Social media has set in a new wave, in the business world. As per the recent study carried out by Internet Advertising Bureau UK, a business having social media presence is likely to attract 80 percent more customers in future (The Guardian, 2013). Especially for small firms having limited time and budgetary constraints, it is important to chart out an effective social media marketing policy to give the required boost to the business expansion. There are different purposes for different small scale business organizations to use social media. Major ones are discussed holistically in the essay.
Maintaining the Organization's Presence and Identity
A study carried out by a professional Social Media Company, involving 998 small and mid size businesses in North America, revealed that around 94 percent used it for marketing purposes. They found it the best way to maintain the organization's identity and existence online (Yeung, 2014).
Corporate identity is among the top priorities, no matter whether the business is a small scale or lists in an elite echelon. Having profile pages on different platforms including Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter helps the companies to stay connected with the existing customers. The best aspect of social media is that it gives an opportunity of direct engagement with the clients. With Facebook having around 1.2 billion members and Twitter having 250 million active users monthly, it is obviously the best channel for startups to raise awareness about their products, create connection and engaging with customers to drive revenues (Benwell, 2014).
A recent research report from Ad-ology states that in 2014, small businesses are expected to spend more on building an online presence via active engagement on social networks. A similar research report from BIA/Kelsey stated that Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare were the main platforms used by SMBs in 2013 for spreading brand awareness (The Guardian, 2013).
Business Expansion and Reaching out to New Customers
The findings from the survey, conducted by LinkedIn, revealed that around 65 percent SMBs( Small and midsize businesses) use social media to attract new customers. Out of these, 60 percent respondents agreed that they were successful in accomplishing the task.
The primary benefit of social media is that it fades away geographical barriers and allows the companies to have wide reach irrespective of the physical boundaries. Also, small and new companies can look out for partnerships with the existing companies operating in the same industry; it is another source of potential for SMBs that may help in faster penetration among new customers (Coleman, 2013).
There are a number of tactics small companies use in combination with social media to win new customers. Email-marketing, newsletters, blogging, and videos are the most picked up ways to spread the word about the business. Using videos to demonstrate products, introduce the staff and customer testimonials may have a great bearing on the minds of potential customers as a picture is worth thousand words.
Not only that, social media connects a business with the whole industry, and a particular SMB may get to know the strategies employed by the competitors. Building on that, it can look out to devising better ways to gain a competitive advantage. For example, rolling out a similar product in cheaper price will automatically fetch new customers and help in business promotion.
However, the studies have also revealed that small businesses miss out on many aspects in their business promotion. For example, every social media platform allows inserting images, logos and links about the business and keeping these areas blank means missing the opportunity to create brand awareness. SMBs can use logos and links as a sales tool and provide information to the customers. Obviously, it will be a better way to turn the potential customers into the 'real' ones.
Various research studies have revealed the importance of online reputation for the business success. As customers have become internet-savvy, they are more likely to check the reviews before making the actual purchase and any attempt by the rivals to tarnish the image of the business may prove detrimental. There was a time in 2005 when only searching 'Wal-Mart' on search engine would filter negative forum discussions for the retailer, which drew flak for its labor practices (LocalVox, 2014).
If a global retailer can get affected by negative reviews, the extent to which small business may get affected by just few negative comments is well under imagination. This is the reason small businesses prefer to make their own online presence on all major platforms including Google+, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Statistics has revealed that around 11 percent future recruitments by small local businesses will be for the positions of social media managers (LocalVox, 2014). Not only that, studies have identified that customers prefer local organizations more if they have an online existence. Given this scenario, maintaining social reputation is crucial to the success of small businesses.
The major aspect of maintaining reputation online is replying to the negative comments in a non-confrontational way. The organization can't satisfy all of the customers and is likely to get bad comments online. However, the way it handles those comments matters a lot to retaining the faith of the clientele.
The reason that social media marketing suits to small businesses is that it is comparatively an inexpensive way of promotion and marketing. Usually, small and local businesses have budgetary constraints and having a planned social media strategy can help them in promotion practices. Secondly, social media efficiently connects the business and the customers. Statistics has revealed that around 80 percent customers connect with brands via Facebook pages (Coleman, 2013). Though the percentage may vary business to business; Facebook pages have proved a good marketing tool where customers can also share their reviews and post recommendations.
Research had revealed that the year 2009 was a time when small businesses understood the value of social media and integrated it into other marketing channels (Swipely Team, 2013). In 2013, around 90 percent small businesses had an online presence, 53 percent of them stated that online campaigns were better compared to in-person promotion and around 78 percent medium scale companies succeeded in fetching new customers via online promotion.
There are lots of success stories on how small scale businesses used social media effectively to capture the attention of the public. A dessert company used captive images, strategic partnerships and contests to enhance their visibility online via Twitter. Another small company, Ana White, generated great participation by creating an online community. Having around 50,000 Facebook fans, the company effectively involved the audience with appealing and original content online.
These examples are just the tip of the iceberg; there are numerous success stories of small firms using social media to promote their businesses online. The need is to select the suitable platform online and make an effective and engaging presence out there.
Increasing the Business Popularity
Making the business popular is much easier using social media than traditional ways of marketing. Social media networks provide lucrative options that users can exploit as per their specific requirements. For instance, Creating Facebook account may be a good option for a new small business. The appealing profile page on Facebook is usually used to feature upcoming products and services, interact with existing and potential customers and highlighting Unique Selling Points of the organization. Around 50 percent small companies have reported that they succeeded in gaining new customers using Facebook and LinkedIn (Mershon, 2011).
Likewise, small businesses also use Twitter to stay abreast with ongoing trends in the business, form relationships with businesses producing similar products and broadcasting the valuable content. LinkedIn, which is considered more formal, and professional platform for business promotion is used by companies to establish as an industry expert. However, it is more suitable for B2B companies and established business professionals.
Businesses that use infographics, videos and high-quality images for business promotion usually go for Pinterest as it allows posting quality images and videos. In addition, women consist of 85 percent of Pinterest users; businesses engaged in manufacturing women's apparel and related products can be benefitted substantially by this platform (Mershon, 2011). Succinctly put, there are different platforms and small businesses can exploit the potential depending on the industry they are operating in and the users they want to target.
The recent survey by LinkedIn revealed that small businesses also use social media for learning and nearly 50 percent of the respondents said that it is helpful to get an expert help, and recommendations (Benwell, 2014). Small businesses have a lot to learn, and social media proves one of the best platforms that impart the required learning. Businesses get to develop better ideas on what customers expect out of them, what are their tastes and preferences and what are the things they don't prefer. This understanding may help them in meeting customers' needs accordingly.
The CEO of a startup stated that learning is an important aspect for small businesses and experts' opinions help out a lot at this stage. Social media provides a platform where these companies can get the exposure to the real world business scenario. Especially the organizations operating in education and related services, social media, comes as a bonus. For instance, a mid level startup university having an online presence can provide a plethora of better options to students as compared to the mammoth one having no online presence.
Benwell, S. (2014) theguardian, 28 Feb, [Online], Available: http://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2014/feb/28/capitalising-social-media-grow-business [13 March 2014].
Coleman, A. (2013) theguardian, 27 November, [Online], Available: http://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2013/nov/27/targeted-networking-social-media-business [11 March 2014].
LocalVox (2014) LocalVox, Jan, [Online], Available: http://localvox.com/resources/small-business-marketing-statistics/#socialmedia [10 March 2014].
Mershon, P. (2011) socialmediaexaminer, 8 November, [Online], Available: http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/26-promising-social-media-stats-for-small-businesses/ [12 March 2014].
Swipely Team (2013) swipely, 08 April, [Online], Available: https://www.swipely.com/blog/how-social-media-has-changed-marketing-for-small-business/ [13 March 2014].
The Guardian (2013) theguardian, 29 August, [Online], Available: http://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2013/aug/29/social-media-boost-business-tips [13 March 2014].
Yeung, K. (2014) thenextweb, 13 Feb, [Online], Available: http://thenextweb.com/insider/2014/02/13/linkedin-report-says-small-businesses-becoming-astute-users-social-media-marketing/#!zwNn0 [15 March 2014].