Melinda Emerson, known to many as the SmallBizLady, has established herself as one of the top experts on small businesses. Named the No. 1 woman for entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter by Forbes, Emerson provides expert insight on start-ups, business development and social media marketing. She can be found on Twitter on Wednesdays from 8-9 p.m. ET hosting #SmallBizChat. In the following Q&A, Emerson talks about ways in which all small businesses can use social media to connect with their customers among other things.
PR News: How important is an effective PR strategy to small businesses?
Melinda Emerson: A strong public relations strategy is critical to the success of a small business in today’s economy. PR encompasses social media, press releases and media relations, so it is essential for small businesses to be operating from a PR perspective.
PR News: How has the advancement of social media impacted how small businesses interact with their customers and partners?
Emerson: Social media enables a small business to get real-time feedback from customers. It is also a great way to listen to customers and the competition without them even knowing that you are listening in. It is a competitive advantage to be aware of customer pain points. Social media is also a great way to test things on customers, from pricing to packaging to product sampling.
PR News: What factor is often missed when small businesses try to integrate social media into their business objectives?
Emerson: Too often small business owners think they need to be everywhere on the social media spectrum. Not so. They should only be where their best target customer hangs out online. Certainly, they should claim their profiles, but they should not be killing themselves trying to maintain a Facebook fan page, Twitter account, LinkedIn profile, Google+ page and a Pinterest account. Pick one social media account and dominate there by consistently adding value to the conversation, before moving on to another social media site.
PR News: What PR advantages/disadvantages do small businesses have over larger organizations?
Emerson: The only disadvantage I see is that large companies can have more people working on PR than a small business. They can hire a monitoring service to help them know what is being said or a PR firm to pitch media, but journalists like myself are looking for real, authentic stories.
In today’s economy, the ability to develop personal relationships online are where small businesses have the advantage. One-on-one relationships are how sales are made. People do business with people they like, know and trust online. It’s all about who adds more value. Compelling content is currency online. I see large companies trying to appear small online to have an advantage. If you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door, no matter who you are.
PR News: What tips do you offer small businesses that are short on cash and resources?
Emerson: For small business short on cash the answer is to start using social media. Use the HELP mantra: Help others, Engage people, Listen first to learn the culture of each social media site, Promote yourself with care. No one wants to be sold to. Research your keywords. Get started now. It's not too late, but recognize that it could take 12-18 months to see financial results from using social media.
PR News: What do you get asked about the most?
Emerson: Small businesses want to know where to get started with social media. They are already overwhelmed with the 10 jobs they do each day, and social media seems like just another thing they need to do but don’t really know how to do it or be strategic about it. That’s why I wrote my new ebook How to Become a Social Media Ninja; 101 ways to dominate your competition online. It’s a tips book to help people understand the strategy behind using social media, and all the shortcuts for Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube and Pinterest. It will be released Oct. 22.
PR News: What is the objective of #Smallbizchat and what have you been able to learn from that weekly interaction?
Emerson: The mission of #Smallbizchat is to end small business failure, by helping people succeed as their own boss. We do this by inviting small business experts to come on live every Wed 8-9 pm ET on Twitter to answer small business questions. I call it my Twitter talk show. I launched the show in 2009, and I’ve had over 170 guests on talking about all aspects of starting and running a small business enterprise. We also publish the #Smallbizchat Q&A interview every Thursday morning on my blog for anyone who may have missed it or doesn’t use Twitter. What I’ve learned from #Smallbizchat is that when your mission is to help others, you help yourself tenfold.
Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson