I took an email from a guy who said he was interviewing me for a Cisco newsletter, on social media and small to medium size business. I gave him these answers and then realised: I never checked. He could just be some dude wanting free tips to give to clients. Heh. But I doubt it. Anyway, in case, here are his questions and my answers. Gained from teaching several hundred SMBs for the Department of State and Regional Development for Small Business September etc. Feel free to give your own (answers, that is):

1. What is your definition of social networking?

An online community is where, if one day you don’t show up, people miss you. The social network can extend across multiple sites and platforms – you take your friends with you to Facebook, MySpace, your blog, Second Life, Twitter, World of Warcraft.

2. Why should a small to medium business add social networking to their marketing mix?
Well, customers visit an online community 9x more often and stay 5x as long than on a static passive website. Social media marketing means that brand recall is 4x higher than search engine marketing. And there are other obvious soft ROI such as customer service and technical support costs drop 5x-10x – peer to peer support means that one customer can ask a question in a forum or chat channel, and dozens of other customers will try to answer it.

In addition, because blogs and wikis and so on offer both valuable word of mouth unsolicited testimonials, as well as a ripple broadcast mechanism, a few good testimonials may lead to millions of extra visitors. We’ve seen cases of 7 bloggers being informed of a new product and they generated 35 million media hits.

Other positives include free or cheap services. A Facebook Fanpage is a free way to communicate with over 100 million regular users, via forums and video gallery and so on. And it includes analytics (average age of members, number of visits to Fanpage and so on). YouTube is a free place to host your DIY or handy tips marketing videos. Flickr for schematics and graphs and helpful tips diagrams. A blog gives you both a place to write your content for free and way of publishing that content without relying on heritage media and traditional journalists to choose whether or not they will pick up on your news.

Statistics from my blog post 2 years ago
http://laurelpapworth.com/2006/10/quick-info-webdirections-preso.html

3. What kinds of social networking strategies are the most successful?

Ensure that you speak to customers in a human voice (use I, and me, and we) not third person (“The company announced”). Understand that social media campaigns are about building longterm relationships – yes, really, not just saying it – and don’t turn off or delete user generated content when it no longer suits YOUR purpose. That will just undo all the good work.I like dine-in and take-away strategies. Dine-in is where the customer can come to a branded micro-community site and interact with the company. There is a more powerful feeling of having their ‘voice’ heard, and tends to limit hot issues to one site rather than spreading across the net. But expecting or demanding clients to work only on your own page is self-defeating – give them widgets and facebook applications and RSS feeds so they can take your marketing and PR news to their social networks.

Word of mouth is about targeting the right individuals, not broadcast. A handful of influential bloggers or social networks can create many many discussions. Understanding that social networks come together on both Purpose (stated aims) and Values (hidden or lifestyle choices) helps choose the correct strategies for approaching the right networks. Because of the shared values – if I like technical things, chances are, my mates do too – it makes it easier to generate conversations.

4. How can a small business get started?

The first step is probably to do a social media audit – have a look around, don’t just Google search, try and find out who the top bloggers in the industry are, who the niche bloggers are, what Facebook and MySpace pages there are, what services are being used.Then get social media assets together. Maybe you have a video of how to use some of your stuff? Even a rough one will be fine on 5min.com (site for DIY and HowTos). What about a powerpoint presentation? Post it up on Slideshare.com. Photos or schematics or charts? Flickr or other image sharing service.
Then pull them together into blog posts using a free or cheap service. WordPress.com, blogger.com (Google). Embed the photos and videos. Allow others to embed your videos (after all, they are advertising your stuff if they use your videos). Don’t spend a fortune, it’s the content not the format that’s important.
Seed those informational media assets elsewhere – online communities, fanpages on Facebook, anywhere where you can offer value.
Connect with leaders in the blogosphere (check the bloggies and top blogger lists)Don’t forget to measure. Facebook Fanpages (not groups) has analytics including charts. So does TubeMogul (compares how one video sharing site is doing against another). Delicious and Technorati will show you trends in your keywords and links to you.

5. How does social networking reduce marketing costs?

With traditional media, you are paying for volume/broadcast in a short head. By this I mean, if the customer is watching a popular TV show, and see your ad, you have the numbers. But once the show is over, the ad is gone.
Online, your content moves from the short head to the long tail. A blog post from two years ago may become popular and topical. A video from last Xmas may hit the top of the YouTube lists for some reason – no one misses the info cos they made a cup of tea in an ad break!
Most sites are free – never before has a company had the opportunity to have their own TV broadcast channel (Mogulus.com) or Radio Show Live (BlogTalkRadio) for free. The cost is in monitoring – make sure you understand RSS and how to use RSS readers to cut down time online monitoring what is being said about your brand.

6. How does a business determine how its existing and potential customers use social networks?

By doing a social media audit. Use media gathering tools – Hitwise and so on are good. Ask them! Check the Technorati ranking of the bloggers you like in your industry and find out what social networks they get together on. After all, a social network online simply mirrors offline. Perhaps they have a forum? Maybe a MySpace page? Or simply a MSN Messenger chat channel? Once you find the first few top bloggers – influencers or evangelists – look at their profile and blogroll (sites they like to visit) to see where they hang out. Social networks share Purpose, Values and Interests. So a group that likes to talk about climate control will often have similar values and interests – recycling, hiking/biking to work, eco-holiday interests.

7. Do small businesses have an advantage over larger corporations in that they are in theory closer to their customers?

Large companies worry about Lawyers, HR and P.R. – as a target for lawsuits and mainstream media/tabloid attention. Therefore they are not as willing to make mistakes and fail forward. The social web is about developing a relationship between company and consumer – and no relationship is completely perfect or great straight away. The willingness to blog one’s values and interests, come under attack, respond back, gain respect and eventually win trust is something that small companies seem more willing to do.
I think there is also an issue with moving from the honeymoon customer service phase (the customer is always right) to the real relationship phase (that is not correct and let me put in the forum how we see it) for major corporates.
Remember: Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook was told by 1/3 of his network, that signed a petition within 48 hours, to remove the NewsFeed from Facebook. He told them: no, take a chill pill. The NewsFeed is the most viral marketing touch point of Facebook today – how many corporates could have resisted a 1/3 of their customers (just under a million out of Facebook’s then 3 million members) and gone ahead with their vision. This is where a small business owner, who can gain an audience, is free to stick with their vision, as long as they are passionate and clear about what they want from their online community.

I quite like the new layout of my blog – what do you think?