Social media and small business: opportunity and threat

We’re pleased to welcome a new regular contributor to SmallBizPod, Chris Lee. Chris will be exploring how SMEs can make the most of online and offline PR and marketing.

17th August 2009 at 10:15 am

Social media cannot be ignored as you’ll have noticed, if you’ve been reading the SmallBizPod blog over the last year or two.

Not only does social media offer small businesses an incredible opportunity to reach a global audience, but it also presents employers with potential headaches.

Firstly, the good news: social media can really help you grow your business, interact with potential and existing customers, and draw traffic to your website.

If you look at a start-up such as Swedish music streaming service Spotify as a case in point, it owes much of its phenomenal rise to viral word-of-mouth marketing on social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook and Bebo. I heard of Spotify first via Twitter, not via advertising.

However, there’s no point getting involved with networks such as Twitter unless you’ve a clear plan of what you want to achieve, how you’re going to manage it and what are you going to use it for. Likewise with blogging.

I’d always recommend starting up a blog, for search engine optimisation (SEO) purposes as much as using it as a platform to position your company as a thought leader. But then again, a blog is pointless unless it engages the audience and encourages a response.

It’s also going to have no impact unless you plug it via social media – sites like Twitter and news ranking sites such as Digg and Reddit.

Social media is holistic and, most importantly, it’s a conversation. Marketing is no longer a one-to-many tool, it’s a dialogue. Have a listen to my podcast on social media for small businesses and start-ups for more on managing social media from the outset.

Secondly, the bad news: Social media is also a double-edged sword. As well as presenting companies with incredible marketing opportunities, it also presents a whole set of potential issues with confidentiality and staff trust.

Have a look at this recent case where a girl managed to get herself very publicly sacked for comments she made about her boss on Facebook.

Staff who perhaps are not familiar with things like libel, defamation, NDAs and, judging by the above story, are prone to lapses in common sense could seriously compromise your company’s reputation and intellectual property.

You can’t stop social media – the chances are your staff are on some kind of social network – the best thing you can do is form a policy which they should all be clear on. This post will help you form one.

Social media is here, it’s been here for a few years already and it’s only going to get more powerful, presenting both an opportunity and a threat to small businesses.

The smart firms will see how social media can benefit their business and also form policies to manage the inevitability that their staff are engaging on social networks. With so many things in business, it all boils down to common sense and planning.

Chris Lee

Chris Lee is a freelance public relations and digital media consultant. Having spent a decade straddling both sides of the technology media fence – within independent tech PR agencies and also as a journalist for IT Week, Computing and latterly New Media Knowledge. Chris is also the founder and editor of Run Marketing, a DIY marketing site dedicated to small businesses.

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  1. frank golden says:

    Great article; The media landscape is changing for all businesses large and small and if you are not on board then you are quite simply invisible. Take this comment for example; the very fact I have displayed an interest and taken time out to engage with the author, will make Print Hut! more visable than it was 30 seconds ago. As a business owner, I have decided that if I am not managing my online content then I might as well pull down the shutters on the business. However a word of wisdom; this doesn’t mean spending hundreds of pounds on actual web site material but instead try putting just 1 hour in your diary every day to build content, that will then lead your readership onto your business site where they can then make a considered opinion about your business offering. We employ one member of the team to now work for 6 hours a week religously as an online content manager, building presence, visability and that all important online reputation.

  2. Scott Annan says:


    It seems to me that many social media consultants put strategy, SEO, analytics, & “community-building” and before the most important part of social media: having something to say.

    Quality content trumps all of these things for small businesses. If you’re trying to change an industry (or the world), introduce a new approach, or have the new new thing, then it would be foolhardy not to use modern approaches to generate groundswell. (WARNING, plug: As we’re trying to do with a dramatically different approach to managing customers by focusing on the quality of your relationships)

    But is this the right, or even a valuable approach for everyone? Maybe not.

  3. Chris Lee says:

    Hi Scott

    Interesting comments but ‘having something to say’ goes, no pun intended, without saying. If a company has nothing to say about its industry, product/service or the culture around the product/service then it won’t last long…

    Content is key, like you say.

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