This article originally appeared in Franchise Times, a monthly publication focused on the start-up, growth, and sustainability of franchises in North America.

A couple of months ago, I moderated a panel on social media for the Public Relations Society of America Chicago. Along with some local big hitters, Jack Monson from eNR Services was on the panel. I tell you this because eNR plays in the small and local business industries and we had a conversation about using the Internet for business growth.

As the moderator, I had the privilege of asking the questions and taking the conversation where I wanted it to go. So I relayed some stats from a survey that Citibank did about social media use among small business owners (thanks to Jason Falls for blogging about the survey initially).The survey found that:

• 81 percent of small businesses surveyed are not using social media;

• 37 percent are not using their websites to expand their businesses;

• 84 percent don’t sell their products or services online; and

• 65 percent do not use online advertising.

I posed the question, “As PR professionals, what kind of opportunity do we have to help small businesses understand how using the web can help them grow their companies?”

What I found interesting was the variety in responses. One panelist said his PR firm doesn’t work with small businesses so he couldn’t answer the question; another said he felt like the web was too overwhelming for small business owners. I completely disagree with this … and I’ll tell you why in a minute.

And then Jack piped in and said that not only can small businesses use the web to grow their companies, they can use it to localize their messages and get involved in their communities at a different level than ever before. I agree.

The opportunity you have before you is huge. Ever heard of David and Goliath? You suddenly can compete with a great, big global competition because:

• You are using social media to build a community of people who care about your brand, your products, or your services and they tell their friends and family.

• You are creating one-off products that allow people to buy from you online.

• You are developing a robust e-mail database to whom you can market.

• You are using search engine and social media optimization to attract new customers.

And, because most of the tools are free, the opportunity costs are so minimal it doesn’t make sense for you not to be changing the way you communicate, market, and sell.

Sounds like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? So Jack and I ask you, what is one thing you are going to do to use the Internet for business growth?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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