by Lauren Fisher (MASHABLE)
Lauren Fisher is the co-founder of Simply Zesty, an online PR and social media agency based in Dublin. She blogs regularly on Simply Zesty on social media and online communications.
New research by Citibank reveals that social media has yet to penetrate the small business world, finding that 76% of the 500 organizations surveyed have not found social media useful in generating business. Maria Veltre, Executive Vice President of Citi’s Small Business Segment says, “Our survey suggests that small business owners are still feeling their way into social media, particularly when it comes to using these tools to grow their businesses.”
On the surface, that’s not very encouraging news for small businesses, however there are plenty of small businesses doing some amazing things with social media. The five companies profiled in this post show that making a splash using social media isn’t about the size of your budget and that the only limit is your creativity.
Kogi BBQ is a mobile Korean BBQ trust that travels around Los Angeles selling Korean tacos. They’ve built up an impressive 45,000 follower base on Twitter () by tweeting where their truck is going to roll up next. The company also recently ran a crowdsourced t-shirt competition, with fans voting on their favorite t-shirt design.
The story behind Kogi BBQ is decidedly home-grown, showing that with a personality and a good product you can build up a loyal community. The now-famous taco truck has basically reached cult status and is an excellent ‘how-to’ for any business who wants to get involved with Twitter.
Lesson: Kogi have shown that social media is about taking the mundane and making it remarkable. On the face of it, a mobile food truck isn’t all that innovative. But a mobile food truck that tweets its way through Los Angeles? That gets people engaged and importantly, the end result is boosted real-world sales.
The Marsh Cafe
With a simple poster in their window, The Marsh Cafe in San Francisco, have seriously demonstrated that they’re ahead of the social media curve. This summer they put up a sign that promoted ‘Foursquare () mayor drinks for free!’ The cafe has received lots of coverage for their innovative marketing campaign, including on mainstream media outlets, such as CNN.
Cari Turley, the manager of The Marsh who runs their social media presence, explains that she is an active user of social media including Foursquare, which is how she came up with the idea for the promotion. She says, “Already, a dozen or so people have written to me about how ‘cool’ the offer is, and really, in the Mission District, cool is the best thing you can be.” As for the impact on business? Since starting the offer, The Marsh cafe has a seen a surge in demand and has hired extra staff and extended opening hours to meet it.
Denis Crowley, co-founder of Foursquare, even contacted the cafe after the promotion and worked to develop a special box application that promotes the offer.
Lesson: By being right at the forefront of new technology, The Marsh has demonstrated how something as simple as an offer for a drink can garner attention and create conversations around your brand. Because the staff at The Marsh are heavy social media users themselves, they know what works and what doesn’t work — and this is invaluable.
Duke of York’s Cinema
The Duke of York’s is an independent cinema tucked away in Brighton, England with a cult following. They’ve successfully brought this following online, through actively engaging with key social media channels. Their Twitter account has grown to over 1,200 followers and they have a regularly updated Facebook Page with over 700 fans. Jon, the manager at the cinema is responsible for their social media activity and is concentrating on Twitter as a channel that is gaining momentum for the business. He explains that it is important to “remain a living presence in people’s lives no matter where they go.”
They’ve recognized that a lot of their clientele are young professionals using new technology, so they adapted their marketing to suit that demographic. Their Twitter account contains a good mix of interaction with followers, as well as links to film teasers, exclusive announcements and special offers. Amidst all this work, Jon also finds the time to run the Splendor Cinema blog, which has also gained national recognition.
Lesson: The Duke of York’s show that they are committed to regularly engaging with their community and keeping the focus on their product. They’ve integrated different social media channels which are all consistently communicating the Duke of York’s brand. They’re using their expertise around different films to generate a conversation around the brand with content that is always fresh.
Wiggly Wigglers is an excellent example of a real local company making it big online. Wiggly Wigglers is a rural store specializing in garden equipment and worm composters, which on the face of it, is not the sexiest of products. But the store has demonstrated how to make their content come alive online. In addition to an impressive social media presence, they’ve also integrated social media into their site.
Their “cinema” page hosts great video demos showcasing their latest products, and they’ve gone even further by recording a regular podcast, where each week you can settle in on the ‘wiggly sofa’ and listen to the program. The company is also using Twitter to post garden tips and updates from the farm, with a distinctive personal touch.
Heather Gorringe from Wiggly Wigglers is active across the company’s social media accounts, sharing her expertise on topics like worm composting, and posting ‘wiggly deals of the day.’ They’re sharing a vast amount of specialist information both on and off their site, which has established them as experts in the area. Their social media activity has brought credibility to their brand and this is priceless for any company.
Lesson: In the case of Wiggly Wigglers, it’s clear that it is ultimately the people that are the face of the company online. Customers engage with a faceless Wiggly Wigglers business account on Twitter, but with Heather herself and it is this which keeps people talking about them.
Howies is a UK clothing company specializing in activewear. By any standards their site is incredibly social and packed full of sticky content. Howies has succeeded in giving their brand a real personality by making sure visitors get to know the individuals within the company. The howies blog is regularly updated by staff members Tim, Ruben, Ben, Pete, and Jon, and each of the authors has a distinct personality which comes through their posts, The blog’s content includes the right mix of product updates, such as t-shirt of the month, and quirky posts, such as Pete’s decision to sell his BMX.
There’s barely a social network that Howies doesn’t have a presence on — they’re even on Last.fm, maintaining an active company playlist. And they’re sharing an impressive amount of content on these channels, having built up over 2,000 fans on Facebook (). They’re also clearly communicating expertise in their area, by joining niche social networks such as Rumplo, where members share artistic t-shirts from around the web. There isn’t an inch of their site that isn’t communicating their quirky personality and it’s certainly working to connect people to the brand.
Lesson: By creating an incredibly social website, Howies demonstrates an understanding of the full social media landscape. It’s one thing to work hard at building an external community on social networking platforms, but the key is retaining this traffic on your own site and creating a social experience for the user that will (hopefully) lead to sales.
These examples hopefully show that it’s not about the monetary investment you make in social media, but how you use these channels to communicate and build a community. Find what it is you have that can add something of value to the conversation online. In today’s connected world, it is the story and personality of a company that will stand out and small businesses are in a great position to take advantage of that.