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Social Media in Small Business: Where to Start and What to Consider

Social media is no longer merely about sharing selfies and telling people what you ate for lunch that day; it has become a powerful tool to foster brand growth and recognition in the business context. Small businesses would often want to implement social media strategies as an affordable marketing tool, but may have given up after limited success, or feel that they do not know where to begin. This article endeavours to guide small business owners/employees at a high level, on the strategies they could implement to ensure the effective use of social media as a business-marketing tool.

Why should entrepreneurs care about social media?

It is no secret that South Africa has one of the lowest business survival rates when compared to other emerging markets, with nearly seventy percent of SMEs failing within their first year (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor) and only a small percentage of businesses surviving past the five-year mark (Seed Academy's Startup Survey Results 2015). Further to this, one of the key challenges startups face, which contributes to the low business survival rate, is finding customers. When entrepreneurs were asked to name the key areas in which they require support, 25% of Seed Academy Startup respondents indicated that they require Marketing Support; this was surpassed only by the need for Financial Support (41% of respondents). According to statistics released by Statista, Twitter had an average of 236 million monthly active users, while Facebook boasted with 1.44 billion monthly active users as of the first quarter of 2015; these are but two examples of the wide reach of social media. Social media sites, such as these, offer low-cost opportunities to market business offerings, thereby addressing the need for marketing support.

Once a business/brand has an established social media presence, they will be able to promote their website, advertise new products or special offers for free, or through low-cost paid advertising, which could ultimately lead to greater brand awareness, increased sales, and greater credibility as a business/brand.

Where do I start?

In an interview with Tracy Gander from Saratoga, she advised entrepreneurs to select a social media platform based on the industry in which they operate. Tech-enabled businesses typically derive the greatest benefit from Twitter, while businesses that deal directly with the end-user, or that operate in the retail industry, would perhaps receive greater benefit from Facebook. She discusses the importance of entrepreneurs first conducting research to gain a better understanding of their business' market, by engaging directly with their potential customers to uncover which social media channels they make use of as consumers. "Talk to your customers and find out what channels they use by conducting a survey. Get it [their social media preferences] directly from them and do not make assumptions, because people will surprise you. And then test it out". She suggested that that businesses experiment with different channels for the opportunity to discover, first-hand, where their correct audience may be found.

Aspects to consider when jumping on the social media bandwagon
  • It is important to share clear, concise, and eye-catching content in order to ensure that your posts are seen. Provide your audience with content they would find useful, interesting or relatable; content that is relevant to your core business and brand. This will assist in building an identifiable and credible brand identity.
  • Take care not to spam your audience's newsfeeds by posting too much, too often. Try to spread your messaging out during periods that you have identified as peak times for audience engagement (whether it relates to liking, sharing, retweeting, favouriting or commenting on your posts).
  • Set up a content plan. First, establish what you would like to get out of using social media and outline the types of content your business could potentially develop and share to that end. It could include content such as pictures taken at a special event, announcements, special offers, company news, thought leadership pieces, or important event dates. The content plan could include pre-developed and agreed-upon content, aligned with the dates and times these will be posted to selected social media sites. Having such a plan in place will further assist your business in monitoring the success of certain types of posts.
  • It is useful to spend some money on promoting your pages or content, given that most social media platforms offer users the opportunity to target their posts at their preferred audience (Tracy Gander, Saratoga). In this way, a business/brand can greatly extend their reach. Tracy further views it is a waste of money to buy user lists or followers, as it does not guarantee the right audience for your products/services, unless you merely want to show off with numbers. Targeted advertising, as opposed to organic posts and interaction, assists with building brand recognition amongst site users with a specified interest in your business offerings or posts.
  • Social media provides an avenue for businesses to engage directly with their customers, including receiving compliments or complaints from consumers. According to a survey conducted by Millward Brown Digital in 2013 on behalf of Lithium, speedy responses to client queries meant that customers would be more likely to encourage friends and family to acquire a business' goods/services, be more likely to recommend the brand via social media, become more receptive to the business' advertising campaigns and lastly, be more likely to spend more money with said business.
  • Engage in a two-way conversation with your audience. This could be done by replying to comments made on your posts, making mention of the individuals/other businesses that frequently interact with your content. In this way, your business/brand could develop relationships with potential future investors, clients or service providers.

Social media started out as a platform for socialising with others online and has developed into a powerful, inexpensive tool to be used by businesses of all sizes, to deliver their messages effectively to appropriate audiences. This article reflects only a few of the important strategies to be considered when deciding to utilise social media as a marketing tool, but offers a good starting point for businesses who are eager to embark on a social media campaign, but do not necessarily know where to start. In summary: Share good content, don’t overwhelm your audience with too many posts, spend a little money on advertising to your intended demographic, be responsive to queries posed on social media and actively engage with your audience to build good relationships to the benefit of your business and brand.