A recent study shows that 52 per cent of SMEs do not use social media. Yet social media offers a quick and simple way of establishing a web-presence, without the time or cost implications of a bespoke website.Here are ways in which growing companies can utilise social media to help them improve and become a business leader not a follower.
1) Engage and interactDon’t build branded social platforms; build interactive membership communities of people who are interested in your products and services. Intuit, a provider of accounting software to small businesses, launched its “Small Business Britain” campaign to bring together the voices of small businesses in an online community. Through LinkedIn and Facebook, more than 30,000 people have now engaged with the company. And Blendtec, a blender maker, experienced a 600 per cent increase in their blender sales after they started their online campaign, which reached over 12 million hits on YouTube.
2) A multitude of mediumsTry not to rely solely on one platform. Mix it up a little and use a variety of mediums to spark a debate and social interaction, reaching a number of different users and audiences. ASOS, the online fashion retailer, grew in just ten years from being a startup to employing more than 1,000 people. A key part of this strategy has been using social media for specific issues – in addition to its main account, ASOS has dedicated Twitter profiles for updates on postal orders and its customer service team, while its Facebook page shares fashion news and competitions.
3) The social benefit of incentivesAll memberships have benefits – from supermarket loyalty cards to gym memberships –and online communities are no different. Be broad in the scope of your incentives and make sure that those who contribute are rewarded.
4) The business impact of incentivesConsider ways in which offering incentives will benefit your business. Tailor-make your incentives; there’s no “one size fits all”.
5) Don’t neglect bloggingSocial media goes beyond being simply a communication tool. It’s also a valuable research tool and you should consider what you would like to find out from your customers and which platforms are the best to achieve this. The use of blogging is a great way to find out what your customers are saying.
6) Create a sense of belongingWork hard at building a real community rather than being a transient participant in a digital world. Second-hand website Preloved.co.uk established itself as one of the largest classified advertising sites in the UK by focusing on the community aspect of selling unwanted items, rather than the economic aspects. Unlike eBay, there are no listing fees or sales charges, and items are prioritised to geographic proximity. Their pitch is “find a bargain, make a friend” and the combination of their website, Twitter and Facebook has helped drive the business to being one of the top-10 fastest growing SMEs websites on the web in 2011.
7) Social capitalThe development of social capital within an online community is a key aspect of people acknowledging opinion leaders and focal points.
8) Create a conversationBuilding online communities isn’t all about brand “love-ins” – it’s about sparking and maintaining social interactions. Customers with conflicting viewpoints are just as important as customers who adore your brand. The emergence of Mumsnet and Netmums was complete when they became an election battleground in 2010, with the leaders of all three major parties joining special web chats. Currently, Mumsnet has 1.3 million members and 25,000 posts a day are entered onto the site, while Netmums has over 23 million page views a month. Both have fostered communities around advice, counter-advice and discussion – highlighting the value of not only communicating with customers, but enabling customers to talk to each other. The explosion in user-generated review websites is another reflection of this trend.
9) Create demandInform people about up-and-coming products and services creating excitement and hype. By doing this, the demand is there even before the product is launched. In San Francisco, one man and a crème brûlée cart used social media to not only create demand, but sustain it. Curtis Kimball now uses Twitter to share his daily location and the flavours available to more almost 20,000 people – while his followers distribute this information to their own followers, pure digital word-of-mouth.
10) Watch the competitionSocial media is a fantastic platform to monitor competitor activity without being noticed. Google Alerts is a good place to start but there are a lot of other tools to help you monitor similar activity. Dr David Grundy is principal lecturer, Accounting and Financial Management, at Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University.
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