On the train on my way home from the airport, I was sitting across from one of those guys talking on his cell phone. You know, the kind talking REALLY LOUD about absolutely nothing—just killing time—but forcing us to listen to it all. But I started to laugh when I saw that my talkative buddy was sitting under one of those anti-terrorism signs that say, "If you see something, say something." I felt like telling him, "And if you don't see anything, shut up."
I like having my teeth inside my mouth, so I said nothing to this large person. But it made me think about social media, because too many companies are panicking over social media just because it is the new thing. "We have nothing on YouTube!" I hear them say, or "We need a blog."
Those are really dumb reasons to get into social media.
Not every company needs a blog. If you make a truly commodity product, you probably don't have too much to say about it. I mean, I need index cards, I buy them, and I use them, but I am not necessarily looking to read about them. I don't know that I need any new uses for index cards.
Now that's a silly example, but it underscores my point. If you don't have something to say, shut up.
I can't tell you how often I get e-mail from PR people asking me to cover their company's latest news. Sometimes, it's valuable information on a subject that I actually cover. But usually it's not. And it doesn't make it any better when the flack apologizes in advance in case it's not something I am interested in.
But this isn't about whether you are wasting other people's time (like mine). It's about whether you are wasting yours. Small businesses aren't typically guilty of sending out annoying press releases—they are more likely to think they have nothing to say. Small business owners aren't the guy yakking on his cell phone, they are the ones silently fuming across the aisle.
Small businesses must find their voices and believe that they have something to say. You're an expert in what you do, so don't be afraid to tell people about it. If you're a consultant, you need to show people you're an expert, so blog about it. If you sell a unique product, use YouTube to demonstrate it. If you offer great service, see if you can get your customers to relate their stories of their favorite service experience.
But notice the reasoning here. You don't create a blog because it's hot. You don't post on YouTube because all the other kids are doing it.
I sometimes get small businesses asking me if there is any ROI from social media, and I ask them what their ROI is from their existing PR. They usually don't know. But when a charitable group asks them to donate a prize for a contest or an industry magazine wants to interview them, they come running. They don't ask about ROI. We need to remember that just because something is new, it doesn't deserve to pass tougher tests than the old stuff must.
I also hear from companies that despair that they don't know how to write, or to make a video, or a podcast. You don't have to. Of course, it's great if you are a good writer or handy with the camera and microphone, but it's not necessary. You can find people who have those skills, like the reporter at the local paper or the cameraman at the community cable TV station. Perhaps your teenage son can do these things. Don't let lack of skills stop you from telling your story. You can find cheap ways for other people to supply those skills, but only you know the story.
So, it doesn't make sense to talk when you have nothing to say. And it doesn't make sense to embrace social media just because it's trendy.
Conversely, don't shy away from social media because you think you have nothing to say,or because you don't think you know how to say it. And don't subject it to ROI demands that old-fashioned publicity can't fulfill either.
Instead, understand that you probably do have something to say. You do have stories that people care about and will willingly pass along. You do have helpful information that your customers need. Start finding your voice.