Thursday, January 26, 2012

Vend Locally, Speak Globally

I can remember how in 1997 when I talked to small local business owners about the excitement of the Internet and what it would make available to them, many of them told me, "I don't need people all over the world to know about my business, my marketplace is right here in this town."

Today if your business does not have a web site however, it's like not having a business phone number. (In fact, even if your business has not yet opened its doors and doesn't actually have a phone number - you still need a web site in place for many purposes.)

The conversation today is very different. I talk to business owners about how they can use a social media strategy and they say something that sounds a lot like what they said in 1997. They ask me if it matters to their bottom line that Twitter readers in New York City can read about their local flower shop or restaurant.

This article makes a great case for how it DOES matter. (Why Online Reputation Matters - Small Business Trends, Jan 2012)

Here's what I have to add in the way of a cautionary tale.

A certain business with prominent success in the Southeast US recently leaned hard on a small business owner who makes t-shirts in his garage. (They may have believed that they had to do this in order to protect their trademarks.) The business owner struck back by mobilizing a veritable army of fans and friends of friends to expose the bullying. He used Facebook, YouTube, and a network of cost conscious blogger moms to spread the word.

Even when the outrage belonged to someone in a distant geographical region (like California or Colorado) where the prominent brand had no business -- the reach of these social media participants did bring the message back into the core markets for the brand.

The t-shirt guy is doing very well, thank you so much. The impact of the boycotts and bad publicity for the larger brand is difficult to measure given that it's a family owned company without a requirement to expose its sales figures.

I can attest that others have told me that they like the larger brand's products, but they will not be purchasing them any more.  Guess the family that owns the company will have to just Eat More Kale.

For you as a business owner, this should serve as an indicator that if you don't use today's tools strategically to manage your brand's reputation, someone else will be doing it for you.