Today’s guest post is written by Leslie McLellan

It seems to happen every time you talk to small business people about social media, doesn’t it?

Eyes gloss over, hands start to flutter, attention wanes.

You hear “I know it’s important, but it’s so complicated.”

Since when is being social complicated? Social media is another form of simple conversation and if you’re in small business, you have to be involved in the conversation.

Nowhere is it more clearly stated than in the Social Media Revolution video – the ROI of social is that your business will still exist in five years.

I was responsible for marketing a small Southern California resort destination for two years, primarily using social media, not spending a dime on paid advertising. I can tell you it was successful, even though I’m not a numbers person.

We weren’t mired in analytics, we didn’t do fancy things….we were driven by being social, by the online conversation (primarily via Twitter), and we based our success on how many were talking about us as we tracked the conversation via TweetDeck and by how many were staying overnight in the area.

Now, there are plenty of businesses who live and die by their social media analytics, and I’m not disputing how they do things at all. I’m saying for our destination and for small business in general, being social and keeping things simple is critical.

What can be done to help small businesses, destinations, or anyone get over the fear of social media and see how easy it can really be?

I struggled with that question last year and decided to start a monthly social media “meetup” for our community. Anyone who was using, or wanted to start using, social media for business was welcome to attend.

At the first meeting, 35 people attend representing 28 businesses. They ran the gamut from businesses that were socially savvy to those that wanted to start using social media.

To be completely transparent, I had an ulterior motive for starting the meetup. Having had to market a destination for two years without any money and looking at a third year of having minimal dollars to spend, I needed help talking about the destination.

So I had three primary goals:

  1. Get more of our businesses talking about what was happening in the area.
  2. Help  owners promote their own businesses and each other.
  3. Provide a forum where our businesses could learn how easy social media is and to become more comfortable with it.

If these things could be accomplished, it would be a big win for everyone in the community.

To date, in addition to ongoing conversations and questions about Facebook and Twitter, we have covered things such as QR codes, how to set up LinkedIn and Google profiles, Quora, Foodspotting, Pinterest, and the list goes on.

Each month at least one person asks about something new they’ve heard about and we assign a person to check it out and report the following month. We spend a great deal of time with questions and answers. The best part of each meeting is that someone always says, “Oh, I never knew I could do that; it’s so easy.”

I’ve enjoyed watching the meetings evolve. About 20 businesses regularly attend, in addition to many sporadic visitors. Everyone is now engaged in the conversation and a lot of ground is covered in the 90-minute gatherings.

The first few months I provided a list of turnkey Facebook and Twitter posts that businesses could use to enhance and fill in their social media marketing. The posts focused on the destination, upcoming events, the weather – simple things people coming to the area wanted to know about. I don’t have to do that any more as everyone now “gets” it and can do that on their own.

Small businesses need to be shown how simple social media is. They know it’s vital; but so many are unaware of how easy it can be. Do you have a group in your area that helps small businesses make sense of social media? If not, please consider starting one and help others understand it’s not rocket science, it’s simply being social.

After 21 years as the director of marketing and tourism for Lake Arrowhead, Calif., Leslie McLellan is now part of the Tourism Currents team which provides in-person and online training for destination marketing organizations and their small business members. Tourism Currents believes in keeping social media simple. Connect with Leslie on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or via her blog.