Given the terabytes dedicated to the wonders of social networking, you’d think the vast bulk of smaller business would be commenting, tweeting, posting, liking, Friending or doing whatever it took to grab a slice of the much vaunted social networking pie.
But all the small business take-up data out there suggest that the reality is quite the opposite.
Most report that less than 30% of smaller businesses engage in social networking regularly – a paltry figure given the hype around this explosive communication medium.
There are many reasons for this, notwithstanding the fact that social networking isn’t played on a level playing field. Because no matter how much time a paper clip manufacturer invests in posting, engaging and generally social networking, the reality is that their category of business simply isn’t going to generate the same kind of interest that say, a movie or shoe brand will.
With all due respect to its operators, paper clips just aren’t that interesting, and hence won’t attract the connections or engagement others in these ‘sexier’ industries will.
But there’s a way that such a manufacturer, indeed every single small business, is taking part in the revolution without even touching a key.
We’re all in this together
We are all actively social networking because we have, or want, customers. And where there are customers, there is at least one social network.
As you read this, a customer of yours will be commenting on their experience with you via a social network.
They may not be naming you specifically. They may not even mention the specific product or service you delivered. But what they will be doing is telling others about the (insert the level of customer satisfaction you delivered here) experience they had with your product or service – or lack of it as the case may be.
If what you deliver is average, you are relatively safe. It’s really only the post-worthy experiences that get discussed – either the really great or the really bad.
Who do you and you and you recommend?
Then there are those asking for recommendations of the product/service you provide. Again, right now a prospect that you can service will be asking their Friends or Connections for businesses that can provide what they need or want.
Ask any social networker and they will tell you that they have either asked their network for recommendations for a provider or have provided one themselves.
And this trend is growing as social networkers realise that they have dozens or hundreds of real product and service testers right there at their fingertips.
Why take a punt on a provider when some of your nearest and dearest are more than willing to tell you about their experiences for nothing but a quick Like or acknowledgement?
Social networking without hitting a key
The amazing thing about all this discussion about your line of business is that it all takes place whether you have a social networking presence or not.
That’s right. The business that has invested nothing in social networking will get much the same conversation as one that has been there since day one.
Although if your business does have a social networking presence, it will at least be able to respond to any comments – good, bad or ugly – if they can find it and if the originator of the comment lets them.
So what does all this conversation mean for your business?
It means that the word-of-mouth that many of us rely on for a large chunk of our new business has found new and powerful wings via social networking.
What once filtered out at the speed of several dozen consecutive phone calls, or dinner parties, or coffee catch-ups (i.e. very, very slowly), now happens immediately, in ‘real time’, to hundreds if not thousands of people, and within a few degrees of separation of millions of others.
If your product is amazing, more people will know about it, more quickly than ever before.
Conversely if it’s not, you can find yourself out of business faster than you ever thought possible.
And all without emitting a single tweet, comment or post of your own.
Equally, it should take only seconds to understand the ramifications of this.
Delight, the new currency
In order to take advantage of this turbocharged word of mouth, we need to push the boundaries of excellence in the way we deliver our service.
We need to delight a customer so much, that the first thing they will want to do is tell all their Friends (and in turn many of their Friends) about it. We can even encourage them to do so – very politely of course.
Think of it as social networking on auto-pilot. Or word-of-mouth on steroids.
Whatever you call it, it’s happening at a social network near you.
Craig Reardon is a writer, educator and operator of independent web services firm for SMEs, The E Team.