We are excited to bring back our SmallBizSat Q&A series to help businesses prepare for Small Business Saturday.

Jason Falls (@JasonFalls) is one of the most widely read and respected voices in the digital marketing and social media industries. A social listening and analytics innovator, he spends much of his time analyzing online conversations for consumer insights for clients of the Conversation Research Institute and Elasticity, a full-service digital firm where he serves as a strategy advisor.

Q. What are some of the benefits of being “small” that a business owner can leverage to beat out the “big” guys?

A. If you have knowledge and can produce useful content online, you can compete with anyone. Social media’s first big disruption was that random individuals (like Robert Scoble in the early blogging days) became as widely known and easily found as their employers or big companies offering the same expertise. That’s still the case. If you consistently blog and share social content about lawn care – tips, tricks, answers to questions – you can beat out John Deere and others for valuable search engine rankings and social referrals. Social media levels the playing field to a degree. That may not last for much longer as more and more brands are throwing more money at these opportunities, but we still consistently see small businesses breaking through the clutter with outstanding content published consistently.

Q. Is there a common place where you see many small business owners go wrong when they start to market online?

A. By far the biggest mistake small businesses make is giving up too soon. Social media and digital marketing is often an exercise in building relationships. Those don’t happen overnight. Yes, you can throw ad dollars into social media now and get more eyeballs than you could in a short time just a few years ago, but three to six months is simply not enough time to see significant return on the investment. Technology never goes in reverse. This is where consumers are and where they’re going to continue to be. Strap in for a long haul.

Q. We all know those emails or websites that “look” like spam, but what are some strategies you’ve see business owners do to demonstrate their credibility?

A. Answer the questions you’re asked everyday. If one person is asking, there are likely dozens more who want that answer, too. If you just do that, you’re way ahead of the game. Be useful. Tell people how to do things with your product or even that you would do for them. Most people aren’t going to DIY it. They’re going to call the person they trust to do it – the person who posted that video that explained it to them. You.

Q. With so many places for business owners to turn for online advice, how do you recommend they cut through the noise in order to make an impact?

A. The two keys are content and consistency. If you can supply informative, useful content – preferably in an entertaining format – and do it week after week or day after day, consistently, you’re going to beat out a lot of others right off the bat. The more informative and entertaining that content is, based on your audience’s needs and not yours, the more opportunity you’ll have and the more success you’ll see.

Q. When working with new business owners, what are some tools or steps you use to come up with a digital strategy unique to their business?

A. Everyone in that business knows what they know. What I try to find is that personal touch, personality trait or attitude difference that can set that business or its face/voice apart. You never remember the personal injury attorney who just relies on referrals do you? No. You remember the one who has a personality and is plastered all over bus placards and TV commercials. That doesn’t mean every business owner has to have an over-the-top personality to standout, but something needs to set them apart. I also tend to dive into conversation research around their business or industry to look for missed opportunities in connecting with their audience. You’d be surprised what social media conversations can tell you that no one seems to be listening to.

Q. Can people expect to get results from purely organic campaigns these days or is it pretty much required that they have an ad budget for a campaign?

A. Getting return on investment (ROI) from strictly organic campaigns means you already have a huge audience to tap into or your content is head-and-shoulders above everyone else. Chances are, that’s not the case with most businesses, so yes, a paid budget is often needed. The awesome power of social advertising, though, is that if you can narrowly define the target audience well, you can spend as little as $10 to get that social post or message in front of more of the right people, not just more people who will likely pass on your content. So you don’t have to pump a huge ad budget into your efforts, but you should consider supplementing your organic posts with some paid spend.

Q. Online-to-offline. Any examples of companies doing a great job driving traffic to their physical store through online campaigns?

A. There are a lot of examples. Starbucks built an order app. As did Taco Bell and other restaurants. But a better, smaller example is Better Mattresses in southern California. They improved the information saturation on their website, where consumers research mattress purchases, then used pay-per-click campaigns to drive traffic there. The result vaulted them into a better competitive spot and increased in-store traffic.

Q. What tool/strategy do you think will make the biggest impact in 2017?

A.  Caring about your customers and your prospective customers. Pay attention to what they say, want and need. Then respond by fulfilling those requests. You do that, you’re doing well.

Q. Who are some of the influencers who have made a large impact on how you think about online marketing?

A. I’ve had the great pleasure to get to know many people I consider thought leaders and those who have inspired my thinking over the years. From Chris Brogan to Brian Clark and Valeria Maltoni to David Meerman Scott, many of my mentors are also my friends. It’s great to see the inspiration still coming from them all. I only hope I can help a fraction of as many people understand this big world of digital as they have.

Prepare your business for Small Business Saturday with our guide that includes resources, articles, and more!