I attended The [California] Governor’s Conference on Small Business and Entrepreneurship last thursday at the Oakland Convention Center. One of the sessions I sat in on was about social media and online marketing. It was the mirror of an identical session in the morning that I was unable to attend.
The panelists included representatives from Google, Yelp, Twitter (where I got the sticker), Cafe Press and the California Restaurants Assn. Each panelist got to talk for about 5-10 minutes and then there was a Q&A session.
While there was some sophistication, the Q&A session revealed just how much help most SMBs need. Yelp’s Vince Sollitto, who was on both panels, said that the earlier session had a higher level of sophistication and greater engagement.
I took a lot of notes but I’ll summarize and provide a few observations.
More people in the room had a facebook page than were AdWords advertisers. But about 3/4 of those in the audience were on LinkedIn.
Google’s Claire Johnson spoke repeatedly about claiming listings on Places and about search marketing. It became clear however that most of these folks were very far away from search marketing.
Most of those in the audience were familiar with and used Yelp as consumers, but only a few had used the business tools. Yelp’s Sollitto said Yelp had 31 million uniques and 10 million reviews. He addressed the issue of negative reviews by saying, “negative reviews are an authenticator” and provide credibility — ironically. Not sure if those in the audience bought the argument. When he cited the URL, biz.yelp.com, however, lots of people wrote it down.
Francesca Helina of Twitter talked about tweeting “on the go” and discussed Twitter apps as the best and most convenient way to tweet. She hinted at a number of services for SMBs to come and discussed Twitter’s window sticker. She briefly mentioned Promoted Tweets, but focused on the free service. She referenced two accounts (@smallbiz and @Francesca) where marketing on Twitter and best practices would be showcased.
John Goddard of the California Restaurant Assn said that 73% of CA restaurants were independent. He talked about how many have adopted social media and Twitter in particular. “A lot of chefs are blogging” and building social media strategies around their blogs, said Goddard.
I was somewhat surprised to see how many in the audience were using Google alerts (roughly 1/3) as a basic form of reputation management and review monitoring.
Café press extolled the virtues of search marketing saying “30% of our business from Google search.”
The moderator, a woman from Palo Alto Software, threw around tips and jargon that were generally way over the heads (from my perspective) of the audience. Indeed, most of the discussion from the podium was more advanced than the people in the room — sometimes painfully so.
This is an extreme example, but one woman asked for advice on what types of content would make her website (which she hadn’t developed yet) interesting. This reflected to me the very basic level of understanding — or lack thereof — of online marketing possessed by some small businesses.
One older woman, selling Japanese medicinal herbs, talked about her frustrations with consultants who made big promises about SEO and high rankings (There’s a ton of that going on out there.)
I conduct surveys of SMBs and talk about their issues frequently in the abstract. But it’s very helpful to be in a room like this from time to time to see the challenges they confront in a very direct way. For them the world is only getting more complicated and, while there is growing awareness and sophistication in some quarters, the smallest SMBs need a lot of help — a lot.
Related: Google offers a co-branded (with the SBA) site/tutorial on online business marketing fundamentals.