I recently guest-lectured for an MBA Marketing Communications course; a redux of the class I taught last year. What was interesting was the contrast between the students this year and the students last year. In particular, it was notable whether they perceived social media as a viable strategy and their role, if any, in furthering the strategy.
Small Biz vs Corporate
Last year's class was made up almost entirely of individuals who owned or worked for small businesses.
This year's class was made up of employees of larger, and in many cases international, organizations.
Last year's students, while not all were active social media participants, they all knew how/if the business had any sort of social media marketing strategy.
This year's class was also a mix of users and non-users, but many were unaware of what, if any, social media marketing strategy their employers were using. Many had jobs that were outside of marketing and as such were outside the loop in this area.
In both cases, we had a lively debate about the pros and cons of using social media marketing. If I had to characterize these debates, I would say those who were in small businesses were more open to the possibilities social media presented in spite of any concerns they may have had. The corporate employees tended to be more skeptical and unsure how they could utilize it in their current role even if they used social media for personal use.
Size Does Matter...
...or at least it seems to when it comes to social media marketing. And it would seem that small businesses have the upper hand here.
While big businesses have the resources to dedicate a team (or at least one full-time person) to social media they don't typically utilize a cross-department approach. It is "the brand" that is engaging in social media, not the names and faces behind the brand.
Small businesses rarely have the luxury of dedicating one person to any single task, much less social media. This is precisely the reason they are better positioned to leverage social media. EVERY employee of a small business is closer to the front line; closer to customers and prospects. By empowering these employees to use social media to help them do their jobs small businesses are better positioned to "move the needle".
Consider the following.
Branding & Marketing
How can you reinforce your unique positioning using social media? If you're a local deli and your counter person sees a post on Facebook about a food pantry looking for donations, she has found for you an opportunity to help your community and get your name out there. If you are a doctor your desk staff/nurse/you can let folks know when you'll be doing a wellness workshop at the local library.
Think of how each of your employees can help to reinforce your message?
Reputation Management & Customer Service
Many customers won't complain to you but will complain online using Facebook, Yelp or other social media channel(s).
If your employees are empowered, they can respond to criticism and redirect the conversation. Your service person can respond with an ETA, whoever is in charge of inventory can respond with the estimate date of shipment. Its never about the problem; its about how you handle the problem.
Think about how your employees can improve customer service and help to deflate any criticism using social media?
Networking & Human Resources
What about tapping into your employees' networks to fill a need that YOU have? Maybe you're looking for a new sales person or want to fill a summer internship?
Small businesses are, well, small - and nimble. This gives them a leg up on Corporate when it comes to adapting new channels to communicate with customers, prospects, vendors, etc. They don't need to wrangle with layers of management. They just need to see the opportunities and seize them.