Social Media and Networking for Small Businesses

I listened to a very good talk last weekend by Eric Qualman, author of Socialnomics, about social media and social networks. Eric had a lot of  good examples about how companies such as JetBlue, McDonald’s, and Burger King are taking advantage of social media to promote their brands and their products.

But what about small businesses? What if you are a startup or a neighborhood business, and you don’t have the millions of potential fans that a JetBlue or McDonald’s would have — not yet anyway?

This is actually a situation we’ve faced ourselves, starting opentaps Open Source ERP + CRM on a shoestring. And looking back, we’ve only been able to do it because we were able to tap into an online social network called “open source,” which is an online collaborative community of software developers that predates Twitter, Facebook, Google — even the Internet itself.

What we’ve learned don’t contradict what Eric and other people have said about social marketing, but there are a few twists I would like to point out:

Join a Bigger Network

When you are small, your network is also small, so you try becoming a prominent part of a larger network, instead of just promoting in your own network. For us, this meant making ourselves known in the larger open source community of software developers and users looking for open source software by releasing our software and our ideas to them.  Fortunately, people liked them.

Network (verb) through the Networks (noun)

Use social networks as an opportunity to network with other people in compatible fields.  For example, we’ve benefitted from associating with other open source software projects, such as Apache, MySQL, PostgreSQL, Funambol, Pentaho, JasperReports, etc.

Be Memorable

Most importantly, be memorable. Be different. Believe it or not, the small business has the advantage here. People are always looking for interesting new things to talk about.  If you are a small business with a memorable product or service, the word will spread a lot faster now than ever before.