I headed to Dublin with a sense of privilege and cynicism. Facebook had invited 500 small business leaders from 17 European countries on an all-expenses paid trip. The details about the event were a little sketchy and like the other participants I was asking, ‘why are Facebook doing this, why me, are they going to try to brain wash us and what do they want to get out of it!?’
I have returned grateful to Facebook and empowered, but not ready to ditch my heels for swanky trainers and a cheesy American grin, or to live the social media dream in an office full of bean bags! No, in fact the support from Facebook reminded me how the power to make an impact lies in the hands of us, the small business owner, not the big impressive companies such as themselves.
During the midst of political disruption now is the time for us all to embrace the tools provided to us by that these tech companies, to work together to design a better future for our communities.
Politicians and Big Cheeses
Global directors, Government Ministers and even the world-famous COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, graced the intimate stage in front of us. They appeared to have listened well to the challenges that face the small business owners. Consumers are bombarded with over 10,000 marketing messages a day. With only 12 of those standing out it’s a real battle ground, competing for attention in a global market place.
As SMEs we have to accept that social media is part of business today, however, we actually have a big advantage. We have exactly the same tools at our finger tips as any large corporate, but we are also small enough to be agile and make changes fast. We are also more closely connected to our customers and communities.
Guilty Facebook and Political Chaos
Even on foreign shores it was still impossible to avoid Brexit and this formed part of the stage debate. Facebook openly held up their hands and admitted that perhaps they hadn’t done all they should have in the past to protect their users for corporate and political wrong doing. Sheryl proceeded to promise that in the future they would help try to make the internet a place where good could prevail over bad.
Like me, you might still be questioning… can we really lay our trust in Facebook to always do the right thing by us? After all, they are a business answerable to shareholders.
Taking Matters into Our Own Hands
In light of everything that I saw and heard during the event I have decided to take matters into my own hands. Firstly, feeling very privileged to be invited, I want to share some of the knowledge we gained on how to best use these platforms with others who could not be there. Secondly, I wanted to put that knowledge to the test and try what I am naming a ‘social social experiment’.
Can the small business owners really take charge? Can we make the internet a good, progressive environment? And most importantly, as small business owners can we use social media to capture the publics attention without the big advertising spends of our large corporate cousins?
I believe we can, but not on our own. Only if we come together. So here is what we are going to do. Project 17 is being launched on the 1st February… you guessed it… on Facebook! It is named after the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of which there are 17. The 17th Goal is about creating partnerships and collaborations to effect positive social change.
I want to invite small business owners to unite together to show thousands of people through social media the power we all have to create something good in our societies. Those who want to be part of this experiment will commit to supporting us to create a community that brings 17 inspiring business stories of organisation that are making an impact each month. The aim will be to showcase the awesome work that businesses are doing alongside sharing best practice and advice.
This will not be run by a large impressive organisation or social medial experts, this will be run by me and you – the real small business owners. Some people will just follow us, some people will invite others to join us and some will help us create the content.
We are going to prove the socially good power of small businesses on social media. To make this meaningful I have set the slightly audacious target of growing an audience to 17,000 members in 12 months. As I write this, approaching the end of pre-launch day one, we are nearing 700 members. I believe this is possible and will help many other small businesses begin to feel comfortable in the exciting new digital world that we find ourselves in.