How Social Media and GOV 2.0 are Revolutionizing Public/Private Sector Collaboration

By John Westra is Director, NuWave Government Solutions. From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.

Ask any small business owner about their “relationship” with government and you are likely to get an earful. Listen to small business owners carefully and you will hear one key complaint repeated over and over: “government doesn’t pay attention to us or listen to our needs.”

In fact, if it were not for the well organized advocacy efforts of SBAM, the voices of Michigan’s small businesses would be a whisper in comparison to the deep pocketed lobbying efforts and slick PR and marketing campaigns of national and international corporations. The good news; the explosive growth of Social Media, coupled with a push for government to use the Internet to be more open, responsive and accountable (GOV 2.0) is leveling the playing field and revolutionizing Public/Private Sector collaboration!

Social Networking is a phrase that for many brings to mind an afternoon on the golf course or a cup of coffee at the local diner. But to the more than 142 million Social Media users of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and various blogs, it means spending “an average of six plus hours per month, connecting with and expanding their online community of “friends.”” (Nielsen, June 2010)

Social media can be defined as “The social interaction, creation and distribution of content, including text, photos, audio and video, via highly accessible Internet-based applications.”
The main catalyst for the adoption of social media by government is politics. After the press credited social media for helping President Obama win, the flood gates of social media adoption by politicians opened wide. Although not all of them “get it,” virtually all current and would-be elected officials now have a Facebook page, with many having a presence on all the major social media platforms.

Rick Snyder is a great example of someone who understands the power of social media. Rick, who admittedly bills himself as “One Tough Nerd,” has seen his Facebook following go from a few hundred to over 31,000 followers in a matter of months.

Rick Snyder was quoted as saying “Social media provides new and more effective ways for government to directly communicate with citizens and involve them with the day to day operations of the state, offering opportunities to have their voices and feedback heard…Effectively communicating with citizens is an essential aspect of customer service government.”

So how does this translate into a value proposition for small businesses? The answer to this question can be summed up in three words: Access, Engagement and Influence.
Access to the people we’ve elected to represent us is the holy grail of representative democracy. In years past, campaign communication was one way. Elected officials could simply dismantle their campaign centers and walk away, effectively putting a “Do Not Disturb” sign on their office doors. Social media has made that impossible. Politicians who walk away from their social media network(s) would face an instant negative backlash.
An ongoing commitment to maintaining their connections to citizens and stakeholders (small business), translates into a defacto “open door” policy that benefits everyone. This is the type of access that previously cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars in lobbying to maintain.

Engagement is the “secret” ingredient for any effective communication and another reason why social media and Government 2.0 (GOV 2.0) applications are growing so rapidly. Before I talk about the importance of engagement, let’s first define what GOV 2.0 is.
“Government 2.0 or “e-government” is the philosophy of transparent, efficient and accountable governance, facilitated by the use of ubiquitous, easy to access and interactive Internet-enabled applications.”

Will repeal of the federal health care law hurt small businesses? A misleadingly simple question with a complex answer.

health insuarnceA recent PIRGIM report claims that repeal of the federal health care law would hurt small business owners. But the report is misleading because it simplistically presents outright repeal as the only option in the ongoing debate over health care reform.

Small Business Association of Michigan health care expert Scott Lyon says that although the association has not taken a position on outright repeal, he thinks it’s important that Congress focus on reforming the federal health care law with new provisions that address the underlying problem facing small business owners: health insurance is too expensive. "Health care costs are rising at three to four times the rate of inflation," Lyon says. "There doesn't appear to be anything in the federal health care law that slows down this trend."

Lyon suggests that tort reform, greater use of electronic record keeping, encouragement of wellness programs and market-based tools such as Health Savings Accounts would be important steps toward controlling the rising cost of health insurance.

The PIRGIM report claims that repeal of the federal health care law would eliminate a variety of tax credits aimed at small businesses. In fact, very few Michigan small business owners qualify for the credits, according to Lyon.

Lyon recently appeared on WILX-TV10 to discuss health care reform.

The Small Business Association of Michigan has produced a Health Care Reform Guide for small business owners. You can find it here on the association’s Health Care Reform website.

Economic Gardening: What’s in it for you?

By Rob Fowler, President and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan (from the association’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine.)

I’d like to expand on a thought expressed in our previous Communiqué by 2010-2011 SBAM Chair Cynthia Kay. In the Nov/Dec issue of Focus, she wrote: “Whether you are a small company that wants to stay small, a potentially high growth firm or somewhere in between, successful economic gardening will positively impact our state and ultimately your business.”

In other words, although the implementation of economic gardening will have its greatest impact on fast growing second-stage companies, it’s important to remember that economic gardening policies will help all small business owners.

There are three reasons for this:
● Economic gardening is the quickest way to a turnaround of Michigan’s economy
● Economic gardening will create a “rising tide” that lifts the fortunes of all small businesses
● Economic gardening charts a pathway toward a genuine culture change in the state

Quickest Way to a Turnaround
The data is pretty clear. When jobs are created, they come from existing companies rather than the relocation of companies into the state. But when you peel back the data, most of those new jobs are created by a few very fast growing “second-stage” firms. If we concentrate on helping those firms, they will grow even faster and lead the way to an economic turnaround.

A “Rising Tide”

Fostering the growth of these second-stage companies creates jobs, which puts money in people’s pockets, which makes them better customers of small businesses and which makes them more productive taxpayers! A growing economy solves a lot of problems. I’ve long maintained that Michigan’s state and local government budget issues are not due to a lack of taxes – it’s due to a lack of taxpayers (i.e. economic activity.) A “rising tide” of economic growth will mean a better bottom line for all kinds of small business owners – regardless of size – and, in combination with spending reforms, help stabilize government finances.

Culture Change
You can’t have a strategy that focuses on growing second-stage companies without also having a strategy for getting people into the first-stage: small business startups. The seeds of our economic garden have to come from someplace. We have to help men and women follow their dreams of starting a small business, and then nurture those who have the capacity and desire to move to fast growing second-stage status. That won’t include every small business owner. But we need a continuum of dynamic business activity – from startups to second-stage to graduation to big business – if we want sustainable economic growth.

That’s where culture change comes in. At our annual meeting last summer, SBAM Chair Cynthia Kay shared her dream of “a future society where a young person gets a job at a big company and everyone asks them: ‘What’s wrong with you? Why haven’t you started your small business yet?’” In other parts of the country, entrepreneurs are celebrated as folk heroes. In Michigan over the past 50 years…not so much. Economic gardening is about changing the conversation, changing the image of small business and changing the expectations of what Michigan citizens consider economic success.

Your involvement and engagement support our ongoing efforts to speak for and champion Michigan’s entrepreneurs – the men and women, in all stages of the business cycle, who are creating economic activity and jobs. Economic gardening benefits you, and all Michigan citizens, in so many different ways. Thank you for your ongoing support as we continue to pursue our campaign to propel a new economic direction for Michigan.

"Business Next" radio show for Jan. 8-9 available now as podcast and MP3 download

Click here to listen to the podcast or download the MP3 file. You can also subscribe through iTunes and get "Business Next" delivered automatically.

On this week's show:

  • Segment one (at 1 minute 39 seconds): David Palsrok, is vice president government relations for the Small Business Association of Michigan, talks about small business issues coming up in the state legislature in 2011.
  • Segment two (at 15 minutes 54 seconds): John Westra of NuWave Government Solutions discusses some cool small business apps you can get for computer and smartphone gadgets.
  • Segment three (at 24 minutes 32 seconds): Email and time management expert Randy Dean has advice on taming the email beast.
  • Segment four (at 40 minutes 28 seconds): Brittney Hoszkiw of Lansing’s Old Town Commercial Association shares her success stories about how small businesses can grow and thrive in an urban downtown.

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Four Pillars to Understanding the Internet

There are four pillars for learning how to effectively manage the Internet rapidly and easily.

Pillar 1: Your website and content.

Pillar 2: How to use the best social media (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube).

This article covers the first two pillars. Click here to read about the other two.

It’s important under pillar 1 to maintain your website consistently – not every so often. Your website provides your customers with instant access to information about your business and provides a foundation to build lasting impressions and strong business relationships.

To get the most out of your website, it needs a robust out-reach effort:
  • content that changes from time to time (the easiest way to do this is by having a blog or a “news” area that lists new information)
  • useful information about your business that includes key words
  • a newsletter sign-up (so that you can retain contact information from interested parties)
  • links to your social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, YouTube) to give people a variety of ways to discover and interact with your business

Your social media outreach program is pillar 2. Social media are not complicated at all. They are simply new channels to reach your targets over the Internet. They provide a method of connecting your company to consumers via word of mouth recommendations. Poor or no representation of your company on social media sites can hinder your business.
The most popular social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Facebook is the powerhouse of web marketing and social media with more than 500 million users across the world. Customers can engage with your brand by leaving comments, generating content about your brand such as photos, participating in calls to action and sharing links to your information or products. Facebook also has a built in pay-per-click ad program.

  • Twitter is the fastest growing social media platform. Its primary advantage-brevity. Any “tweet” is limited to 140 characters. Journalists often use Twitter for leads and sources. Many people use Twitter to learn about news instantaneously. Some use it to communicate immediately in a crisis.
  • YouTube is a great way to use video rather than just pictures and words. Videos should be short and succinct, like 2-3 minutes. Easy to do with a smart phone or other video device.
The Internet is your best friend for marketing. It is easy to learn, easy to maintain, free or inexpensive. These two pillars are your guides to demystifying the whole online and new media process. Keep in mind developing content on your website is important because it is an extension of the passion you have for your business. Your Internet presence allows you to gather instant feedback, providing you with the opportunity to quickly access information and ideas, which can be used to generate new business, build brand loyalty and increase customer retention.

As a business owner, you may feel there’s no way you could possibly squeeze blogging and website updates into your daily schedule. If so, hire a web content specialist or someone who has knowledge of new media – the “nerd” component.

Wendy Williams and Ashley Smith are new media specialists at Eiler Communications, Ann Arbor.

SBAM launches “Business Next”, new weekly Internet radio show Jan. 8-9

microphoneThe Small Business Association of Michigan will launch the “Business Next” weekly Internet radio program on Jan. 8-9. Listeners can access the show by going to and clicking on “Listen Now” between 9 a.m. – 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. – 5 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday.

Our show page is here. If you can't catch the broadcast of the show on Saturday or Sunday, go to the show page the following Monday to download the podcast.

The show will be hosted by radio veteran Michael Rogers, SBAM’s vice president communications. Rogers will talk with guest experts each week and provide small business owners workable, down-to-earth advice on how they can be more successful and profitable in 2011. In addition, a public affairs segment will review government activities in Lansing and Washington, D.C., that affect small business.

Topics for the inaugural Jan. 8-9 program include the best small business apps for your smartphones, and how to get your email and calendar optimally organized for the new year.

Ideas for guests and topics for “Business Next” should be forwarded to Michael Rogers at or 517-267-2209.

(photo by M.Keefe)

The “Smart” (Phone) Money Is on Apps to Win & Tablets to Show! (Part II)

In Part I of “The Smart (Phone) Money Is on Apps to Win & Tablets to Show” talked about trends in technology for 2011. Here we focus on specific trends that will be advantageous to small business this year and beyond.

Note:  The applications mentioned in the rest of this article will be denoted by the platform(s) they are supported on, using the following key: 
  i   iPhone
 W   Windows Phone    
 B   Blackberry  
 S   Symbian (Nokia, etc.)  
P  Palm 

Email & PIM (Personal Information Manager) Apps / CRM (Customer Relationship Management)

No matter what business you are in, the #1 key to success is the relationships you have with your customers.  Having access to your email and customer data, wherever you go, synchronized with your business email & PIM/CRM CRM solution is invaluable, for those who spend the majority of their time on the road.

This is the application category that started it all.  In the “dark ages” (2002), the Treo 180 became the first true “smart phone.”  Powered by the Palm OS, it pioneered the use of an integrated contact manager, which allowed you to quickly search for and place a call to one of your contacts or pop up the contact’s information when they called.  This was coupled with the ability to easily sync your contacts with Microsoft Outlook.

Previously, businesses that wanted real-time (push) email and contact synchronization looked to either the Blackberry or Windows Mobile platforms for a solution.  Now, many current smart phones come with a basic contact management app that can sync with the user’s Apple or PC desktop client like Microsoft Outlook, as well as web-based email and contact data from Google, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, etc. 

Google Apps (i,A,W,B,S,P)
Is fast becoming the most widely used, multi-platform suite of apps for mobile email and contact management.  Coming as “standard equipment” on Android-powered phones, it is also available for all of the other major smart phone platforms.  The advantage of using Google Apps for email and contact management is that it’s “free.”  The primary disadvantage is its weak contact management features and lack of advanced integration with back-end business email systems.
TouchDown (A)
Is an example of a full-featured mobile email / PIM client.  Like Outlook, it can synchronize email, calendar, task and note* data with one or more of Microsoft’s Exchange email server accounts.  Running exclusively (iPhone rumors are circulating) on the Android platform, it is as close to having Outlook on your mobile device as you can get.  If your company has or is considering having one or more of the estimated three hundred and one million Exchange email boxes in use in 2010, Touchdown is definitely worth checking out.   Note:  When this article was written (December, 2010), Touchdown on Android had significantly greater su

Santa’s Favorite Smart Phones

by John Westra

Your Best Business Smart Phone Choices for Christmas

Many of us are either looking for a new mobile phone or have someone on our list that would like a new smart phone for Christmas.  The challenge is deciding which phone & plan is best.

Good coverage is important to a global traveler like Santa, so let’s start by taking a quick look at the coverage provided by the most popular carriers.  Disclaimer:  “Santa” has been a satisfied Verizon customer for the last four years.

It’s no surprise that the two largest carriers, Verizon and AT&T, who together have 70% of the market, also have the greatest coverage and the widest array of smart phones to choose from.  The next two largest carriers, Sprint and T-Mobile, both offer slightly less coverage and fewer phone choices.  If you live and work in cities of any size and spend most of your time traveling on highways, you should be able to get reliable voice and data coverage from any of the major carriers.

The smaller, often pre-paid carriers/brands like TracFone, US Cellular, Virgin Mobile, Straight Talk (Wal-Mart), MetroPCS, etc. are just starting to offer smart phones.   Most are owned by larger carriers or supplement their own networks with roaming agreements.  This can be a plus, for a company like Virgin Mobile, which uses Sprint’s 3G network or a minus for carriers like MetroPCS, whose limited native coverage and roaming fees make it a poor choice for anyone who travels. 

Although answering yes to “Can you hear me now,” used to be enough, smart phone users are increasingly asking: “Can I YouTube or video chat now?”  Sprint has been a leader in 4G (Fourth Generation) data and T-Mobile is now advertising they have the largest 4G coverage area.  Both Verizon and AT&T have aggressive 2011/2012 4G network upgrades planned.

OK!  Now that you know a little bit more about coverage and carriers, let’s take a look Santa’s Favorite Smart Phones!

HTC Evo 4G (Android) – Sprint

This is a luscious smart phone that offers the latest options including a front and 8 mega-pixel rear facing camera, 4G data speeds, blazing fast processor and a beautiful 4” screen.  If Sprint meets your coverage needs and video conferencing is a feature you want to take advantage of, this is the phone to buy!

Apple iPhone 4 (iOS) – AT&T, Verizon (Q1 2011)

The iPhone 4 is the latest in the iPhone series that truly kick-started today’s, touch screen, application-driven smart phone revolution.  Like the Evo, it has a front-facing camera for video calls.  Santa put this phone on the list, because it has more applications and accessories available for it than any other smart phone currently available.  Note:  With the iPhone slated to come to Verizon in Q1 of next year, you may want to ask Santa for a Gift Certificate!

Droid 2 Global (Android)– Verizon

For those who prefer a slide-out physical keyboard and want the best national and international coverage (220 countries) possible, this is the phone you want.  From the elegant design and solid feel, to the blazing fast 1.2Ghz processor this phone is designed to be a business workhorse.  Motorola has also released well-designed matching car and home docks that make it easy to charge and use your Droid 2 while on the road in the office or on the nightstand.

HTC  HD7 (Windows Phone 7) – T-Mobile

Get Involved with Politics? SBAM Members Share Experiences

From SBAM’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine

Getting involved in politics is not usually the first way small business owners choose to spend their “extra” time. However, as the following SBAM member testimonials prove, getting involved is easier than most think thanks to the many opportunities created by SBAM. Here’s what SBAM members have to say about advocacy, volunteering and letting their voices be heard:

Cynthia Pepper, Principal, Pepper Consulting Group, LLC
“In this world of polarizing politics and slanted, revisionist versions of history and events, it’s become increasingly difficult to find rational, thoughtful assessments of candidates for political office – assessments based on actual voting records and real experiences and decisions. I rely on SBAM to provide the analyses that help me cut through the chatter and make informed decisions that fit my personal interests and perspective. SBAM’s advocacy for and understanding of the issues facing small business in this state are deep, and continue to be very important to my success as a business owner. But never more so than in times of such political importance.”

Sharon Miller, Owner, ITH Staffing
“Membership in SBAM provides members with an opportunity for interaction with other business owners, SBAM legislative staff, and elected and potential candidates for office. This activity is ongoing-once involved you stay involved.”

Lorri Rishar Jandron, President & CEO, Edge Partnerships
“As a volunteer member of SBAM’s Legislative Action Committee, I not only get the chance to discuss public policy but also to make an impact. Just recently, I was able to speak directly with legislators gathered at an SBAM forum. That’s advocacy in action thanks to my involvement with SBAM.”

Mike Fox, CEO/President, Ingenuity IEQ
“I believe it’s important for small businesses to be engaged in the political process and SBAM has allowed me to get involved.”

Barbara Lezotte, President, Lezotte Miller Public Relations Inc.
“I really appreciate SBAM’s leadership on ‘economic gardening,’ which is the right strategy to help revitalize Michigan’s economy. SBAM’s advocacy on behalf of small business is second to none in the state. The staff keeps a close eye on legislation that will impact us and is lobbying to protect our interests daily.”

Larry T. Eiler, President, Eiler Communications
“As Michigan moves toward growing businesses through the economic gardening concept, ‘cultivating as well as hunting,’ SBAM has moved to the fore of leadership. This is part of “Re:NEW Michigan” and is a meaningful step we can all take part in to restore our state to economic progress.”