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Start Small Again; How Small Businesses Can Become Social Media Adept

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Naturally, I relate easily to small business owners since I run a small business myself. Most small businesses in the U.S realize there is "something" about social media and online marketing, but are still extremely hesitant in treating it as seriously as their other operations. I share that notion from a PR standpoint" where social media is now an integral part of any PR plan, with different models suggesting different outcomes.

The Ami-Partners research group reported the results (Ed. Note: Requires login) of a new study they conducted under the title, "2010 U.S. Small Business Marketing Activity and Spending Study: Where and How U.S. Small Businesses are Spending Marketing Dollars." Unfortunately, social media in these businesses is the responsibility of the existing marketing division and staff. The greatest challenge, though, is the time resource these staffers and managers lack, which directly impedes any possible social media planning and implementation.

The bottom line: the majority of U.S. small businesses still prefer and resort to the more familiar methods of phone directories before they consider a mode change.

But, there is a stronger factor kicking in: the economic downturn. AMI predicts that U.S. small business social media marketing will accelerate in the near term as one of the effects of the downturn. Marketing initiatives were lower this year overall than the year prior across all types of marketing operations. When budgets do return to these activities, though, they are projected to reflect a strong social media component in them.

There are 6.3 million small businesses registered in the U.S today. If they all approached social media like advertising savages, we'd lose the whole point of "social" and be left merely with "media" - as simple as any other familiar media till now. Social media was not meant to be an advertising and aggressive-marketing channel. There is more than enough TV for that.

For an effective adaptation by small businesses to social media, there is a need to check things out step by step --" as small as these steps may be. We've been applying smart new media strategies for our clients over the last few years. Here is some insight I would like to offer:

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- Don't fall into the temptation of selling something through your social media channels. Yes, people are present, but they're tuned out of advertising slogans. To get a sense of what social media is about --" even for your business pages --" go back to your own private profile and skim through your connection's posts. How often do you see people selling each other products or services? Almost never. What you witness is conversation and virtual interaction. Start a relatively private conversation with your followers; be a little informal about what they feel, read, and know of your service.

- I recommended that you designate a person, team, or division - depending on your business size --" for new media planning and implementation. It requires and deserves special attention and consideration. Yes, it can include different marketing initiatives that run occasionally, but that's not a necessity. As you become more new media adept, you will find that marketing models on social media are based on totally different "rules" than the more traditional ones you are used to --" even from recent innovations like direct email marketing. People have different expectations.

- Reflect some of your daily thoughts and whereabouts. People need to be reminded that behind every Facebook business fan page, every twitter profile, and every business-based YouTube page there is a person, not a "bot." The best way to show that is to share something "human" like your feelings right out of a meeting; the details of a hectic day; or a curious question regarding other people's opinions.

- Remember the often forgotten advantage of new media: a two-way communication channel. In contrast to advertising and newspaper reading, it is only through emerging new media that communications can go both ways. Engage your audience, accept and expect feedback and reactions, and encourage debate and product-related discussions.

Whatever you do --" start small, start authentic, start today. Use that same spirit that got you this far in the game to play this whole new and exciting field.

Ronn Torossian is president and CEO of 5WPR , one of the 20 largest independent PR agencies in the U.S. Named to the "40 under 40" list of PR Week & Advertising Age, Torossian was a semi-finalist for the Ernst & Young 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and may be reached at 212.999.5585 and followed on twitter @rtorossian5wpr

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Ronn Torossian founded 5WPR/5W Public Relations, a leading US Public Relations firm, in 2003 and has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion. Under his supervision, the company has won many awards, including the PR Agency of the year (more...)

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