5 Social Media Lessons Gleaned from a New SMB Study

Thursday is guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest is from Frank Strong, director of Public Relations, Vocus – Enjoy!

There is no shortage of social media advice.  Unfortunately, much of it is often at odds, conflicting and even confusing.

For example, consider scheduling tweets.  A quick Google search will return many passionate arguments both for – and against – the case for scheduled tweets. Proponents point out automation allows them to space out their social posts to avoid inundating their followers. Meanwhile, opponents say it can lead to disastrous results when these posts coincide with unforeseen events.  There’s always room for middle ground.

While such advice comes with a great deal of experience and has points of merit, it often also comes with the unique and perhaps, narrow perspective specific to that person or organization.

This is why sound research is so important and why we teamed with Duct Tape Marketing to conduct a statistically valid social media survey of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB). As we have studied the data over a course of several weeks, we have come to several conclusions based on research.

Here are five lessons we have learned from the study:

1.  You have to find your own path to influence.  Social media users are almost spiritual about the ‘right’ way to approach social promotion.  Many believe that building a tighter, highly engaged community is the best approach – it is a concept I subscribe to as well.  However, 27% of SMBs reported focusing on building a very large number of followers or fans on social media, regardless of interaction.  While this flies in the face of conventional social media wisdom, this same group was also more likely to say that social media has been very helpful for their business.  This is a testament to the fact that every business is unique: What works for one, may not work for another.  We all face different challenges in terms of industry, budget and finite resources and have to experiment to decide what will work best for us.

Lesson:  Listen, study, and observe what others are doing, but do not be afraid to go against the grain and try something different.  After all, that is what entrepreneurs often do best.

2.  Social works, but only with effort.  Most SMBs believed that social media was moving the needle for their organization. Fifty-eight percent said social media had been somewhat helpful, while almost one-third said it was very helpful. Just 10% said it had no impact.  However, there is a clear correlation between effort and results:  Those that were more willing to work at social media saw better results.  Entrepreneurs understand this concept. In many ways, it is the very reason they decided to strike out on their own.  Social media can be productive and it certainly takes an investment of time. Those that invest the time are more likely to see a return in the long run.

Lesson:  When committing to social media, keep in mind it is a marathon, not a sprint.  An aspiration of a quick hit that goes viral and leads to instant sales is setting you up for disappointment. 

3. Addressing customer service issues is an untapped opportunity.  Ninety-one percent of SMBs say they use social media to share news about their organization – the most common activity.  That is not surprising, since it is easy to share good news.  The least cited activity was managing customer service complaints, with just 46% of SMBs saying they engage in this activity online.  That is less than half and the reason is clear:  It is uncomfortable to address service complaints in such a public manner. Certainly there are different levels of customer complaints online – marketing strategist Peter Shankman breaks them down into five types – but more often than not, complaints represent an opportunity.  What opportunity?  It is the chance to resolve an issue and earn greater loyalty from the customer.

Lesson:  Addressing service complaints quickly may not just resolve the issue, but turn a customer into an advocate; there is a bonus in that those observing will credit you for addressing the matter.

4.  The challenge of dual hat responsibility.  Seventy-three percent of SMBs have added social media as an additional duty of an existing marketing person. In other words, they had a job, and then got a little more work on top of it. As your community grows, so too will the time demands of social media. How you resolve this challenge may vary – perhaps new tools, new efficiencies, or even new people. The danger of simply assigning someone an additional duty is in forcing people to do things that may not meet their natural abilities, skills or inclinations. Sure, we all have to roll up our sleeves and do grunt work sometimes, but it is the sort of commitment John Jantsch is referencing in The Commitment Engine Resources that we should be after.

Lesson:  Consider carefully who gets assigned social media as an additional duty; experience matters, but then so too does enthusiasm.

5.   Facebook dominates but keep tabs on emerging social sites. Google+ and StumbleUpon were ranked by fewer SMBs as effective social platforms for their engagement, but those that use them were also more likely to say they were very effective. It reminded me of the first solid case study I saw several years ago that used FourSquare, where a burger joint named AJ Bombers, had tapped the network with such success it captured national attention.  With social media, we do not simply build a presence and hope people visit. Instead, we go to where our customers and prospects are spending their time.

Lesson:  It may seem like everyone is on a platform, but it is important to understand if the users there are the people you want to engage. A less popular site may be the answer to driving business results.

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If there’s one overarching value proposition of engagement on social media, I would borrow a phrase from a respondent to this survey:  “It has allowed us to promote our products to people we may not have been able to reach normally.”  Indeed that is simply the power of the Web.  To download a copy of the survey please visit: Path to Influence: An Industry Study of SMBs and Social Media.

Frank Strong is the director of PR for Vocus. Find him on Twitter and the Vocus blog.

Do Service and Profit Go Hand in Hand

Marketing podcast with Micah Solomon (Click to play or right click and “Save As” to download – Subscribe now via iTunes or subscribe via other RSS device (Google Listen)

My guest for this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast is Micah Solomon, a customer service expert, entrepreneur, business leader, speaker, and author. He built his company, Oasis Disc Manufacturing, from a one-man operation in a leaky basement (financed with just a credit card) into a market leader in the independent entertainment field. He is also the co-author of Exceptional Service, Exceptional Profit: The Secrets of Building a Five-Star Customer Service Organization, a book we talked about for this show.

One of the core points of the book is that companies can’t simply provide satisfactory customer service they must provide anticipatory customer service. In other words, we need to anticipate what customers want and provide it without them asking.

We must build systems to record the preferences of our customers, hire the right people and give them the tools and permission to meet our customer’s needs.

To be considered the service leader in our industry we can’t simply consider our direct competitors, we must consider every service provider that also offers exceptional service, they are setting the bar and we must study, model and consider them our competition.

Organizations that are customer centered are very careful about the language and words they use throughout the business and consciously choose specific language when referring to and addressing customers. If marketing is painting a positive customer message and then the owner of the business is constantly putting customers down or complaining about problem customers, the entire customer service mentality will get derailed.

Check out Micah’s article for Fast Company – Seven Keys to Building Customer Loyalty–and Company Profits to get an even deeper understanding of the ideas behind Exceptional Customer Service.

You can listen to the show by subscribing the feed in iTunes or a variety of other free services such as Google Listen (Use this RSS feed) or you can buy the Duct Tape Marketing iPhone app. (iTunes link – Cost is $2.99) or

Is the Customer Always Right?

Here’s my quick answer – “hell no”

customer serviceLet me start by giving you some back story to this post. I read and pointed out on twitter an article from Fast Company – here’s the tweet – @ducttape: Are You Building a Consumer-Facing Company? http://su.pr/2XxE7B the customer vs culture debate rages on. The gist of the article is that sometimes you have to bend to make sure the customer is ultimately served. But, a little voice inside my head said – at what cost?

I stated as much and drew a couple exchanges from customer service consultant @tedcoinecustomer is not always right/Rule #1: The customer is always right. Rule #2: If the customer is ever wrong, reread rule #1! and There is a certain surrender necessary in winning customer service. You have to BELIEVE the customer is always right, true or not – to which I owe the timing of this post.

I have no problem whatsoever with the premise of the article, but I’ve come across far too many small businesses that view this age old saying “the customer is always right” as a lone justification for taking abuse at the hands of life sucking customers.