even when compared to blogging, it is already having an impact on buying decisions. According to a recent Knowledgestorm study of 3,900 B2B purchasers, 53 percent of those surveyed had downloaded or listened to a podcast at least once. Sixty-five percent of those who had done so said they listened to both personal and business related podcasts. And finally, and most importantly, 27 percent of the respondents stated podcasts had already influenced work-related purchase decisions.

By the end of my presentations I definitely saw the interest in blogging, podcasting, rss, wikis and other social media perk up in the small business audiences.

That’s why it’s critical for all small businesses to understand the positive effect social media optimization (SMO) can have. Small business people must leverage the web in meaningful ways to find, catch and keep good customers to compete in this new, flatter world. For me, using these tools has already paid off. When people ask me when my presentations would be available, I tell them, they already are…!


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