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Impatience and lack of understanding cited as reasons why SMEs think social media is waste of time

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In the words of Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, social media has revolutionised the way businesses interact with customers, and has become key to maintaining a brand’s image.

By now it’s clear that platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ should be an essential part of customer service,” he said. “But many companies are very cautious and slow to start using social media.”

This was further emphasised by Deal With The Media’s latest report of 1,000 SME business owners and managers, which found that 62 per cent were unsure whether social media marketing had been effective for their business. 

At the moment social media doesn’t seem to be working for the majority of small businesses,” said Deal With The Media founder Pete Walter. “Most of the UK’s five million SMEs spend between six and ten hours a week marketing themselves via social media, making their businesses feel modern, digital and connected to their customers.

“The unfortunate reality is most think they are wasting time and money in doing so. Collectively, all that time spent Tweeting and updating various sites adds up to more than one billion man-hours a year – or the combined workload of more than 520,000 full-time employees.”

According to University of Central Lancs’s Dianne Richardson, SMEs that have made decisions on how to be social instead of do social have been known to be brilliant at social media. “On Facebook: look at Sally’s Cottages as she’s bucking the trend for companies who don’t do paid advertising on Facebook to get interaction. When it comes to Twitter, Country Puddings has a lovely natural way and uses opportunities such as April Fools and the Great British Bake Off brilliantly.”

She suggested that many SME owners either so busy running their business day to day that they felt they would struggle to make the time to set everything up and maintain it, or didn’t truly understand what type of voice on social media would lure consumers.

Similarly, Penny Power, founder of the Digital Youth Academy, suggested that SMEs often had an amazing response time, but didn’t get involved in conversations to build up a following.

“Don’t just keep saying how good you are and how everyone should buy from you – it’s very off-putting,” she said. Instead, she advised SMEs to treat social media like a trip to the local pub.

“If you’d just moved in to a town or village you wouldn’t open the door of your new local pub and shout that you’re a plumber or an architect and people should come over and give you business,” she said.

Heather Baker, founder of TopLine Communications, said that small business shouldn’t be deterred by a lack of instantaneous and large following – it takes time to build up a base of loyal fans.

“It’s very difficult to grow a following organically from a low starting point,” she said. “The good news is LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter all now allow companies to set small budgets of just a few pounds per day to advertise through suggested posts, recommended followers and so on.

“You can tap into the type of people you want to reach by where they are and what they’re interested in, and you normally only pay when they click on your advert. It’s a very fast and effective way to start building a following.”

At the forefront, however, Iona St Joseph, social media account manager at A Social Media Agency, claimed that smaller businesses shouldn’t try to compete with big brands, “because if you concentrate too much on the competition, you’ll never get anything done.

“If someone is already dominating your sector on certain social networks, you just need to find another way to stand out. They might be first to break news on their giant corporate blog, but by updating your accounts and blog in a friendly, humorous way, you’ll begin to stand out as a more personable business that people can engage with.”

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