Do Small Business Social Media Blunders = Small Business Marketing Blunders?

When you’re a small business owner, do social media blunders automatically translate into business marketing blunders.?

No matter what size business you run, business marketing blunders are what happens when we, as business owners, take our eyes of the road – and sometimes take our hands off the wheel.  (Ah – there it is again.  Another example of how marketing a business is like planning a trip. )  However, when you add social media into the marketing mix, the chances for missteps increases exponentially!

In the past, some of the most spectacular marketing blunders have happened when otherwise smart business owners agree to allow someone else  to take control of the marketing strategy. As a result, the business owner takes his or her hands off the wheel and leaves the driving up to a professional (or group of professionals).   Sometimes, that trust is horribly misplaced.  A case in point is the notable Motrin Viral Marketing Mess of 2008.  However, unfortunately this mess does not stand alone. There are a surprising collection of marketing blunders for 2008 – almost all are centered around companies with six figure monthly ad budgets being managed by marketing professionals who should have known better.

Collateral Damage has compiled a list of the top 10 marketing blunders of 2008 with the number 1 marketing blunder being declared a tie between John McCain and GM. (Personally, I don’t think John McCain’s marketing blunders can in any way compare with the scope and magnitude of GM’s mea culpa ad.  GM’s dedication to disappointing customers without remorse – until the handouts begin gives it TOP marketing blunder billing in my book!)  Meanwhile the Otherside Group has their own nominations in 8 Noteable Marketing Blunders.  Their top pick – the Microsoft’s ads which attempted to be “fun”and “cool” “just like Apple”.  Unfortunately, when Microsoft tried on that persona, the result was anything other than “fun and cool”.

It’s easy to sit back and feel smug as you watch the big guys go out and stub their toes as they attempt to build “a brand” for thei business – but what about the small business social media blunders that are going on every day?  Do those count as small marketing blunders?

Marketing Pilgrim touches upon this topic in a comic reminder to avoid social media blunders.  The post features an illustration which shows three unemployed people who confess that they are “unemployable” because of things they put on their social media profiles.  However, it’s not just the “wage slaves” who are making epic missteps in the world of social media.  From Facebook to Myspace to YouTube – small business owners are making social media blunders daily.

When you’re a small business, I don’t think it’s possible to separate the sharing and communication that goes on in social media from the marketing of your small business.  The two are just opposite sides of the same coin in my book. However,  Beth Harte in her post Is social media the same as marketing? respectfully disagrees.

I agree that social media plays a different role in the business where “marketing” is a department and the advertising budget is a six figure proposition than it does in a small business.  In the small business though, marketing is not a department and often it’s not even a job title.  More often than not, marketing in the small business is that thing that you do when you’re not busy doing what it is you do to make the mortgage payment every month.  (Try saying THAT ten times fast!)

However, there’s another important difference between the social media blunders of the “big boys” and the social media blunders small business owners make.

In the case of a small business – a social media blunder doesn’t have any possibility of an upside.

See, when a small business owner makes a social media or marketing blunder, it rarely generates the ensuing media coverage which accompanies larger scale social media and marketing blunders.  When Microsoft or GM makes a  blunder – everyone from Seth Godin to the most obscure blogger jumps on the bandwagon to report the tragic, misguided effort.   The ensuing public dissection creates a lot of activity and attention which brings to mind the axiom that there’s no such thing as bad press!

All those mentions – all those links – all that discussion usually end up doing little to do long term damage to the reputation of a well established business.  (The effect on a start-up is significantly different by the way – case in point – Cuil.  Turns out when you’re a startup there IS such a thing as bad pubilicity.)   When you’ve got a long track history in the public eye – a “negative” mention here or there only heightens your visibility and therefore reputation over the long run.

Meanwhile,  when we small business owners make a social media or small business marketing blunders – there is no upside.  More often than not, a botched attempt at shameless self promotion in a graceless age won’t end in a thrashing at TechCrunch and the accompanying increased links, buzz and notoriety.  On the contrary, when a small business owner makes a social media or business marketing blunder, there is no press coverage and therefore no positive effect.  Instead, potential customers and clients just quietly unsubscribe from our RSS feeds, stop following us on Twitter or simply ignore our message in the future and move on with their lives.  While they may forget about us, their search for another provider of the products and services we so lovingly provide will continue.

What do you think?  Is it possible for social media communications to be distinct from small business marketing communications?

Also, does the size  of the business matter when making that distinction?

Comments

  1. Hi Kathy,

    If we are in business then everything we do from blogs and Twitter to the way we talk on the phone has an impact on people’s perception of our business (and us personally…) So yes, a social media blunder will have implications. But as you point out, smaller businesses will be impacted in a smaller way.

    In fact, I think the impact grows exponentially with the size of the business. More people blogging, more major news services picking up on the story, etc. At that level too, you have professional spin doctors to help as well — a luxury that most small businesses cannot afford.

    Great post, and obviously a lot of thought put into it!

    ~Graham

  2. I guess I see the connections, sure but not always are people writing blogs and content that do relate to their small business. It depends where the relation ties in whether the impact will have enough scale to make a difference. I think the advantages of social media certainly outweigh any risks for promotion, but it MUST be done without any SELF promotion component. Social media works by giving to others and that is no different than marketting. If you can offer value, you will increase sales. If you sell yourself, you will not.

    Mike Kings last blog post..Leadership: Understanding What It Is

  3. Flood Rescue - Cecilia says:

    I also have a small size business. I don’t think it matters for the distinction that you are referring.
    Water Damage Orange County

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