Bizzy's Ryan Kuder: Why local businesses need social advocates

Without significant resources, local businesses face a bit of a David and Goliath-type challenge. Companies like Bizzy, however, give them a social voice.
Written by Jennifer Leggio, Contributor

In the social media industry, a significant amount of attention is paid to large companies who engage in successful programs. Companies are lauded for reaching certain follower milestone, or investing unknown dollars into flashy programs. But what about the local business? The mom-and-pop store or even small corporation that doesn't have such extensive resources? Social media offers solutions for them, too. However, without significant resources, they are facing a bit of a David and Goliath-type challenge. Companies like Bizzy, however, serve as advocates for the "little guy." The company, which launched a personalized local business recommendation engine, has found a way to bring social to the local business and to bring local businesses to the masses -- through the Web and through an iPhone app. Ryan Kuder, vice president of marketing for Bizzy, believes this kind of service is critical, and says it is important for social media practitioners to build tools that local businesses can easily use and understand. We talk about this -- as well as the social market overall -- in this latest installment of 100 Brains.

Q. Late last year I asked a lot of social brains what they thought would happen in social in 2010. The most predominant answer was "ubiquity." Do you believe that has been reached?

A. No.  There are plenty of people who don't use Facebook, who aren't on Twitter, who only occasionally use email, and who never check in when they visit the dentist.  And yes.  It's nearly impossible to find a startup who is not incorporating social technology into their offering, to turn on the news without hearing about Twitter or Facebook, or to schedule an event without using online social tools.  That being said, if you define ubiquity as "everyone does it all the time," I think we're looking at another few years until it's "ubiquitous."

Q. You have a unique perspective on social media and the SMB market, and how SMBs require special consideration when going social. Please explain a bit of that.

A. Small businesses are very different than big businesses when it comes to using social technology.  By their nature, they're more social than big businesses and their business hinges much more on their personal relationships with their customers.  Think of the difference between your favorite local coffee shop where they greet you by name and a big chain store where everyone through the door is a stranger.  It's a competitive advantage the little guy has.  This advantage can extend online as well, but the challenge is that a plumber knows plumbing and a hair stylist knows hair and a landscaper knows landscaping.  They don't always know what the new fancy social toys are or how to use them and they never have the time to sit down and learn.  It's therefore incumbent upon us as practitioners to build tools that are easy to understand the value, easy to use, and require very little time commitment to see benefit from.

Q. Do you believe that SMBs have an ability to be more creative with social due to their nimbleness, or are they challenged by lacking the big budgets of enterprises?

A. It's a blessing and a curse.  I like to use coffee shops as an example.  Say Starbucks gets mentioned on Twitter somewhere around 100k times per month.  They have to figure out who to respond to, how to respond, work through corporate bureaucracy, set up systems, etc.  The coffee shop on the corner may get mentioned 100 times per month.  They can respond, do promotions, chat casually with each person, and it costs them a lot less and they can do what they want.  The flip side is that the big company has lots more money and lots more people who can focus exclusively on fostering online relationships with customers.  The little guy can't.  They have to squeeze in the time where they can and that can be hard to maintain an efficient online presence without taking away from other priorities.

Q. Do you believe that in some ways, this social media 'phenomenon' has been overhyped?

A. A bit.  People tend to see it as something that's newer than it really is.  My take is that human behavior changes very slowly.  The tools we have change quickly.  Take sharing a news article. We used to talk about what we read with a friend.  We might have clipped an article and mailed it to someone.  Now, we click the Like button and share it with exponentially more people much faster than ever before, but it's the exact same behavior.  I'm uncomfortable with the industry that has grown up around the usage of tools.  There are Twitter and Facebook coaches now whose qualifications are that they use Twitter and Facebook.  In reality, what we as an industry need to be focused on is the basic human behaviors, how we want to interact and relate to our customers, what the business value of those relationships is, and then focus on the tools with which to do that.

Q. Aside from any work you might do in social, how has social media changed your life?

A. Without social media, we're all a bit limited in the things we can do and the people we can meet.  We may be limited to our family, a few friends, some neighbors and colleagues.  But then imagine one day you're able to go out and meet a whole slew of new interesting people and see interesting things and make new friends and take on new projects that you never could before.  Social media has kind of been like that for me.  It's allowed me to meet people I'd never have met and do things I'd never have done and know things I'd never have known.

Q. What is your social media engagement philosophy? Connect to everyone but engage reactively, engage proactively and connect with everyone who requests it, or limit your connections so that you can be sure to maintain good relationships (the quality vs. quantity question)?

A. I approach it the same way I approach relationships in real life.  I love meeting and talking to new people.  It doesn't necessarily mean that I'm going to put your number in my phone and send you a Christmas card each year, but I love being challenged and having new and interesting conversations.  Every community is different, but if you want to know something about me and I don't mind you knowing, I'll say yes.  If I do mind, I'll say no.  Where relationships are bi-directional I tend to connect liberally with people I know and not connect with people I don't.  Where relationships are one way I'll follow people I find interesting whether they follow me back and I don't feel obligated to follow everyone who follows me.

Q. Finally, what's one thing you want to make sure ZDNet readers know about the web, social, etc.?

A. When I talk to friends and family who aren't active in online social spaces, they're always amazed at how much I participate.  They want to know why I do it and how I find time for it.  The key thing to remember is that it's just people.  People like to meet each other and learn from each other and entertain each other and that's all social media is.  At its most basic level, there's no science behind it...it works the same way relationships have worked for ever.  You've just got different tools to manage those relationships now and if you can figure out the best way to use those tools, there's a lot of value that you'll find buried in those relationships.

Social Business "100 Brains" is a series of 100 interviews with some of social media's most compelling "thinkers" and "tinkerers." Each interview aims to showcase each subject's most unique perspectives and talents. Interviews will run through early 2011. Know a top "thinker" or "tinkerer"? Send an email using the form below.

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