I love reading quotes people post on Twitter.  Marketing, PR and Social Media strategies abound.  A theme that is addressed over and over is:  You need to dive into a new project – don’t wait, just start doing.  Several weeks ago when I first started thinking about writing a blog, I vacillated back and forth over taking that step.  There were many days that I procrastinated; I found any excuse to put it on the back burner.  But then there were the days that I was excited to jump in and get started, talk about my “niche” – I would write like crazy, research other blogs, make lists, think about helpful tips and plan.  But, I continued to hesitate going live.

In retrospect, I think there was a method to my madness. There is now a “real” and timely reason to get this blog going right now.  The reason is:

As of last week I have concrete proof/validation

that social media works and that you can market with little or no budget.

A successful marketing program can be done via social media

for FREE.

Big time marketing with a small time budget is the gist of my blog, but now I have a solid social media fact to back up my claim.

The destination that I work for, Lake Arrowhead, CA., has a marketing budget that is funded by a grant from San Bernardino County.  Lake Arrowhead is unincorporated, which means we have no city tax dollars to use.  San Bernardino County provides us a grant each year which reflects a percentage of the bed tax collected in our area.  It is this money, to the tune of $130,000.00, that supports all aspects of our marketing program.

This year, 2009, due to the economy, a decrease of sponsorships for our various fundraising events, increased material costs to run 2 visitor centers, etc., etc., I found that we had ZERO dollars to buy print ads to market our destination – no dollars whatsoever.  Not that we ever have had much discretionary money, which is why I have become quite good at marketing with no money, but this year was the toughest I have experienced in over 20 years marketing Lake Arrowhead.

In late 2008, knowing what was on the horizon, I buckled down and began researching social media – researching it to death.  The hows, the whys, the whens, the wheres and how it relates to travel, tourism and small businesses in particular.  I developed a strategic roadmap for social media and in April of this year dove in (finally) and started tweeting, Facebooking in earnest and seeing how much buzz we could generate using only social media.  It was a huge risk since the welfare of our community was at stake and I was doing this completely by myself.

Since April, the entire marketing program has been via social media.  I was able to contract with a marketing student from a local college as an intern to help me with my efforts because the time commitment to social media, especially in the beginning, is enormous.

The proof, the payoff, is in the numbers.

Last week we were told that our county grant will be slightly higher than last year which means that our social media marketing program held its own and for us, it allowed us to still compete in the Southern California tourism market with those who have huge marketing budgets. We marketed a destination solely via social media with no paid print ads whatsoever.

Our social media program HAS COMPLETELY PAID OFF!!!

Social media has exceeded my wildest expectations!  While the economy has hurt everyone, Lake Arrowhead is an example of how, if you work it correctly, social media will only take up your time, not your budget and that YES you can market well with no money.  Now don’t get me wrong, I look forward to the day when we can once again have an integrated program with print ads, etc., but for Lake Arrowhead in 2009, social media saved the day and proved its worth to us.

So now, armed with this proof, I’m launching “Just a Small Town Girl” and sharing my experiences regarding niche marketing with little or no budget.  While I have chastised myself for not diving into blogging sooner, it seems now is the perfect time to start.

The moral of this blog post is Don’t (ever) Stop Believing in the power of social media – if you prepare well and have a solid social media marketing plan it truly will pay off!