With many small businesses one of the key challenges is marketing. How do you get the word out with minimal dollars for marketing or advertising? By far, the biggest response from small business owners when asked what is their marketing strategy is..."word of mouth". This takes a variety of forms but it usually involves meeting people and sharing information on your business with them and hoping they share this information with others. Word of mouth is inexpensive and if you strike a cord with someone you can create evangelists that will promote your product so it is somewhat viral. The challenge is that it takes a while to build relationships that will really allow you to benefit from it. Over the past few months I have come to realize the "Word of Mouth" is evolving and Social Networking is becoming the new "Word of Mouth".
While this is not an official definition I have found Social Networking or Web 2.0 as a mechanism to reach and interact with people that have common interests. This is done through interactive web sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter (these are my favorites) or through blogging. You must realize that people are interacting using these tools. The functionality of the web is growing beyond searches and static information. You as a business owner need to get into the flow and allow people to find and interact with you. I had been resistant to social networking in the past due to lack of understanding and time to get into it. Well I have done a 180 and am an advocate of social networking. It is not just for the 15 year old girl with the My Space page, it is a legitimate business tool. By engaging or building an on-line community around your business interest you can gain insight from other business owners and/or engage customers or prospective customers.
All right how do you get started? I got started by having a blog. I posted content on business, things I do and see everyday. Posting to a blog doesn't require a journalism degree or hours of research. Once I started posting regularly (note...you need to post to keep the site fresh and a place where people want to come to over and over) I wanted to get the word out about the blog and started getting more engaged in the sites I mentioned earlier, especially Twitter. Through Twitter I started following people that knew a lot about social networking and I learned from their blogs and postings. I've been at this a couple of months now and have already seen the benefits. I have met on-line and then in person several people that either need our services or can help with what we are doing to support entrepreneurs. I am so bought in that we are launching a social networking site to support SBDC clients and other entrepreneurs as they build their business. SBDC Free Expert Advice is designed to give business owners a place to see content that can help their business as well as build a support and advisory network that can provide information to them on questions that they have concerning their business. The cool thing about this is that it has not cost us a penny in development or hosting. It also does not need to be supported by our IT department so we are in control how this works, we are not at the mercy of someone else. It is an open community to support small business.
If you want to get more into social networking I recommend you check out and hopefully join SBDC Free Expert Advice as well as check out the following blogs: Social Media Work and Play Gary Moneysmith and PRogress Not PRfection.by Lara Kretler These site have great content on how to use social networking and are great examples of how to blog.
Marketing strategy is just that, strategy. There are many components of a successful marketing strategy and social networking should be included. Don't be left behind, jump in, the water's fine.