The Way We Work
February 20, 2009 by Danalyn West

In the age of cyberspace and technology, social media is helping small businesses in a way never imagined as few as 10 years ago.

If you’re not familiar with social media, think of it as word of mouth…upgraded! With colloquial applications like Twitter and Facebook on the rise, and bulletin sites like Digg and Reddit taking news stories to extraordinary heights, comes the potential to change the way small businesses do…well, business.

Gary Vaynerchuk, social media enthusiast and host of Wine Library TV, talks about the power of word of mouth in social media in his video titled Word of mouth has changed:

Word of mouth is on steroids, my friends. It’s Roger Clemens, it’s Barry Bonds, it’s – let’s throw Brett Boon in there – it is absolutely on steroids. More and more tools are being created every day to allow your word to travel in so many more places.

Anyone running a small business knows the power of word of mouth. But when it comes to social media, what’s in it for your organization?

Exposure and Marketing

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Having a web presence opens up a wide range of opportunities for small businesses. Simply having a website makes your business accessible to the entire world. Suddenly, your business card can be distributed across the globe with minimal effort. But is it enough?

In some cases, it is – for example, a lawn care service may not need worldwide exposure. For companies embracing Internet technologies and globalization, however, social media is the wave of the future.

In the example to the right, the first page of a search for the term oDesk” on Yahoo! returns five links to social networking and community websites (with two of the results linking back to a blog maintained by happy oDesk providers).

That’s 50% of the first page of results attributed to social communities! Considering most SEO consultants will tell you that people rarely venture beyond the second or third pages of search results, having 90% coverage on the first page is a pretty good return on investment!

Putting a Face on the Faceless

But while marketing is very important, interacting with your customer base (not to mention other industry professionals) can make a big impact on how people view your company. People like to know their voices are being heard – even it’s as simple as an @reply on Twitter. People feel a connection with you and you become more than just a corporate identity.

While not exactly a small business, the bar has been raised by CEO Tony Hsieh. With over 1400 “tweets” and almost 84,000 followers, thousands are anxiously awaiting his updates each day to see which celebrities he’s meeting, or whether he’ll get locked out of his hotel room. In a recent blog post, he explains how Twitter’s transparency (which he equates to being on camera 24/7) helps people connect with him and his company:

What I found was that people really appreciated the openness and honesty, and that led people to feel more of a personal connection with Zappos and me compared to other corporations and business people that were on Twitter.

But Who Has the Time?

If you’re like countless other small business owners out there, you may not have the time needed to build relationships online.

Consider hiring a social media consultant to help determine the course of action that best suits your needs. Then find a well-spoken, energetic virtual assistant to become your company’s social network representative for a few hours a week.

The results can be rewarding!

Why it’s Good for You

Having a website for your business is one thing. In fact, it’s almost expected these days – everybody has a website. But knowing how to use that medium properly is something entirely different. While websites and apps like Twitter and Digg started off as something of a novelty, they’ve grown and evolved into the perfect ways for small businesses to put themselves on the map. Not only do they get your company’s name out there, they can also be very useful in showing the human drama (or comedy) that goes on behind the scenes.

After all, a good business is one where customers are interested in the product; a great business is one where customers are interested in the company, as well.

Danalyn West is a freelance web designer on oDesk and an advocate for freelancers. She offers advice to freelancers and small businesses in oDesk forums and on her blog.