Liz Strauss (@lizstrauss on Twitter) is a leadership trainer and branding strategist who founded SOBCon (hashtag #SOBCon on Twitter), a social media think tank where business owners, marketing execs, and internet luminaries gather to share best practices. Since the very first SOBCon in 2007, the event has attracted a loyal following of “SOBconverts” with a philosophy of “where virtual meets the concrete.”
The Intuit Small Business Blog chatted with Liz about how small businesses can create a successful blog, build a brand using social media, and more.
ISBB: What are the biggest branding challenges you see small businesses facing?
Strauss: They don’t understand the market and how it’s changed because of the internet. They don’t understand that they need to narrow their niche to widen their opportunity. Before there was an internet, everything was about location, location, location. We put our store at the corner of State and Main and everyone got to us by car, foot, or train.
Before the internet, we were geographically niched. The internet came along and blew everything open. You’re competing with people from Alabama to Zimbabwe. What has happened is the new corner of State and Main is the first page of Google. “Location, location, location” has become “solution, solution, solution.”
Nowadays there are tons of people promoting themselves as social media strategists. How can small business owners tell if someone is the real deal?
There are lots of people who have read the books and understand the theory and have played with the tools in practice. There is one key question that I suggest people ask: “Have you ever held a job in which other people would lose their income if you made the wrong decision?” This cuts to the idea of whether the social media practitioner has ever been in a position of profit and loss responsibility. It’s really easy to go around and have ideas and walk away. It’s harder to have ideas where you know other people will lose their jobs if your ideas fail.
What would you say to small business owners who think they don’t have time to blog or engage with social media?
What I always say is, “Do you have time to use the telephone?” I pretty much say in any sentence that has the term “social media,” you should be able to replace it with “telephone” and it still should be valid. Social media is just another relationship-building tool. There was a time when we didn’t use email. There was a time when businesses only had one telephone. The idea that we’re going to have one person in our company use the telephone is ludicrous.
What are the biggest mistakes you’re seeing on business-oriented blogs, and how can readers avoid them?
It’s interesting that we do things online that we would never do in person. So, for example, you would never walk up to me and start selling your products without even saying hello. It’s just as rude on Twitter as it would be in person. Please say hello before you start selling me. Be helpful, not hypeful. The other thing I see people doing is they’re still writing as if their eighth grade teacher is reading their blog. Loosen up!
Anything else you’d like to add?
One of the perfect uses of a blog is to let people know what you’re exploring and as you explore it, lay it out so people can join the exploration with you and thereby help your business grow by participating in the thinking instead of just responding to it. As soon as you have an idea, start inviting people to help with it. Amazing things happen. They feel like they own it so they participate more deeply. You protect it and take care of it because it’s partially yours. More than that, if they help you build it, they’ll bring their friends.