5 step heuristic for advising SME’s on social media

Private investment, freedom to buy, sell, and ...

What would you do if you were not a social media guru and “got social media” for the first time?

When I was growing up, we didn’t have electricity. We cooked on a “wood stove” (a Dover for connoisseurs). Our water was heated in wood-fired boiler. Our lights were gas. Our fridge used paraffin. The generator at the office used diesel. In winter, we had a wood fire. Our irons for pressing our clothes were heated with coals.

Our house was built for electricity though. The plugs, switches and wiring were all in place.

It was a pretty low key affair the day we were connected to the national grid. My mother received a telephone call (remember the mechanical models weren’t powered with electricity) and we calmly switched on the lights. I must have been about 10 and for some reason I got up that night. I wandered through to the living room and mother was ironing clothes with the electric iron. I might add that we employed someone to do the ironing (with the heavy wrought iron “irons” and their coals). So this was a thrill – using an electric iron was a thrill!

The number of appliances that work so much more conveniently with electricity are numerous – lights, irons, stoves, fridge, the kettle, the toaster, the radio. And we have added more – the TV, the blender, the shower. What else?

What do we already take for granted about social media?

Not many of us are volunteering to going back to houses fueled and heated with wood, coal, bottled gas, candles and paraffin and those that are, probably never lived without the national grid. Social media and its immediate antecedents are now so much part of our life, we aren’t going to volunteer to live without them.

Email is not really social media – but lets start there. If you live apart from your family, email is a boon allowing daily messages in almost real time. My supermarket, who sends me illegible emails, somehow misses the entire point.

Txting is not just a youth thing. How on earth did we find each other in the shopping mall or the railway station without our mobile phones? What a boon it is to arrive on a long distance flight and to txt “we are down” to someone who is coming to pick you up.

Skype has been described as a “life saver”. Imagine being apart from your loved ones. Then think of speaking to them daily over Skype with a cam.

Google search is now so common, we forget it is less than 10 years old.

Internet banking is also a given, I couldn’t believe that my British bank issued a cheque book when I arrived here. I had to be reminded how to use one (and I only use it to transfer money from one part of the bank to another – but we are in UK now – when in Rome and all that.)

Wikipedia and online dictionaries clear the desk next to us as do online yellow and white pages. I use wikis unconventionally. I just like them for organizing long documents and I become quite irritated by long word documents. Nothing over one page on Word, please!

Blogs are not just convenient soapboxes. The conversational format also encourage people to write. No one mentions the increase in literacy and fluency likely to develop from the ease of content generation.

RSS feeds and aggregators are marvellous. I follow a story like the Obama campaign by setting up an alert and feeding it into a folder. Then once I day I can scan 50 or so stories and get the formal news and the citizen commentary. I do the same for new professional areas where I am still getting oriented.

StumbleUpon is the opposite of Google. It finds new sites for me on the basis of their similarity to sites I found interesting previously.

Yahoo Upcoming! is one of my favorite sites. In a place as large as the UK, it is so useful for finding the niche events that interest you.

Twitter is as much fun as passing through the neighborhood cafe or pub.

What are the obvious uses of social media in small business?

The challenge that was thrown out by small business owners at the NLabNetworks conference was to spell out the benefits.

Somehow it is easy to think about moving from gas light to electric light; or coal-fired iron to electric irons. But only because we have already made the transition.

What we need to do is to list the infrastructural benefits of social media so our clients can see quickly and easily what it offers them.

Maybe a session at Media Camp London on July 5 2008?

When we first got electricity, we had to invest a little in the change. What should we get first? A kettle? A new stove? A new boiler? For the record, my mother was quite keen to get a cake mixer (we ate a lot of cake) but we continued to heat the water with a wood burner and had log fires in winter for another 10 years. If we are introducing social media, what should we do first, second, third?

A heuristic for advising clients curious about social media

The speakers at NLabNetworks suggested a concept that we can use to think about the social media that would be most useful for our clients. Think constraints. What constraints can we release with social media?

I suggest these simple questions for understanding a business.

1. What does the business sell?

2. Who does it sell to? Who are its customers?

3. What would the business like to do if it could do anything it wanted? What does it want to be? Bigger, busier, more influential?

4. What is stopping it? This is the constraint. Go gently here. Your client is likely to display a lot of frustration – this is often gets deep, down and personal.

5. What types of social media would release that constraint? That is the value you deliver – your imagination. And then a little know-how as icing on the cake. Can you show your client how to use that media and if not, which of your social media colleagues could you co-opt quickly to the cause?

Looking forward to working with you on this. Being able to work quickly and easily with each other illustrates the benefits of social media for small businesses. See you at Media Camp London on July 5, I hope.

PS Paul Imre has posted today linking to his clients who have running blogs. I think this is a good step that we could all take.

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