Beautiful, colorful, delicious looking tomato salad.The other day on Twitter, I came across a story about restaurants banning photo taking. My first thought was, that this was short-sighted, especially in a business like food service where word of mouth can make or break you.

The writer suggested that taking a moment to snap a photo and share it which literally takes seconds with today’s tools would leave the food cold and chef grumpy. I’m not sure why that would be the case so long as they put the phone away and start eating and don’t sit there and text and share other things for 10 minutes afterward.

As for the Chef being grumpy, why ever for? If people are sharing pictures of his food and telling their friends where they are eating, this isn’t a reason for consternation –quite the opposite. The chef as a small business owner should be thrilled people are talking about his restaurant in a positive way on the social internet.

If I owned a restaurant, I would put up sign that said my business welcomes pictures and feel free to share on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or wherever you like. I would leave instructions on how to access my accounts and I would encourage patrons to friend and follow us.

Now, I understand people don’t like a table full of people staring at their phones the entire meal, and I’ve seen this, but quickly sharing your picture? I don’t see a big deal and from a business perspective, this is pure gold.

Whatever your small or medium size business may be, a restaurant, a real estate brokerage, a law firm or a mobile app design shop; you want people talking about you on social networks and if they are doing it spontaneously just seeing your products, all the better.

Social media mentions are like free advertising. How have we always chosen the companies we do business with? We have asked friends. In the days before the social internet, we might have picked up the phone or asked at parties or wherever we happened to get together.

When our friends mention these businesses on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and other places, it is the equivalent of giving a tacit recommendation to their friends. I’m eating at this restaurant and I love it so much, I’m taking a picture of my delicious meal and I’m sharing it with you. Don’t you wish you were here too?

I can understand some of the social media and smartphone backlash, but as a business owner you really don’t want to get into the business of policing your customers and dictating what they can’t and can’t do with their devices unless it’s creating a serious distraction for some reason like talking loudly on the phone and disturbing other customers.

Short of that though, you should absolutely embrace social media because you couldn’t ask for better publicity without paying a penny. Your customers become your brand ambassadors and that should be the goal of every SMB.

Photo Credit: “Breville Fave Food Shot” by Breville USA. Used under CC 2.0 Attrbution license.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Pug dog in spotlight.We find ourselves in the middle of the Olympics this week, an event that cost at least $50 billion to put on, which puts the showcase country on the world stage. When you have that kind of attention and have spent that kind of money, you want to put your best foot forward, especially with the press.

That’s why it’s so baffling that the organizers treated the press and other early arrivers so badly, putting them up in half finished hotels with bizarre plumbing, screwed up reservations, missing floors in the lobby, broken elevators and even reports of workers actually sleeping in a guest’s beds.

And the press gleefully tweeted their experiences to the world, leaving the Russians, who were hosting the event looking like hapless amateurs.

When you put on an event with influencers at the ready, you need to be sure everything is tip-top. You want to impress because if you mess up, social media and smartphones put your mistakes out in the world in a quick minute. And instead of being your bright and shining moment, you could be left looking foolish.

Conversely if you delight your audience of influencers you will be rewarded because people will see how you shine, how organized you are and what a class organization you run. Social media is a double-edged sword and with a smartphone equipped with a camera and social media apps in every pocket or purse, you are always on display these days, even when your audience might not be the world press.

Every midsize business needs to understand that they are on stage in the white-hot spotlight 24/7 and every mistake and every glory can be magnified –and you have to be ready.

Should you find yourself in a situation like Sochi where it looks really bad, you can at least step in and do some damage control, whether that’s simply fessing up that you weren’t ready, apologizing and offering ways to make it up to customers who were put out –or refuting it if it isn’t true.

Regardless of how you choose to deal with the individual situation, you should have emergency plans in place and you have to realize the power of social media to lift you up and bring you down –while understanding that it can happen very quickly. Who knows what happened in Sochi, but when the press arrived and those tweets started to flow, the damage had already been inflicted. They had blown their moment to impress the world.

Every business, whether you’re Olympic organizers or a real estate office needs to put their best social media foot forward because people are paying attention and if you have the world’s press on your doorstep, it’s even more important that you monitor social media channels and be proactive.

But it’s important to understand that you don’t need to be on the world stage at the Olympics  because social media puts every business in the public eye and if you’re smart, you’re going to be ready.

Photo Credit:  mrgreen09 on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 license.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Bruno Mars performing live with his likeness projected on a big screen behind the band.Last year, Miley Cyrus turned heads with a bawdy performance at the Video Music Awards. More recently, pop star Bruno Mars turned some heads of his own playing for free at the Super Bowl halftime show.

What do these performances have in common? We talked about them for days afterwards. While you can debate the merits of these approaches, midsize business could learn something from these two pop stars.

You might not want to generate the kind of publicity for your business that Cyrus generated from her performance, but I heard an interview with the pop princess about a month after the awards show. She was very straight-forward when she told the interviewer if people were still talking about her a month later, she had done her job. And she’s still on the Billboard 100 months after her performance.

Last week, Bruno Mars surprised a lot of people with his performance at the Super Bowl. In spite of having a number of hits over the last couple of years, he was able to reach an audience of people who had never heard of him or his music before –and boy did he ever nail his opportunity. If comments in my social media stream were any indication, people who had never heard his music were impressed indeed. According to reports, he set a Super Bowl record with over 115 million viewers sticking around to listen to his performance.

You’re probably not going to have your staff twerking on national TV to generate publicity for your SMB and you very likely don’t have the lift to get your brand to the Super Bowl, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for your company to attract attention. David Meerman Scott has written a book on the concept of Newsjacking.

This is the idea of riding the coat tails of a news story, but putting your company’s twist on it. If you catch a wave correctly, you can get a lot of lift for your brand. Scott defines Newsjacking as “taking something in the current news environment and adding your take to it so that the media talks about you.”

But you have to remember there is an art to this, and if you do it wrong, you could get yourself into trouble. In a video explaining Newsjacking, Scott talks about how Kenneth Cole got in social media hot water for suggesting the Egypt Arab Spring uprising a few years ago was over the designer’s new spring collection. Not cool, so you have to be smart about this or it looks cheap and sleazy instead of fun and clever.

Last week, we wrote about the now famous Oreo tweet where Oreo took advantage of news as it happened with a clever tweet during the blackout at the 2013 Super Bowl. They captured the moment. In a blog post after this year’s Super Bowl, last weekend, Scott credited Hillary Clinton’s social media team for coming up with this tweet:

At last count it had over 57,000 retweets and 42,000 favorites. That’s a lot of reach, folks for not very much investment.

You don’t have to have multi-million budgets to get the reach of brands that have that kind of dough because you have the power of social media and if you use clever methods like newsjacking, you can get the kind of lift pop stars and politicians get –just by paying attention and being a little creative.

Photo Credit:  Tiger Girl on Flickr. Used under CC 2.0 license.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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