Why I Do Business with Socially-Savvy Companies


I received a phone call from a sweet older man a few weeks ago. He called because he was upset about Twitter and wanted to talk about it. I made myself a cup of hot chocolate, plopped on the couch and told him to let me have it. And he did. For almost an hour I got to listen as he vented that Twitter made it hard for him to follow conversations (I tried to offer assistance here but he was really mad), that he wanted more than 140 characters to express himself (I didn’t have an answer for this one), and how he thought social media was completely useless for small businesses. No one on the Web is talking about them, he said. Customers are talking about big brands; no one cares about the florist located on the corner of Main Street!

Ah, I love my job.

I chatted with him for a while and tried to drive home the point that people ARE talking about your business, regardless of how big or small. Customers are taking to the streets of Twitter, Yelp, Facebook, and beyond to let people know how much they love or dislike you. Those conversations are out there and it often doesn’t take much more than a search for yourself or a competitor to see how you can take advantage to grow leads, better customer service and build your business. He then asked me a question that made me shut up for a second. I took it as a sign that maybe I was getting through to him.

He asked me if I preferred to do business with small businesses using social media over non-social companies. And if so, why?

The answer, quite obviously, is that I do. For a couple of reasons.

I’m treated better

Companies that are in social media understand the power of influencers. They understand that customers are not equal and that it’s in their best interest to factor that influence into how they deal with them. Jeremiah Owyang touched on this earlier in the week asking if companies should factor in social influence into total customer value and I think the answer to that question, is “hells yes”. Better yet, I think companies are starting to realize that this is something they’re going to need to do. How companies will be able to build resources to identify influencers and break them out from the pack remains to be seen, but it needs to be done. Perhaps being able to match receipts with faces ala services like FourSquare will help. Or maybe companies will dedicated resources to building a new Social Media Rolodex. However they decide to handle it, systems must be created to identify influencers and handle their needs accordingly. When Heather Armstrong goes on a rampage about your brand, someone has to act fast.

I trust you more

I’m more inclined to trust you if I see you participating in social media, especially if you’re a small business. Not being vocal in social media today is like not having a Web site a few years ago. It creates an odd lack of presence that makes me wonder where exactly you are and where you think your customers are. If you’re not reaching out to customers through online platforms, it’s a sign that maybe you just don’t care. When you hang out in social media channels, it’s an immediate trust factor because I know that if I have a problem, there’s an easy way to let you know and get a resolution. I can contact you through Twitter. I can write on your Facebook wall. And as mentioned above, I also trust that a socially-savvy company knows how important I am and is more likely to take my social influence into account when dealing with me. Egoistical? Perhaps. Welcome to the Internet.

[Of course, I also know that if you’re in social media and you DON’T pay attention to my cry for help I have a much bigger mallet to beat you with. Just something to keep in mind.]

I hear things straight from you

When you’re in social media, it means we have a direct line from one another. I get to talk to you, but you also get to talk directly to me and be your own official news source. I don’t have to question whether the rumors are true or spend time hunting down information on the Web. I can just go to your Twitter account or blog for the real deal. Are you closing down your store for renovations? Is open mic night still on for tomorrow? Does that new menu take effect this week or next? It takes all the guesswork out of our interaction and I have an official source that I can trust for up-to-date information about your brand. That’s priceless.

I become part of your story

I like being treated like a human instead a nameless person who just walked into your store. I like creating connections with people. And social media enables me to do that. Through platforms like Twitter, Facebook and online reviews, I get a sense of who you are and your core values. I learn your story and can mentally entwine myself into it. And in doing that, I’m able to reach out to you and become more than just an IP address in your system. You learn my name, we have real conversations and I get to know you on a personal level. Why is this so important for small business owners? Because you can measure charisma in dollars. You don’t have to look much further than some of today’s social media rockstars to see that. Personality will open doors talent alone never could.

I get to feel hip

Fine! Yes, it’s about me! Social media breeds visibility and visibility breeds social proof. The more you’re out there talking to people and creating relationships, the more likely I am to trust you and view you as an authority in your field. And then I want to do business with you because, as a shallow human being, it makes me feel cool to attach myself to businesses that are doing cool things.

Those are some of the reasons why I like to do business with companies actively engaging in social media. Business has always been about building trust and relationships. Social media has simply allowed us to do that on a much grander scale than ever before. It makes sense to seek out those that ‘get it’. Whether we realize it or not they instructively become ‘our favorites’ and the ones we go back to time and time again.

Your Comments

  • Siraj Sirajuddin

    Love it!!!

    How relevant for me and for all of us!

    Thanks a lot!

  • Mark Macdonald

    There seems to be an growing movement towards using social media as a major customer service tool. I’ve seen some companies (and even governments ie. @311toronto) basically use Twitter as a real time help desk.

    The businesses that are doing this are smart becuase you get the sense (especially for online services) that consumer expectations are shifting to expect proactive customer service as a result of the ORM tools now available.

    • Lisa Barone

      Consumer expectations are definitely shifting and we’re taking the power back from the companies that used to have it. You either deal with us on our terms or we’re less likely to deal with you at all. Unless you’re Comcast and then we’re basically stuck with you. BUT OMG WE’RE NOT HAPPY ABOUT IT! :)

      • Mark Macdonald

        lol, as a Canadian, I don’t have to deal with Comcast but believe me, we’ve got our own issues. We pay higher cellphone fees than anywhere else in the developed world. It’s ba-rutal.

  • Curtis Ophoven

    But for a small business on the corner with a local customer base, most of the discussion about their products and services are going to be taking place on the street – not on the web.

    Therefore if you own a small business with a local customer base, I question the ROI in spending valuable time with social media. Investing your time talking face to face with your customers and using traditional marketing channels like radio, billboards, flyers, etc. have a much better ROI. Unless you are targeting the next generation, then perhaps a small investment is social media could be justified.

    • Lisa Barone

      I’m not sure I’d agree with that. If you look at sites like Yelp or even Twitter, people are definitely talking about small businesses. That conversation is NOT confined to the real world. If anything, people are leaving reviews about you. You need to be involved in that. Or, Valentine’s Day is coming. Search for a competitor or a big brand and find ways to take that traffic by getting in those conversations. The idea that “no one’s talking about me online” is what gets a lot of SMBs in trouble. They ARE talking about you. Perhaps it’s worth us doing a case study of a SMB and where exactly the convo is happening about them and how they could have bettered it.

  • Brandon

    I’ve always been taught to do business with those you like. I think your post conveys that message as well.

  • Michael D

    “I’m treated better”
    I’m glad you mentioned that, it brings up thoughts I’ve had on this topic. Just yesterday I was checking out places to eat in the Miami area and MrsChiropractic said something along the lines of “what if many of those reviews are fake?” My thoughts on this have become that if the small business owner is savvy enough to have reviews created (or hire someone to do so), chances are they are going the extra step in business as well. It may not be the case all the time but so far I’ve found businesses that are at least learning to apply social media in their efforts are working to maintain or improve other services as well. I’m looking forward to more of my local business friends and neighbors coming on board, especially since I’m already mayor of their establishments. :)

    • Lisa Barone

      My thoughts on this have become that if the small business owner is savvy enough to have reviews created (or hire someone to do so), chances are they are going the extra step in business as well.

      Ha, really? You think if someone goes the extra step to create reviews for themselves they’ll go the extra step for you? I’d be inclined to think the opposite. If they don’t “get” social media (which would be evident by astroturfing reviews), I’d wonder about whether they “got” everything else that goes along with business.

  • Todd Mintz

    I didn’t know people stayed on one phone call for a whole hour anymore…but since you got a most excellent post out of it, it had to be worth it :.)

    Outside of a few pre-Internet friends and a few relatives, there really isn’t anyone I know or deal with who doesn’t hang out in social media.

    • Lisa Barone

      Ha, yeah. I don’t usually spend an hour talking to CLIENTS, let alone people who are NOT clients, however, I had a feeling this guy was going to give me something I could use later. :)

  • DanielthePoet

    I know I’m so out of the loop. I just read the Dooce post you linked to for the first time. Wow. Awesome proof of what corporations and even smaller business could do with social media.

    My initial thought about the Dooce part, however, is that she probably wouldn’t have gotten the response she got if she had, say, 1,000 followers or less. I guess that’s your point, in that companies need to take care of their influencers.

    At the same time, I wonder what message that sends to the rest of their customers (the overwhelming majority) who rant and rave about their malfunctioning products and get nothing more than a “we’re sorry, you’re just not important enough to solicit any more than this reaction.”

  • Amanda VanLente-Hatter


    I went to a local restaurant this weekend and spent $80 on dinner because of Twitter. They had a special that sounded amazing, but I hadn’t been able to get there the last time. But because I knew they were on Twitter, I asked them if they would be having it again soon. They did, and I made my husband eat appetizers during a big meal with friends specifically so we could go to this place later. And then we got there and they were out – but the waitress went back and found me enough for one meal.

    They started good customer service with social media, and it got me in the door – but the fact that they carried that service throughout the meal is what will keep me going back.

  • Chris Stocker

    I think that Twitter and other social media platforms are better for small businesses than large corporations anyway. Social Media at least gives you a field to play on with companies that have multi-million dollar marketing budgets. A local family owned Italian restaurant may not be able to compete with a budget of Olive Garden and Carraba’s, but they can probably beat them on customer service, taste, and overall better experience.

  • Stefan Petersen

    It’s amazing how aware companies have become about ‘social networking’. With the speed in which social networking has (and is) progressing, it takes a lot of effort in keeping up with it all and staying on top of the latest trends. These are the companies that you want to do business with, because they’re the ones who understand the market.

  • Ryan Beale


    I love it when small business owners don’t believe people are talking about them online in social media networks. I hear that objection at least one time per day as I sell Inbound Marketing Software. The objection goes a bit further though. I usually hear, “my target audience is not looking for my product/service online” and “my target audience is not on any social media networks.”

    Reality Check to Business Owners/Marketers- IT IS 2010! :)


  • Kristi

    Ahh, I love this post because I completely absolutely agree. I also have fwd’d it to at least three people already and it’s STILL in my mind three days later. I love your writing!