I don’t blog much about music, but I did have an experience some time ago with a then independent alternative rock band from Wales in the United Kingdom called The Joy Formidable.  A good friend of mine had downloaded their CD (more details on that below) and convinced me to go see them live; in other words, I made a buying decision based on a friend’s recommendation and the ability to also “try out” their product, which in this case was listening to their music.

A small, independent band trying to sell their music is very similar to a small business marketing their products and services, vying for the attention of the ears of hundreds of millions of consumers in an extremely competitive space.  The Joy Formidable, while not a household name yet, was able to climb above the competition and sign a record deal with a major label.  After my experience seeing them, it became clear as to what their secret for doing this was – and what small business can learn from this and apply through social media marketing.

 1. Give Your Best Content Away for Free

When The Joy Formidable released their first CD, A Balloon Called Moaning, they did something that most businesses would shudder thinking about: They gave it away for free.  Through this act of buzz-creating marketing, and promoting it on social media websites where their music fans lurk such as MySpace, they were able to get their music into eager ears and raise their brand awareness to a brand new level (pun intended).  If your business is not known in a certain market or you want others to recognize you for your expertise, why not consider giving away a significant freebie (read: not a mere discount) in social media circles to help the spread of word-of-mouth to get your company or product on the minds of hundreds of millions of consumers?  Even through the act of business blogging a small business can give away a “resource” and get recognition from their potential customers.

2. Listen to the Social Conversations – Because People are Talking

Let’s fast forward to the actual concert that I attended last year.  I tweeted out and asked if anyone on Twitter had heard of the band.  Within a few minutes someone from San Francisco mentioned that they would be seeing them.  Someone else tweeted out The Joy Formidable’s official Twitter page.  And then I tweeted out to them that I was looking forward to seeing them that night.  Mind you this is an independent band from North Wales on their first American tour playing in a very small venue in Orange County, California.  I was standing with my friend, who didn’t understand Twitter, in the back of the club enjoying a “refreshment” when a man with a foreign accent walked up to me.  ”Are you Neal Schaffer?” he asked.  Now, I thought maybe it was another fan who was attending the same concert.  It turned out to be the band’s manager, who came over to talk to us.  You don’t necessarily need to invest in social media monitoring software if you’re a small business, but you do need to listen, because you will never know if you are being mentioned in social media without doing so.  You’d better believe that The Joy Formidable was listening when Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters sent out this tweet:

Guess who’s going to be the opening band for some of the Foo Fighters shows on their upcoming tour?

3. Share Your Story with Social Media Fans

The band manager could have just come by and say a quick thank you, but instead hung for around 10 minutes chatting it up with us.  Not only did we hear some inside stories such as about what some mysterious Welsh language on their CD jacket meant, we also heard about some exciting news concerning the band before anyone else did (can’t say what it is because I don’t want anyone to get into trouble ;-)  Is your business sharing your “secret” stories about your company with your potential clients and customers?  This is especially important with those that are active in social media because these people have reach with their message, whether it is to 5 Facebook friends or 10 Twitter followers.  That’s why, when engaging with them, you should truly engage with them.  Share your stories, answer their questions.  Have a conversation.  Don’t think of social media as a nuisance: It’s an opportunity.  Because you never know who they will share your story with offline, or online in a blog post like this.

4. Grow Your Business One Customer at a Time

As you can see, the impact of one tweet, whether it be from a small fan like me or someone like Dave Grohl, can have a tremendous impact on your future success.  But it’s not about trying to amass millions of followers every night: It’s about treating every customer or potential client as someone who just might be influential.   That’s why The Joy Formidable have been quoted as saying that they are only interested in growing the band one show at a time.  Is your small business treating every potential lead, sale, or conversation in the same manner?

5. Thank Your Fans

The photo that begins this blog post is of the singer of The Joy Formidable, Ritzy Bryan, and yours truly, Neal Schaffer.  The band played for about an hour to about 50 people.  They could have bailed town and headed up to their next gig.  They could have split and went out partying.  Instead the band stuck around at the door to thank every single person that came.  They were more than happy to sign copies of their CD that they were selling their, or in my case, have their photos taken together with their fans.  A simple act of thanking your fans can have a lasting effect on your relationship with them.  Is your small business spending enough time thanking your customers or social media followers?

A good test for any small business is how they can maintain their relationship with their customers and fans through social media.   When you come out with a revised product, is it based on customer feedback and market demand or part of a strategic plan that isn’t aligned with the true customer’s voice?  The Joy Formidable will be facing the same challenge when I see them performing for the 2nd time in Orange County next week at the Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa (will I see you there too?).  Keep watching this blog for an update!

What other advice could you provide small business on how the can better utilize social media for marketing?  Please chime in!

Oh, and if you want to check out the awesomeness of The Joy Formidable, watch this video of their performing Dave Grohl’s favorite song of 2011, Whirring, from their recent appearance on the Conan O’Brien Show – and make sure you watch how they end their performance