I found John Battle's post about his reflections after visiting a local cafe near his summer home to be very thought provoking and aligned with our thinking about CloudProfile.
A subset of John's post:
"The local cafe I stopped by is a hangout - a place where the community comes to eat and drink coffee, to gossip and share information, to learn the latest, to connect. It's a social network in its truest sense. It's driven by content - the conversations and knowledge of the staff and customers, and it's driven by community. Commerce is a by product of the two."
"But the commerce is not limited to just the coffee and egg sandwiches on the menu. Not by a long shot. Like nearly every other cafe and community restaurant on the island, there's a bulletin board, and everyone who has something to promote puts up their business card or their flyer. And you know what? It works."
Here were my comments:
I couldn't agree more with John's post. I think there is a tremendous opportunity for small, independent businesses to exhibit the same level of intimacy and engagement online with their customers and with each other. If a small business communicates openly and conversationally online and connects with the communities that they are a part of, I've found that they can translate the offline sense of intimacy into something that is equally (and sometimes more) powerful online. We're trying to address this with www.CloudProfile.com, our new platform which is meant to make this shift really easy for ultra small businesses, and even after soft launch a few weeks ago we're seeing some interesting examples where "clusters" of small businesses are linking their profiles together in ways that remind me of John's photo above.
Regarding the last commenter, this is NOT just about (or even primarily about) being found in search - "social discovery" and word of mouth are equally important and that is one of John's points. We've found through working with about 400K small businesses with our first generation platform that a "conversational, intimate, unassuming web presence" that is interconnected with social media is even more important in helping small businesses to make the leap online. We've definitely had to make things search optimized, but based on in-market learning the most intense value has come from:
- natural, really easy to use conversational publishing (these businesses don't know and don't care about HTML)
- "social syndication" we've built to connect the conversational content with Facebook, Twitter, etc.
- engagement tools that let the profile owner engage the way the customers want to (take my business card with you, talk to me while I'm behind the counter, make an inquiry, comment and talk with other customers, etc.)
- an engagement stream and social radar that helps the profile owner to both be responsive to customers and also "listen" for the places where they need to be fully engaged across the web
Given the right tools where all of the complexity is eliminated, the small businesses can translate their passion for their business and the things they do so effectively offline into the digital world.
Now is the time for small businesses to take these offline behaviors into the online world. Any small business that wants to engage with me about this, just contact me using the Contact button above and I will be happy to have our team give you the red carpet experience.