[This post originally appeared on the iMediaConnection Blog on Feb. 24, 2012.]
Social networking is leveling the marketing playing field, offering small businesses broader and cheaper venues for building their brand.
Unlike traditional media, social networking sets up a marketing meritocracy in which size doesn’t matter. At very little cost, small businesses can now access major channels of communication, and by extension a much larger customer base. Social networking is virtually money-neutral; it’s all about content generation and authentic interactions.
Small businesses’ experience with “authentic interactions” offline may give them an advantage in using social networking as a marketing tool. They tend to be closer and more familiar with their customers in general because their small scale makes it easier to do so. Translating this attitude to the online world may be more natural for them than it is for larger companies whose relationships with customers have been more distant.
From local coffee shops to tech start-ups, a Facebook page and a Twitter feed are becoming par for the course. But a whole new set of social platforms (themselves start-ups) has emerged to deliver growth opportunities to the social-savvy small business:
- Kickstarter: Before entrepreneurs can think about boosting sales, they need to get over the fundraising hurdle. Kickstarter makes this key first step social, allowing entrepreneurs, inventors, and artists to crowdsource capital—faster and in greater quantities than through traditional avenues. Just this month, an iPhone dock project and a video game design group soared well over $1 million.
- Open Forum (AMEX): American Express Open (a longtime client of ours) hosts a community for business owners called Open Forum. Connections among members can often lead to collaboration, partnerships, and even new leads. Open Forum is a place where small businesses can gain knowledge from a marketing powerhouse, as well as share their ideas in a more egalitarian conversation.
- 99designs and DesignCrowd: Thanks to a growing number of social sites for crowdsourcing creative work—like 99designs and DesignCrowd—agencies now have access to a broader selection of branding talent on-demand. These platforms let small firms tap into communications expertise without having them on staff.
Inherently, social media is democratic and accessible—and relatively low-cost. Facebook and Twitter can do a lot for any brand, but specialized platforms like these allow small businesses to develop even more creative strategies for brand-building and growth.
About the Author
Barbara Apple Sullivan is Managing Partner of Sullivan, a brand engagement firm she founded in 1990.
Barbara holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BS in economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Follow Barbara on Twitter @bapplesullivan