April 1

Episode 28: Social Media in the Age of COVID with Patrick Fulbright


Join us as we talk to Dr. Patrick Fulbright, area director of the University of Georgia’s Small Business Development Center, about the effects of COVID-19 on the social media landscape and what that means for your social media marketing efforts both today and in the coming years. We also discuss strategies for focusing your social media efforts, as well as some of the resources and services offered by SBDCs around the nation.

Patrick’s Bio

Dr. Patrick Fulbright has over 25 years of executive management experience spending the majority of this time with The Home Depot where he honed his business experience in retail management, buying, logistics, advertising, and finance.  Previous to his time with The Home Depot, Patrick spent ten years with Publix Supermarkets in-store management and Expense accounting.  

Patrick has had three successful entrepreneur endeavors and a joint venture with his older brother in manufacturing. Patrick was the Business, Finance, and Entrepreneur Professor at Savannah College of Art and Design before moving on to a partnership in a multi-inspection firm with a continued education real estate school before joining the UGA SBDC.  

Patrick has his B.S. in Management from Florida Southern College, M.B.A. from Coles College of Business – Kennesaw State University, and his Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Trident University. 

In This Episode, You’ll Learn…

  • Resources and services offered by America’s Small Business Development Centers
  • Common social media marketing mistakes
  • How to focus your social media efforts for maximum efficiency
  • Emerging trends in social media as the world adapts to COVID-19
  • Where to start if you haven’t yet taken the plunge into social media


  • “A lot of times in marketing, you have the wants, needs, and desires. In this world, we’ve gone to demands now. Just think of the next iPhone. We don’t wait for it, we’re demanding the next thing that comes out.” —Dr. Patrick Fulbright
  • “We’ve advanced ten years into the digital world because of COVID.” —Dr. Patrick Fulbright
  • “Regardless of your platform, it needs to convey authenticity.” — Mike O’Neill
  • “I get it. I was an entrepreneur and have had a couple of my own businesses. You feel like you’re an island upon yourself sometimes, and it’s all on your shoulders.” —Dr. Patrick Fulbright
  • “Hold your breath, because it is changing so rapidly. New ideas, new ways of communicating, getting information out, it’s constantly evolving. We’re in a very exciting time right now.” —Dr. Patrick Fulbright

Links & Resources Mentioned…

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Read The Transcript

Episode #28

Mike O'Neill:  Welcome back to the Get Unstuck & On Target Podcast. I'm Mike O'Neill with Bench Builders, and we're speaking with thought leaders to uncover tips to help you break down the barriers that may be keeping you or your business stuck. Joining me today is Patrick Fulbright. Dr. Fulbright is an area director with the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center.

Welcome Patrick.

Patrick Fulbright: Hey welcome. Thank you for having me, Mike.

Mike O'Neill: I'm looking forward to our time together. And I'll explain a little bit more why, but let me also kind of give our listeners a little more background on you. Patrick has over 25 years of executive management experience spending the majority of his time with Atlanta based Home Depot.

And it was there that he developed expertise in retail management, logistics, advertising, and finance. In the private sector, Patrick has led successful entrepreneurial endeavors, including a manufacturing joint venture. Dr. Fulbright also was a business finance and entrepreneur professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design before joining the Small Business Development Center.

So you can see how well-qualified Patrick is to be with us. So Patrick, let's get talking. Does that work for you?

Patrick Fulbright: That's great. It's good to get going.

Mike O'Neill: Patrick. I was introduced to the Small Business Development Center when I was asked to present to some of your clients on a topic and in learning more about what you all did.

I was just, was very, very impressed at what a fantastic resource that the Small Business Development Centers offer. And I know you are in Georgia and therefore you're under the, kind of the masthead of the UGA University of Georgia, Small Business Development Center. But my understanding is that this type of offering is literally all over the country.

Is that a fair understanding?

Patrick Fulbright: Yeah, Mike, it is. We're actually part of a larger organization called America's Small Business Development Center. Where we have, organizations in every state of the United States, Georgia, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, California, some of the more robust ones, but you can find SPDCs  in every state of United States.

Mike O'Neill: You know, we've been saying the Small Business Development Center. And I think that that title is a little bit misleading because most people, when they think small business think only mom and pop. And it's my understanding that you offer your services, to organizations, larger than that. Is the employee account of 500 is that about the point that you all service up to?

Patrick Fulbright: Yeah, our, our funding partner is the SBA Small Business Administration. A lot of times we're confused with them, but they're actually what part of our funding. And they, their definition of a small businesses up to 500 and employees typically for our service service centers and we have 18 of those across the state of Georgia, where we have about a hundred members of our organization in those 18 offices. And we have a state office course in Athens. We, we see clients and we call small business owners clients because of the relationship we have with them. Typically under 10, typically as far as, as employees, but we do have what we call segmentation, where we look at preventure startups established those businesses that may be in the business for a few years and have revenues up to like half a million.

And then we have professionally managed businesses. And those are the ones that would be into the multimillion dollars with those employees up to that 500. Once we get there, most companies have the infrastructure and the professional team that some of the things that we can bring to the table, they probably can do internally, or they have the resources do internally.

Mike O'Neill: All right. That's very helpful to know. And so, in terms of that's the size organizations that you support, if you were to kind of describe the nature of the services, because the folks listening to this podcast, based on what we've been told. These are decision makers, these are business leaders. These are oftentimes of business owners.

So I would assume they're going to be sitting up and paying particular attention to this podcast. But what are the broad categories of kind of services that the SBDC can offer business owners and business leaders?

Patrick Fulbright: Well, I always like to characterize is we're the best kept secret in Georgia. Not intentionally.

We don't put all our funding into marketing. So a lot of our, marketing is done word of mouth. The success of working with a business owner moves from their, their circle of business acquaintances or through chambers and such. But the SBDC has three pillars that we work out of one. And the first one is the no-cost consulting because we we're already funded through the SBA.

And also through the university, we get tax dollars. That is a, a reciprocity where it's reinvested for small businesses. So we have a no-cost consulting. All of our consultants in the organization are MBA trained. They've come out of industry some have had their own businesses, but we have a brain trust of, folks that can bring pretty much any element of business that can help a client with any element of business.

If it's out of my wheelhouse, I can tap into that brain trust and bring another consultant in to co consult and help, a business owner. The second pillar is we're educators. We teach classes around business elements. Our classes are very economically priced. They're designed for business owner decision-makers for that small business.

They're relative to what their challenges are. And they can find that through our website at www.georgiasbdc.org, we have a list of those classes. And then the third pillar is the research we do. Because we're part of the university we have a plethora of data and also we tie into census data and, department of commerce, different type of avenues for information to provide to those business owners to make informed decisions.

And again, does that research that we do is no cost to that, client or that small business. So typically there's in my office two major themes come out with when we're working with small business owners. One is that what we call a business audit, looking at where are their challenges, or they know their challenges, but we help them take a look at some other factors, maybe in their business that can be contributing to what they're struggling with. The second and probably the one that's predominantly because of our COVID time is finance.

What is the options out there? Whether it's the Economic Injury Disaster Loan with a targeted advance or the loan itself or the Paycheck Protection Plan, you know, our program, whether they qualify on the second round of it. Or traditional loans, can I get a Small Business Administration loan guarantee or work with a commercial bank?

Can I get funding for my expansion or buying property? We help put a package together and find them a financial institution partner to hopefully make their project or dream come true with their business. The third one is marketing. We spent a lot of time with clients on marketing strategy. Especially this day and age with the, the different channels of social media.

What is that right channel? How do I use that to cultivate clients? How do I get that exposure out there? So those are pretty much the main ones, but we, we have experts in human resources, strategic planning. We have, CPAs, attorneys that are consultants. Two areas. We don't really get into a whole lot.

And we actually push that to our professional partners, our tax advice, and legal. We do incorporate tax attorneys or tax CPAs and attorneys to help our clients with that. Those, and you can probably figure it out, but it's because of the liability that can come with that. We can talk to those, some elements about that, but we easily push our, our clients, small business folks to seek those professionals in those, those areas.

Mike O'Neill: Patrick, I really appreciate you kind of explaining, particularly these three pillars. It's one of those three pillars that I think we'll spend most of our time on, and that is on the marketing side. But I want to just be mindful of, we have listeners from literally all over the country and actually outside of the country.

But if what you're describing is replicated in large part in most States, if not all States, it sounds as if what we're going to be talking about would equally apply if you are a Georgia based business or if you are in Washington state.

Patrick Fulbright: That's correct. Our platform of the things we do is the basis for all SBDC.

So as you are in a, if say you're in Tennessee, that SBDC has those three pillars and they have that expertise. We actually do a lot of, collaboration with other States, especially during this pandemic. We shared resources and data help each other on best practices and actually learn from our clients of the struggles and challenges their facing.

And then we go back and develop some task teams or collaboration that help come up with solutions. One of the big things, during a COVID was we are, have become the dissemination of information from the Small Business Administration and Treasury. Here in Georgia, we have a task team that they spend, uncounted hours understanding the legislation.

How does it impact small businesses? And then how do we communicate that effectively? So we really can help that small business owner to choose and to really tap into the best, type of stimulus or funding or relief that they can get to maintain their business operations.

Mike O'Neill: Excellent. Patrick, when you mentioned the three pillars, the third being the marketing pillar, it's that pillar I'd like us to spend some time on next and specifically, and this is what we hear from clients.

And that is the questions about social media. And if you were to kind of like, describe what ways are you finding that business owners and leaders are struggling with social media?

Patrick Fulbright: Typically, what we're seeing is, it's, it's the business owner not taking enough time to identify what channel and we call the social media a different channel or channel marketing.

What channel are they choosing for their audience? Or what do they think their audiences gleaming to? And many times they kind of do the shotgun effect. They try to hit all the social media channels that they're aware of, or they think they can utilize. And we really recommend and work with our small business owners to try to cha to focus on really, who is your customer, who is your audience that you're trying to go after and narrow that, that, focus and put the, the time and effort into that.

And speaking of time, that's another one. It's most of our business owners underestimate the time it takes to do social media correctly and effectively. You know, many times it's that inauthenticity, that happens when they're trying to do so many different channels and try to get communication out and that they lose that cohesiveness and the messaging.

And it it'll tie into something later that we'll talk about is knowing their customer, and getting that communication to that customer. And most of the time it's, they have limited resources. Social media is, is one of those areas that it's a tool and it does take resources, time, energy, and money a lot of times, but it might not be the business owner as the best person to do that.

It could be somebody from the outside or possibly an employee you could groom or put that as a task for them to help with that social media work.

Mike O'Neill: This is good guidance. What I heard is a business owner has a lot on his or her plate and they may not necessarily have the resources necessary to do it exactly right. And for that reason, what you're suggesting to the listeners is focus. Take a more of a rifle approach on your social media strategy versus a shotgun approach. Be much more specific as to which channel, if I heard you correctly. And also who might your target audience might very well be you also reminding us that you can't, You don't want to underestimate how much time it's going to take to do it and do it right. Those were two takeaways. I just heard that you just mentioned right off the bat, you know, if you're a business owner and you're, and you're looking at ROI and everything you're trying to do, you know, how do you suggest, what is the real ultimate business goal that folks should have when it comes to social media?

Patrick Fulbright: So, typically, you know, you always hear, Oh, push everybody back to the website. But what we, we educate on is to talk to the business owners. What is really the business strategy goal. And I'll give you an example, Mike, I have a client, she has a hair products. Her goal for social media is not to push folks to a website to try to gather data from them or to sell them stuff.

Her goal because of the uniqueness of her product is to educate. So she uses social media and her audience is that those customers? Yeah. She wants to sell the product, of course, as the end of the assessor profit mode. But what she really wants to leverage social media for is to educate these customers or potential customers on how to use their product and why they need this product.

A lot of times in marketing, you have the wants, needs, desires. And in this world we've gone to demands. Now, just think of the next iPhone. We don't wait for it. We're demanding the next thing that comes out. And you can look that with the, the new, Thomas driving cars, we can't wait for that to come out.

At least some of us. But we really take time with that business owner to define what is your business marketing strategy for social media or for your marketing efforts? And I think that's, that's pretty key and it'll tie in to that their return on investment to have that time, energy and money.  What is that strategy and how does that marry going forward with what you're trying to achieve?

Mike O'Neill: So let's go there. If you're stepping back and you, as a business owner have decided, I want to embrace social media, I've got to dedicate the energy and the time necessary. I know that Dr. Fulbright says I need to be, as focused as I can and be very, very mindful of who the customer is and be mindful of what is it we're trying to achieve through social media?

So if you stepped back and were to say, all right, I'm going to expend the energy necessary to do this right. What would you describe as kind of the best ROI for social media?

Patrick Fulbright: So I would look at two different things. One is to make a formalized, go to market plan. What am I going to talk to? And what is that information that I want to get out about my product, service, company and, and really think about my target market.

And when I, when I teach about really it's, it's, it's looking at a macro to a micro. So we talk about target markets. But what you really want to look at is what is my target segment, those homogeneous characteristics of folks that are going to be attractive to my product or service that I can drill into and find out, you know, what are those characteristics, define them, and then marry messaging that ties to that.

Here at the SBDC we, I mentioned on one of our pillars is the research we do. The research helps us look at demographics, psychographics, geographics. We can get really granular with a business owner and trying to define that segmentation of going after that customer. And we call it no thy customer. That's the big part of that whole market plan or going to market is really to define that customer.

So you, those efforts that you have that time, energy and money, you can maximize it to really attract a buyer to your goods and services. And we spend a lot of time there. We do what I always characterized as we do robust marketing strategies. Where we defined objectives, initiatives and the tactics to go after those customers.

And it manifests itself into promotions or campaigns where we can actually measure an ROI. A simple example would be maybe it's a launch of a new product or an extension of a product. And we put some type of code or a, something to trigger a, promotional refund or a discount that we can track how well did that promotion go or that campaign go? What was, what was your return on your investment there? And we can have something to measure it. And that really helps define and help those clients, the small business owners to say yes, that worked, but maybe we need to refine it a little bit. Maybe that messaging, we, we needed this, do some evaluation and refine it going forward. And we do that. We do, a after our campaign, we come back and take a look at the numbers and then refine it and either pitch it, or we start with something new,

Mike O'Neill: You know, Patrick you've mentioned three pillars and we've spoken in part on the marketing pillar. But then you've also introduced us to kind of the research pillar of SBDC. And that is you guys have a perspective, you can see what kind of is happening. Social media. It seems as if it's changing very, very fast. If you were to kind of offer a few observations, what are you and your colleagues seeing?

What are those emerging trends that we need to be aware about regarding social media?

Patrick Fulbright: Well, probably the biggest one is that an COVID has helped drive some of this too. McKinsey made a article about six months ago that we've advanced 10 years into the digital world. And through, because of COVID. So a lot of folks being at home and stuff, they didn't have that outlet. So the, their computer, desktop computer, their peripherals, all these were tools to get into the internet and look at things to check things out. So video has really become a manifest and you can see that with the rise of Tik ToK. There's also, another one that's very interesting.

It's coming online as Clubhouse, which is an audio type of, you have a subscription or you get invited to join. It's limited iOS right now. But also things that were kind of dying has circled back, such as blogs. Folks have more time in front of their, computers and they are, they're looking at reading things, newsletters have a new insurgents, especially in the educational side because so many students are at home.

Getting information to parents or digital, they send it through a channel through, whatever the school is using. So we're seeing a lot of that, but I would, I characterize one of my business consultants in my office says this don't hold your, hold your breath because it is changing so rapidly and new ideas, new ways of communicating, getting, information out.

It's constantly evolving. So we're in a very exciting time right now, where we will probably see other things that are developing from this time of so many folks being at home, working from home, using different tools and new apps. So I would say, you know, stay tuned things, things are evolving as we speak. But the video side is I would encourage folks to take a look at that.

And in the big part of that is being authentic with your messaging and what you're trying to convey to your potential or your current clients or customers.

Mike O'Neill: Patrick you've mentioned that word at least twice thus far, and that is authenticity. And that is you are encouraging your clients when you're working with them they really need to know their customers. And what I'm hearing you suggest is regardless of your platform, it needs to convey authenticity.

Patrick Fulbright: Yes.

Mike O'Neill: You know, when you mentioned these emerging trends, if a business owner who's listening right now might say, you know, we're not doing any of that. It could somewhat intimidate them.

And so if someone is really not, they're a business owner, but they really haven't embraced social media yet. Let's say they are able to get real clear on who their target audience is and what their needs are. Do you find you and your colleagues, do you find suggesting one platform more often than another to get started if you're not currently involved at all in social media?

Patrick Fulbright: Typically one of the ones that we do recommend because you are a business, is you need to have a business LinkedIn account. That one has evolved over the years. You know, it originally, it was more for relationship building, but if you go to LinkedIn today, it's a recruiting platform. It's a selling platform.

It has really evolved.  Some of the other platforms I would echo what you just said, really take an analysis of who your customer is or who you're trying to reach. You know, Facebook typically has an older demographic, Instagram, more of a younger demographic, not to say we don't have a mix in those. But it's really, understanding where your customers are and through some analytics, especially what you've probably heard the term insights.

Google has a Google My Business, Microsoft has insights. These are some, data that you can pull from your website, and then bracing some of these free apps for some of those analytics that help you drive into who is coming to my website, or who's doing what? And then there's a lot of industry data out there that you can look at.

To marry your business with some others to take a look at, hey, you know, my, other industry folks, they're utilizing this channel and they seem to be getting some responses and stuff. Here at the SBDC. We can help you with that. That's foreign to you. If you don't have the, the know-how or haven't looked at any type of these insights or the analytics.

We can help with that and show you some of the information that come out of it .Or do an industry. Look, we use a database called Vertical IQ that can actually help you understand in your industry what are some of those social media channels or marketing strategies that are incorporated that seem to be driving success or will be driving success?

Mike O'Neill: These are all phenomenal resources that you're mentioning. You know, as I'm listening to you, describe how you help your clients, and keeping with the theme of our podcast. Would you mind sharing with our listeners, maybe an example where you were working with a client that concluded they were stuck and how did you help that client get unstuck?

Patrick Fulbright: So I had a client. She has a two, very interesting products. And she came to us to ask I'm stuck on what to do with social media. So we really took time to drill into some data, to look at some of the products and what I would call comparative products or substitute products that were similar to what she was selling and look at some of the channels that some of our competitors were utilizing.

And we were able to pull some data for her. And then one of the things that we do Mike's we do some test. I mean, let's do a test promotion or a campaign on this and see how well your ROI on that time, energy and money looks like after a period of time. What were the results of that effort through this social media channel?

Along like that, we talked about know thy customer. As she started to get results she started to build a characteristics or that segmentation of really who her clients were that were gleaming toward what she was pushing through those social media channels. From there we developed a, when I, what I characterize as a robust marketing strategy, not only did we incorporate the social media, but we did a.

Pretty much traditional marketing sheet were able, she was able to put in a coupon and we targets a community of a older demographic. That was a mailer that went to their, their mailbox. And she can, you can buy into those type of zip codes that we can pull that data to find what would be attractive based on that segmentation or that characteristic of your customer.

Today she's experienced great sales. She's hit the right market. She's hit the right messaging. Her message across the different platforms are cohesive.  And it, it rings through, through all her messaging and her branding. So from there, she was able to enhance her branding to be a destination for some of these products that she's selling.

Mike O'Neill: Great success story. Thank you for sharing. As you reflect on it, kinds of things we've discussed on this podcast, what might be some things you want to make sure that we, the listeners have as takeaways?

Patrick Fulbright: So I think first and foremost, take advantage of these resources. I mean, Bench Builders as a partner of the SBDC is great. SBDC is fantastic. You've probably heard a Score. These are resources to help your business. A lot of times you have, and again, I get it I was an entrepreneur and I've had several, a couple of my own businesses, but you feel like you're an island upon yourself sometimes, and it's all on your shoulders.

Please reach out to your local chambers and or the SBDC through a website. To help with these different struggles. It's okay. One of the things that I always pushed for my clients is to be what I call the pro in your sport. And part of that is keep up your reading and research, watch the innovation that's going on.

A lot of times, you know, you might not be, an earlier adopter of some of this technology, but definitely understand what's going on in the marketplace. If it's out of your wheelhouse of comfort, look for some partners, maybe some associations, BNI groups. And there's some that are free through different chambers where they're business round tables.

Taken advantage of some of those in that just really plays into being the best you can and you're in your industry. And, you know, it's a sports metaphor of being a pro in your sport, but be the best in your business. And part of that is maintain your education. Take advantage of classes like the SBDC offers. Knowledge is power going forward.

And don't feel like, you know, you're being left behind. It's never too late to get involved with these different channels. The find that the best one that can be your catalyst to drive folks to your site or to your business to increase sales. It's, it's a fantastic tool. And we've learned a lot this year through COVID.

That those that didn't have e-commerce sites or really had robust websites or weren't and taken advantage of social media. They did start pivoting into there and we can help. There are resources there.

Mike O'Neill: Patrick, this was excellent. If. a listener wants to reach out to you. What's the best way for them to connect with you?

Patrick Fulbright: Well, you can always go to our state websites, www.georgiasbdc.org, or you can reach out to my office and, or the send me an email. It's P Fulbright, P F U L B R I G H T@georgiasbdc.org.

I'm sorry. Yeah, it's ww, at Georgia SBDC. I think I put dot in there, but yeah, I have the same one P fulbright@georgiasbdc.org. And then our number, phone number to my office is (770) 531-5681. You're welcome to call and set up a time to meet with one of our consultants. And we'll help you with any type of element or struggles you might be having with your business.

Take advantage of this resource. Again, we do no cost consulting.

Mike O'Neill: Patrick, you have given us some how to reach you by email and phone numbers. For those who are maybe listening while they're driving. Don't worry. We're going to include all this in the show notes. So that will be included when you download this episode, you'll have that contact information. You know, with your unique background, you know, Patrick, you worked, in, the private sector with large organizations learning kind of best practices and applying those best practices. You have in fact, been a business owner. You have taught, at the collegiate level, you're an incredible, well-rounded individual and now, you know why I was so much looking forward to having you as a podcast guest, you're a wonderful resource, but you are typical the kinds of folks who I've had a chance to meet in working with the Small Business Development Centers. And since they're now, we now know they're all over the country. I hope that listeners, wherever they are, will see the SBDC as a valuable resource. Patrick, thank you.

Patrick Fulbright: Well, Mike, thank you for the opportunity. And I do want to characterize most SBDC people are business nerds. Oh, we love business. And that's why we do it. It's not for the money. It's really, you know, the whole mission. Georgia for, is really, the economic development of Georgia, small businesses and economic development of the, growth of Georgia through small businesses.

And we just love it, Mike, thanks for giving me the time to speak and I encourage every one of your listeners to reach out, even if you don't think you have a, a, a big problem, but you think there's something there that needs help. Don't hesitate to reach out to your local SBDC, whether it's in Georgia or any others state. Thanks again, Mike.

Mike O'Neill: Well, you are very welcoming and how you just described that. So, thank you, Patrick. And I also wanna thank our listeners for joining us for this episode of Get Unstuck & On Target. We upload the latest episode every Thursday. And if you haven't already, I invite you to join our growing list of subscribers, but we at Bench Builders, we love to help companies get unstuck with practical management training, leadership coaching, and better business planning and execution. But if you've been listening to my conversation here with Patrick, and you're realizing that something's keeping you or your business stuck, let's talk visit unstuck.show to schedule a call. So I'd like to thank you for joining us. And I hope you've picked up on some tips that will help you Get Unstuck & On Target. Until next time.

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