Social media presents unique opportunities and challenges alike for small businesses. It provides an unprecedented way to amplify word-of-mouth marketing efforts, a bread-and-butter tactic for local businesses. But it can also feel daunting to compete with the social-marketing budgets of larger competitors.
A new mobile application called Perch is designed specifically for small businesses to better understand their social media presence. It lets them track customer reviews from across social networks, including Facebook, Yelp and Google, not just for their own businesses but for competitors as well. The app is from Closely, a company started by former MapQuest co-founder Perry Evans.
Evans has been helping small businesses use digital tools to improve their local marketing for years. We asked him for insight on how smaller shops can use social media to their advantage in today’s competitive market:
Is social media marketing the big equalizer between big brands and small businesses?
Most definitely. Social plays to the very heart of small business differentiation. A business owner will always tell you that word-of-mouth marketing is their most important marketing channel. Also personal service and experience combine to define the local business brand much more fully than the packaged and managed dynamics of big brands. Social media, especially when combined with loyalty and referral marketing best practices, can be smartly leveraged to help a local business truly stand out.
Should small businesses be worried now that Facebook, YouTube and others are attracting big-brand dollars? Will the medium get more expensive for smaller brands, perhaps even inaccessible?
We interact a lot with the big guys like Facebook, Google and Twitter and their commitment to small business seems to be accelerating, not waning. I think the media players have finally begun to understand the small business needs, and are increasingly tailoring products to this segment. While competitive price pressure is inevitable, we do see more and more product innovation aimed at SMB kicking in.
Is social media worth the investment for small businesses who have limited marketing budgets?
I think it’s actually less a budget issue, and more a time challenge. Small business people are smart and intuitive decision makers. Show them how to grow their business, with spending that can be demonstrated as variable to revenue, and budgets will be there. The larger roadblock is how to help the business sort out how to rank and prioritize their activities.
Social marketing is a must-do for many small business categories, but it also varies dramatically by business type. A dentist shouldn’t waste their time with Foursquare or LinkedIn, and an urban salon should be all over Instagram and Yelp.
Can social marketing be a substitute for traditional marketing?
I like to think of social marketing as Word-of-Mouth Marketing 2.0. Small businesses will tell you referrals and WOMM are their best form of marketing. So, it stands to reason that the fundamental of social should become core to marketing effort and spending. Traditional marketing for small business used to be dominated by Yellow Pages and Newspaper advertising, which deserve limited attention. However, e-mail marketing needs to be aligned with social: They work hand-in-hand to capture, interact and leverage your everyday customer interactions.
How does Perch help small businesses with social marketing?
Perch helps about 70,000 business owners efficiently stay in the know about what’s happening with their business across Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, Instagram, Google+, Daily Promotions, and to follow how your local competitors are using all of these tools. We aim to help them watch and learn. From this, the business gets a much stronger intuitive view of what is important, what is working, and what deserves their attention. Perch links directly into the apps of the social and mobile landscape, so the business is always one click away from directly interacting with consumers via the experiences of these tools.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed.
Perry Evans is CEO and founder of Closely, a company that has developed a free mobile app called Perch that allows small business owners to discover what businesses in their neighborhood are doing to engage with local consumers via social sites, check-in apps, deal sites and reviews. He is also a founding executive of MapQuest, Jabber and Local Matters.