05/16/2013 09:33 am ET Updated Jul 16, 2013

The Social/Digital Battleground: David Vs. Goliath Round II

A recent Boston Consulting Group survey showed that only 3% of small businesses (550 businesses with less than 100 employees) are engaged in online advertising versus 16% of larger companies. The survey highlights, yet again, small business owners' inability to seize a new market opportunity over their larger competitors.

Social media and small business were made for each other. These companies have little or no marketing staff. Social media offers the opportunity to reach millions of potential consumers through virtual channels. The cost savings are significant, and the reach is amplified, but business owners better bring their "A" game. For smaller companies, a cogent, compelling set of messages is essential regardless of their marketing platforms, but it's even more compelling in the digital space.

That's what makes the low percentage of small businesses creating online marketing campaigns so confusing. The opportunities to increase awareness, sales and other actions leading to new clients and revenue grow exponentially when using a digital platform. One of the opinions offered for the BCG survey findings was a strong peer-to-peer influence in the small business space. Many business owners expressed "being burned" by marketing efforts in the past.

These business owners are missing a huge opportunity for visibility and growth. Marketing is typically not deemed as an essential part of the small business budget. However, it's the only line item on a small business budget that can produce ROI--visibility, engagement, and clients.

One small business expert who understands this concept very well is Brian Moran. He is the founder of a consulting firm that helps both entrepreneurs and marketers targeting entrepreneurs navigate the small business marketplace. Having published national magazines in the small business market for over two decades, Brian spent the past four years teaching business owners how to utilize social media tools in their business. He starts each seminar or workshop by telling attendees that social media is a "means to an end." Their goal is to figure out how to get social media to help them sell more products or services, increase brand awareness, develop market research and find out more information about their competitors.

Brian advises that there is one caveat to making social media work for business owners. They must have a living, breathing business plan with a strategic goal and an operational plan in place before they try to tackle social media. Otherwise, they are operating in a vacuum. The business owner might eventually figure out how to use social media, but he or she has nowhere to put his findings. Their business isn't set up to incorporate a strong social media program because he has a weak and unstable foundation. It could literally kill the business.

An effective digital/social strategy can help small businesses appear just as "capable" as other firms which may be larger. Successful strategies might include value propositions like concierge service or a localized service serving a specific market segment. Social media has forged its way into the media mix by engaging an online community to know, like and then buy various products and services. It is a cost-free way to engage more targeted, self-selected groups who are pre-disposed to your product. The playing field is flattened as websites, blogs, tweets, white papers from small firms to large ones become the digital footprint and online "proof statements" to the next gen consumers.

The biggest downside risk to small business owners is to not do anything on digital platforms. Unless your company is truly local, it's imperative that you create specific messaging programs to gain visibility on digital/social platforms. The world is now one big stage. Goliath is positioning himself to carve out massive sections of the new economy to claim as his own. There is no greater opportunity than right now for David to prepare his digital slingshot and slay a mighty competitor.

What are you waiting for? Go!