If you are like us, then you are a regional business that is trying to determine what the true opportunity surrounding social networking is. If you are like us everyone is reminding us of this opportunity, your employees, your friends, your vendors and even the messages that make it past your spam filter. However, the question that nobody seems to be able to answer succinctly is how to achieve an ROI from the time spent or what that ROI looks like when you are a local business with a relatively small geographical footprint. We have heard suggestions and pointers but not “rationalize to your board of directors” ROI arguments.
CIO Solutions serves Santa Barbara and the Tri Counties area which is basically the northern part of LA to San Luis Obispo. The past month, we have been focused on experimenting with social media to see if we can understand how to effectively leverage it and determine how it can fit within our business model. At first we were skeptical that social networking can really help drive ROI, now we believe it can be done but aren’t quite sure of the exact steps and how much time spent is too much and how much is too little. Maybe you have gone through similar brain storming sessions either with your team or in your head? Listed below are some of the top problems/questions we have with Social Networking and its ability to work for a business like ours.

Join the Conversation: We hear the phrase, “Join the Conversation” all the time. However the value of the conversation that CIO Solutions can bring to the table is a technical one. This conflicts with the fact that usually, our customers hire us because they want an expert who can take care of the technical details, not because they want to hear/read about the technical details. If this is true then how is “joining the conversation” about geeky stuff going to drive net new customers?
National vs Regional: We have posted some articles in our blogs. This resulted in a higher than normal volume of web traffic back to our web site directly correlating to our postings. However this was at a national level with many of hits coming from 1000’s of miles away. How can this translate into more customers in the region we service?
Best Tools: We have accounts on Twitter, Linked In, Facebook as well as a blog(Note: The ability to post comments to our blog is coming soon). Which of these tools is best suited for us… and since each of these tools needs people to join your network, how to I get them to join? Do I simply keep posting stuff on all sites until a potential customer becomes my friend?
Roles: Who in our organization should be responsible for this area of our business? We don’t actually have a dedicated marketing person. Should it be the owner, the operations guy, the person with the most personality? Like many small business we all wear lots of hats, will this SMB model work with Social Networking?
Despite all the unanswered questions our initial month trial has been promising. There has been a lot of help along the way from Social Networking guru’s Lori Robinson of http://ecoastsales.com and Lorrie Thomas of http://www.webmarketingtherapy.com/. Although we haven’t figured out the secret sauce for our business model we have had some success especially within the national community, now the real business question remains and that is solving the ROI puzzel.