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Gimmick – or Golden Opportunity?

Doing anything in business simply for the sake of doing it is utterly pointless – there has to be a practical reason for utilizing any technological tool.

What in the world did small businesses do to self-promote in the days before social media was so widespread and easily accessible?

For owners and operators of organizations in all spheres, there’s a virtual embarrassment of riches when it comes to the amount of communication tools at their disposal. Never before in human history have there been so many far-reaching platforms available for use, many of them free of charge, for communicating the purpose, mission, and vision of both businesses and non-profits. The average entrepreneur circa 1985 had few options when it came to self-promotion, and the available tools often proved to be prohibitively expensive and severely limited in scope.

Fast forward four decades and the story is very different. Tools and systems that the 1980’s business person would never have dreamed of are now easy to embrace and implement, and the logical conclusion would be that smaller entities are now enjoying a level playing field. In all regards, the “big guys” should no longer really hold any advantage when it comes to getting the word out. The best the small business owner of the 80’s could’ve hoped for was maybe a brief spot on a local community-access cable channel, but today’s entrepreneur can theoretically reach a global audience through platforms like YouTube or engage with listeners through a weekly podcast.

And yet, with all of the readily available tools, far too many small businesses either neglect the use of social media altogether or have only a slight investment into utilizing it. According to BusinessDIT, 93.79% of businesses use social media, which immediately implies an almost universal embrace of the various platforms. But an interesting disparity emerges based on other data provided by BusinessDIT – only 69.64% of small businesses actively use social media to communicate the message of their organizations with the people they serve. And so, this raises a most logical question – why are so many small businesses not taking advantage of the tools at their disposal?

An unwillingness to embrace new technology is a widespread reality for many smaller businesses and organizations, and a general undercurrent of reluctance to innovate is the unfortunate byproduct. “But we’ve always done it this way…” is the ill-considered justification for failing to try a new approach in establishing a community presence. There are only two possible outcomes when this is the standard operating procedure: either the business will eventually lose ground to its more forward-thinking competition, or a frantic game of catchup will need to be played in a desperate attempt to somehow maintain relevancy in the marketplace.

But even for those smaller organizations that do opt to have a social media presence, momentum can be a seemingly impossible thing to establish. When everyone has access to the same platforms, it becomes that much more challenging to create any sense of uniqueness or originality, and those without the fortitude to persevere might well find themselves slipping through the cracks. Sometimes, even though a business might have a potentially valid and relevant message to share, the drudgery of the communication process might result in the efforts being half-hearted, and the net result will be virtual invisibility within the crowded arena of thousands of others telling their own stories.

Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook all have their uses, but the advent of YouTube has truly established a viable platform for any business to discuss its mission and the services it provides to a wider audience than was possible before. Much of this content exists in the realm of “explainer videos”, where a representative of the organization discourses about topics unique to the enterprise in an attempt to connect and engage with viewers. This can truly be untested waters for a lot of business owners, and not everyone is comfortable trying to casually make small talk to an unseen audience. Capturing not only the attention but also the imagination of the viewer should be the goal of anyone creating content for public consumption. But how in the world can you go about doing that?

The fact that explainer videos are also sometimes derogatively referred to as “talking head” videos is a good indicator of where the problem might lie. YouTube has tens of millions of content creators in hundreds of thousands of spheres, so anything that can be done to provide a respite from the monotony of simply watching someone talk for fifteen minutes can be a real advantage. Two of the most useful tools to break out of the “talking head” rut are character animation and whiteboard animation. In character animation, colorful cartoon characters move and speak in a variety of settings, synchronized to the narration that would normally be delivered on-camera. Whiteboard animation uses imagery of real human hands holding markers or crayons and seemingly writing each spoken word of narration on a whiteboard as the presentation unfolds.

A variety of vendors provide options in both of these formats. Some are software packages that are a one-time purchase, while others are a monthly or annual licensing agreement that exists as a cloud-based solution, accessible anywhere from any computer. Functionality and features can differ between the different manufactures, but the underlying concept remains the same: providing a straightforward way to augment the spoken word with something visual to hold the attention of the person watching the video. Although it may vary based on the level of complexity of what’s being created, the learning curve is generally minor enough that the business owner can begin producing usable content without a disproportionate investment of time.

So, does that mean that anyone with a small organization should automatically start using one of these software solutions to help spice up the message being conveyed? The answer to that has to be an unqualified “maybe”. Doing anything in business simply for the sake of doing it is utterly pointless – there has to be a practical reason for utilizing any technological tool, and the emphasis has to always be firmly placed on the fact that it’s only a tool. Whiteboard or animation software might help you to create eye candy, but if there’s nothing substantive being communicated, the entire exercise is worthless.

The prudent approach is to find ways to use such software to augment the value of what you’re already doing. Telling others about the essence of your small business or nonprofit may well be one of the most challenging things you’ve ever had to do, and once you start, you’ll soon realize that there’s a lot to tell. Effectively describing who you are and what you do is an extremely nuanced endeavor, so take the appropriate amount of time to clarify in your own mind what best defines your organization. This is where seemingly mundane things like a mission statement and vision statement can really come into play – know your business inside and out before you start trying to tell someone else about it.

In the end, software solutions to create exciting, moving graphics are either a toy or a treasure. Your commitment to fostering real engagement with your target audience will be the primary determining factor as to which of those applies to you. More and more business are using these types of software, so the novelty has already worn off. It’s no longer a matter of employing something new and exciting that no one else is using, but it’s recognizing that others are already making an effort to stand apart in the crowd. See what tools are available and what others are doing with them, and then find meaningful ways to plug them into the fabric of your organization.

Take this approach, and you’ll ultimately be noticed for the depth and impact of what you’re communicating, not for the manner in which you’re doing it.


Please visit or call us at 240-329-9387 if you'd like to schedule a Power Hour to discuss your social media needs today! Or, to gain a deeper perspective on the overall health of your small business or nonprofit, visit to to download your free copy of the PDF, “Taking Your Organization’s Temperature.” Then, make sure you check our recent videos on YouTube by clicking HERE. Each episode is designed to inspire, empower, and transform you and/or your organization.

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