Jeff Korhan on Humanizing Your Business Through Social Media

by Kristine Hansen

4 min read

Jeff Korhan (pictured) is on his third career — as a marketing speaker, trainer, and coach — after working for a petroleum company, then launching a small business (a landscape-services company) in 1988 and selling it 20 years later. Coaching small-business owners evolved out of his work in teaching meditation, a practice that helped him manage the stress of operating a seasonal landscape business.

Tired of being an employee, he now travels around the country as his own boss, inspiring small-business owners with tips about revolutionizing their marketing, which includes using social media, even if you’re a Luddite.

“I still don’t consider myself as someone who is good with technology,” Korhan says. “I use the phrase ‘social marketing’ instead of social media, as it’s more relevant. This is an opportunity that’s out there for every single business.”

Based in suburban Chicago, Korhan — an avid blogger at — says he pounded out the all-original-material book Built-in Social: Essential Social Marketing Practices for Every Small Business in a month. It was released on April 15.

The Intuit Small Business Blog recently talked with Korhan about how to use social media tools to grow a small business.

ISBB: What inspired you to write the book?

Korhan: Most books on this topic are written by people with a social media background, and they tend to deal with it at a higher level. But the average small-business person may not even have a background in marketing. The book really had to be broken down into a practical structure: The idea was to publish content for people [who] are literally searching the web for answers to their problems. We have access to this media, but how are we using it and should we be using it?

I would have people running up to me after presentations saying, “Wow, I get it now.” It’s really not that difficult. It’s like learning how to swim and ride a bike: The people who do well are the ones who jump in and make mistakes. Entrepreneurs are used to making mistakes. Once you figure out that you’re digitally trying to re-create who you are online, suddenly keywords and the Facebook Like button make sense.

How should a small business use Pinterest to grow?

Obviously, a picture tells a story, and you can embed links into those photos. But here’s the real power of Pinterest: the social graph. If you’re interested in a topic, it will connect you with other things. Social graphs create alignment because of social profiles — the profile you have on your network. The true context is from shared information, social objects that are little snippets of text, photos, and video.

Pinterest knits together all of these social graphs. Then we learn more about people, so we can sell them to advertisers. Social graphs travel around the web at lightning speed. What it does mean is you’re one step closer to the people someone else knows, which could be business.

What are a few ways to avoid social media overload and streamline tasks?

I wrote a post recently about how to avoid social media overload: It’s to do one thing, or a few things, well. For me, that was blogging. I really don’t do a lot of tweeting, to be honest. The 80/20 rule applies to this like anything else: If you’re the content creator, you have to seed the conversation, but once it’s out there, people are sharing it.

If everybody’s just chatting, sharing, and re-purposing information on Facebook, what’s always going to stand out above the crowd is that original perspective. I would rather someone put out a good blog post once a month than repin stuff on Pinterest. People know business is messy, especially small business, and you can humanize that by sharing real, down-to-earth stories that engage people.

How can social media amplify a business’ strengths?

It amplifies everything, including weaknesses. The beauty of that is that the weaknesses humanize you. If everybody’s promoting “I’m the best, I’m the cheapest,” then the owner is the primary salesperson, and using social media is valued by a lot of clients.

There’s nothing more comforting to a buyer than knowing he or she can contact the owner of the business at any time. They may never use it, but knowing that they have that lifeline is valuable. It should be as many people in that company as possible. How can you be less of a logo on a business card? How can you be more real?

What are some solid examples of businesses that use social media in a dynamic way?

Ford Motor Co. is giving up control of its brand and recognizing that it doesn’t have control. What matters is what the millions of people out there — Ford fans — have to say. Figure out what the social object is in your business. Find the stories. Small-business people have more stories than they can possibly tell. In this risk-averse economy, that’s what people are looking for.

Zappos gravitated toward Twitter in the very early days, five-plus years ago. I visited Zappos when I was speaking in Las Vegas and asked what its social-media policy was. I was told it doesn’t have one. Compare that with a company that has a complex social-media policy and measures everybody else’s. If you’ve seen Zappos’ core values, item #10 is to be a little bit humble. Zappos is very much about the customer, and that’s how it uses social media.

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