This week I found a wonderful one-two punch of encouragement for small businesses venturing online—and make no mistake, small businesses are flocking to social media and online video. The articles offer me two instances that prove that small business has no reason to be afraid.
First lesson? Some of the "little guys" are succeeding in big ways.
Take this case study about an auctioneer in Tennessee who is harnessing video and social media in ways his competitors probably aren't ready for. The subject is Ray Carman, who comes from a traditional auction business background. Working with a local social media consultant, he has embraced the low-cost/high-impact potential of online and social media marketing.
It all started with standard SEO, helping him climb the ranks of the Google search results. He followed that up with Facebook and other profiles, with a healthy dose of participation. After a few months of dutifully logging in and maintaining his online presence, Carman started to see new business start trickling in. He estimates that 80% of his business is now coming from social media and online promotional efforts.
It's a fantastic object lesson for any business owner, small or large, who is staring at rising operating costs and traditional offline marketing costs and is trying to brainstorm new methods of reaching customers.
The second lesson is kind of the mirror opposite. It's Microsoft's latest video, called "Hosting Your Party.” Microsoft is hoping to get people to host their own Windows 7 launch party—a laughable enough idea to begin with. There's a website for interested party hosts, who will also receive a free copy of the operating system in exchange for their help spreading the word.
In fact, the video is so bad, it's quite possible that it's some sort of a double-fake viral offering from Microsoft… one where they set out to intentionally make an awful video and generate buzz that way. If so, good for them. But even if that's the intent, this is far from the first Microsoft online video to get a negative reaction—remember the Songsmith video or the Seinfeld/Gates odd couple routine?
What's the lesson for small business in all this? Don't be afraid to fail. In fact, you might be best off by expecting failure. Even online marketing giants such as Microsoft have a few failures for each of their hits. And they have gigantic budgets and entire creative teams at their disposal. If they can fail so spectacularly, then no business should have any remorse if a creative online marketing attempt falls short.
The fact is that online videos are incredibly cheap to produce and distribute. Social media is easy, free, and proven to work. Outside of pride, there's already very little to lose in giving it a shot. Seeing an auctioneer succeed and a software giant fail should merely illustrate the level playing field that is online marketing.
Maybe it's time to jump in. What's the worst that could happen?