Social Media – The Great Digital Divide

Posted by Rich McElaney

I’ve had the good fortune of primarily working with larger clients with the budget and support staff that allow them to experiment with their marketing in a way that elevates long-term success. Recently, I ‘ve been spending a fair amount of time with smaller businesses and a picture is quickly emerging - and it’s one that causes me no small level of angst. The picture is of a sizable digital divide between the haves and have-nots, the enlightened and the uninformed, the successful practitioners and the frustrated masses.

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The divide manifests itself in many ways:

  • It’s the divide between the creators of new platforms and their intended users – specifically the creators’ vision and the user base’s innate understanding of how to leverage the platform for business benefit
  • It’s the divide between the practitioners (agencies, marketing companies, software companies, marketing consultants, freelancers) understanding of social media and their ability to translate their knowledge and tailor it into successful strategies for their clients
  • It’s the time divide for business owners who are already consumed by working in their businesses and lack the bandwidth to learn how social media can help them work on their businesses
  • It’s the distance divide where businesses not yet using social media to help grow their businesses fall further behind and feel varying degrees of futility in playing the catch-up game

It’s these last two divides that are the most challenging ones because they can freeze a business into inaction - which is the last place any business owner would willingly, knowingly, want to be.

I am always racking my brain for ways to come up with meaningful analogies, word-pictures and simple constructs for my small business friends and clients to help them quickly grasp the potential power social media holds for their businesses.  A few weeks ago I compared the life-long challenge of staying in shape with the challenge of successfully leveraging social media for business benefit. That seemed to work well for those who already have a fitness regimen but fell short with the ones that don’t.

I was on a Skype call with my friend Dorien Morin-van Dam from More in Media yesterday (she is deeply involved in providing social media training for small businesses – check out her site) and we were discussing how to break through the fear/doubt/reluctance barrier many small business owners have with stories, case studies, analogies and situational constructs.  See if either of the following two do anything for you.

If you opened a retail sporting goods store would you for one moment consider scouring your preferred market for just the right location, signing a long-term lease, agonizing over every detail of signage and then completely skip connecting your utilities, selecting, hiring and training staff and stocking your store with the perfect mix of the most coveted brand name products?

If you were a service business – let’s say a landscaping company – would you purchase a fleet of trucks, professional-looking uniforms and shiny new tools and then forget to secure any plant inventory, phones for the office, fuel for the fleet and mandatory liability insurance for your employees?

What’s missing in these scenarios and what is the potential impact of the omissions? I’d venture to say that several key foundational pieces are missing and the potential impact is the inability of these businesses to build momentum, grow and prosper. To most business owners, from aspiring entrepreneurs to battle-scarred business veterans, these basic, foundational gaps seem pretty obvious. 

I welcome the day when this type of ready understanding extends to the need to build foundational support for small business’ engagement with social media to the level where it positively impacts their business objectives in a highly measurable way.

In the very near future, I plan on doing some small business surveying in order to get a sharper picture of their current thinking about social media and I will share the results in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!

Tags: social media success, social media, strategic marketing plan