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Wednesday, 29 August 2012 12:18

Social media: Unlocking new opportunities for SMEs

Social media: Unlocking new opportunities for SMEs

"Social media" is the umbrella term that defines the various activities and platforms that integrate technology and social interaction. Anybody can access these platforms and, by using them innovatively, entrepreneurs can connect with their target audiences, establish themselves as thought leaders and create a name for their company through their online presence...

With a million social media "gurus" suggesting what to do and what not to do in every article you read, how do entrepreneurs determine a strategy that will work for their businesses – especially if they're already juggling a number of roles and responsibilities? Shawn Theunissen, head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Growthpoint Properties and the founder and manager of Property Point, Growthpoint Properties' enterprise development programme, says that social media has become a key tool in the marketing and public relations arsenal of all companies. "Social media can give SMEs a presence that can be far less costly than many other options available to them. This makes it important for them to investigate how best it can be used in their specific context."

Theunissen emphasises that social media activities must be implemented correctly and managed, however: "Unlike placing an advertisement in a newspaper or magazine, social media initiatives are dynamic. In the case of Facebook for example, customers, potential customers and other interested parties can ask questions or make comments. When monitored correctly, this not only gives the entrepreneur the ability to expand on their offering, but to show real service by responding to queries promptly and actively engaging with their audience."

In implementing a basic – and manageable – social media strategy, entrepreneurs need to consider establishing a strategic presence using:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • a blog
  • an up-to-date and easy to navigate website

These "four corners of the social media ecosystem" can be used together to create brand awareness; promote offerings; offer information that readers find useful; and constantly supply interested parties with a means to contact and engage with your company. LinkedIn (a site with over 100 million users) is also highly valuable for key staff members, and should be managed personally by these members as often as possible.

Managing your platforms

Just as developing a cutting-edge website doesn't automatically mean people will visit it, social media initiatives need constant updating and marketing to ensure your message is heard. "The vital part of any social media activity for SMEs is that it enables entrepreneurs to have one-on-one discussions with people who actively express an interest in their companies," says Theunissen. "As such, if they're managed properly, they can act as a 'call centre" for their operations."

Theunissen maintains the key points of good social media management are as follows:

  1. Update your Facebook page daily, or at least every second day, to ensure you don't disappear among the many pages your core audience "likes".
  2. Don't try to sell your products or services on social media – it's called "social" media because it's a place where people gather to learn and share information, rather than make purchases. The "hard sell" on social media merely annoys people, and they'll hit the "delete" button quickly if they feel you're abusing their time.
  3. Use Twitter a few times a day and always place a link to a pertinent article on your blog or area of interest on your website (as well as contact details) in your tweet, or the tweet won't work for you as it should.
  4. Avoid tweeting three or more tweets in a row – it looks like you are using automated Twitter software and don't care enough to personalise your tweets.
  5. Try to avoid using software that publishes your tweets on your Facebook page – the hashtags are a dead giveaway, and Facebook users may (again) feel that you just can't be bothered to be a "real human being" and talk to them.
  6. Software that publishes your Facebook update to Twitter appears to be more acceptable, but should be supplemented by "real human" tweets later in the day.
  7. Offer your market information that benefits both them and you – an article on how your services can improve their lives or business for example, shows that you care about your market, and not just about advertising to them.
  8. Use your blog to disseminate information about what it is you do; the market that you're in; how your products/services enhance people's lives; and current news about your market. This can set you (or an individual company spokesperson) up as a "thought leader" in your field and assist in bringing your name or company name up when people use search engines to search for info on your market.
  9. Make sure you tag your blogs and tweets correctly – using popular words that have nothing to do with your product or service just to rank higher up in search engines can be annoying to your followers.
  10. If you don't have the time to manage your social media activities, hire someone who does and make sure that you choose someone with marketing and public relations experience. Remember that you are handing over part of your brand management to this agency and should feel comfortable that everything they do is going to improve your standing on and offline.

"Just as you wouldn't want to publish anything in print that can be damaging to your brand, be cautious about what you publish online," says Theunissen. "As the saying goes, 'what's put out in cyberspace, stays in cyberspace' – pretty much forever! Use all the online resources available to you to ensure your company can be found easily and prospective clients can contact you immediately. Of course, that has to be followed up by prompt service from you or your staff members, so make sure everyone in your organisation is aware of all your social media activities."

"Just an hour a day can prove extremely valuable to SMEs who are willing to take the time to actively promote themselves. It's public relations and it can prove to be the best hour you spend in your day," concludes Theunissen.

Published in Online
Thursday, 23 August 2012 12:34

Google’s $250m Wildfire deal boosts the value of social marketing

 Google’s $250m Wildfire deal boosts the value of social marketing

Google's purchase of Wildfire last week for a reported $250m is confirmation that social media marketing has come into its own.

In the past few weeks we've seen three major deals that amount to a billion-dollar bet on the power of social marketing. Apart from Google's purchase of Wildfire, we've also seen Oracle buy Vitrue for $300m and Buddy Media sold to Salesforce for $689m.

There is still plenty of room in the market for more players. Everyone is doing something slightly different, and evly has a unique edge because unlike most other social marketing companies we're not just about entertainment.

Both Wildfire and Buddy Media have specialised in relatively shallow customer engagement through competitions, sweepstakes and other light entertainment. The information flow is still very one-way. The client can count clicks and shares, but richer communication doesn't happen. We think that leaves a lot of value on the table.

evly enables rich, two-way communication between brands and their customers. Customers are one of the best sources of innovation and ideas any company has. But traditionally it's been difficult and expensive to tap into that resource with brands not truly knowing who these people are. With evly, the power of social engagement becomes easy to harvest – and that same engagement can be extended not only to fans, but also to employees.

While Facebook is the current favoured platform for customer engagement, any serious social marketing player should be able to engage with customers across multiple platforms. Facebook has done a good job of accommodating brands and organisations, but it's not purpose-built for them. There are other ways and places to reach customers, and more will continue to appear. The key is to engage with people in their own preferred environments.

If you harness it correctly, the power of social marketing can turn marketing from a pure cost to an investment in the future sustainability of a business.

Published in Online
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