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How SMEs can own social media

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Social media is a vital tool for any business under budget pressure, and even though deep engagement with customers is time-consuming, if done right the rewards will be well worth the effort, says NTOMBEZINHLE MODISELLE of Intel.

Any small business owner will tell you that they are constantly juggling with different roles, from CEO, marketer, salesperson, business developer and accountant all in one. Asking them to drive a social media strategy on top of that can be a daunting proposition, especially with social media being a new frontier for many.

Fear aside, social media can become a vital and strategic tool for fledging businesses that are too often under budget pressure. These businesses need to differentiate their services or products from competitors while driving growth and sustainability. Small businesses more than ever need to invest the time to create a personal connection with customers, and the rewards will be tangible and well worth the time and effort.

True deep engagement with your customers is time-consuming, and it requires huge effort from a small business owner to be creative and available every single day. But if you do it right, it can be very rewarding.

In this social media age, a company cannot afford not to be searchable online. The recent teaming up of Google with the Department of Trade and Industry to create Woza Online is a wonderful effort to allow any small business to have a presence online. And of course the more businesses are online, the more consumers can be reached. This is also great news for profitability. A recent World Wide Worx survey indicated 79% of businesses with an online presence reported profits as opposed to only 59% of those with no online presence.

Any marketer knows that you have to be where your customers are. With 4.1 million South Africans using Facebook, 1.1 million registered Twitter users and 1.1 million LinkedIn users, the popularity of social media is clear. Facebook provides a multitude of free tools and engagement measurements to enable anyone to create a relevant presence on social media in a customer centric and responsive manner.

As an avid social media practitioner, I believe a bit of the personal touch can translate into big successes for the bottom line of any small business.

Be wildly passionate about your customers ‚ if you don’t care you will not come up with creative approaches. Get excited about your challenges and successes and strive to reach new heights. Be curious and willing to learn something new every day. Talk to your consumers as you would talk to your friends, but always keep the professionalism up. If this is you, your authenticity would shine through.

US-based social media guru and author Brian Solis believes companies in today’s consumer-driven market have no choice but to implement a social media strategy. While the evolution of the empowered consumer has had an effect on the profit and growth of many businesses, it is especially important for small businesses to make every cent count.

Organisations have to compete for consumers’ attention, their business or contribution, and most importantly, their loyalty,‚ says Solis.

This ‚consumer evolution’ has seen customer interaction morph into community building on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, blogs, third party forums and Q&A sites. Intel research suggests that customers increasingly want to find answers from their trusted communities, and not the company’s official website. This puts the onus on social media practitioners to tap into these communities through the channels they feel comfortable in.

On a recent trip to the US, I came across a small business that helps parents find the right child care – a huge market, but also one that requires a tremendous amount of faith in the service, as child care is a very personal decision.

The business owner realised the importance of online engagement via social media, particularly as women are the largest users/readers of blogs and social media to find useful advice. Through its use of Facebook, Twitter and blogging, the company has created a base of useful shared content for parents to help them make this important choice.

Ultimately though, the most important thing about a good social media strategy is consistency: keep the conversation going!

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @gadgetza

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