According to the 2009 Nielsen Global Consumer Behaviour Research, 90 percent of all buying decisions begin online. That means if a business don’t have a visible online presence, only 10 percent of your market would consider you an option. For a Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), that could mean their entire business. That buying process usually starts with the consumer searching for a product or a service either through any of the existing search engines or by asking for recommendations from friends. Once options are shortlisted, the consumer will make a more detailed investigation on the shortlisted options by checking the company website, looking for reviews, and, more importantly, asking friends about the products or services.
In every step of this process, social networking is front and centre regardless if the product or service is retail or Business-to-Business (B2B). Contrary to popular belief, social media is not synonymous to social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Social networking involves all channels, venues, platforms, applications, and websites that allow consumers or users to directly interact with other users either actively or passively.
Social networking is a relatively new but powerful economy. In the UK alone, the International Telecommunications Union or UTI (2010) estimates that there is a total of 51,442,100 internet users as of June2010, 10 million more than the estimate of the Office for National Statistics Office. That accounts for 82.5 per cent of the population. Of this, Nielsen (2008) states that 97 per cent has shopped online. The Office for National Statistics Office (2011) estimates that there are 66 per cent of all users bought products and paid for services online.
Comscore (2011) also states that UK internet users are the most involved as they spend the most time online and 73 per cent rely on social media for everything they do including shopping according to InSites Consulting, a research firm, in their 2011 study.
The message is clear. Consumers are online and highly reliant on social media. It presents itself as a tool and a venue for small businesses to establish and expand their business. However, it is natural for a glamourized medium as social media to be pictured as the be-all and end-all of sales and marketing. This paper will examine how exactly SMEs can utilize social media to grow their business.
It’s a Stimulant Not a Purchase Fulfilment
Row Perfect is a cardio exercise machine that simulates rowing. They used to do trade shows and retail selling. They are now selling purely online and are more successful doing so. The strategy is simple, they use tweetdeck to scan for mentions of products and brands similar to theirs. They directly tweet the people looking to check out a similar product. That was it. They simply used social media to make other people aware of their product. No special offers, no discounts are offered. They are able to swing customer that are going to buy the product of their competitors and they do these several times a week.
The fundamental thing to remember is that they have a superior product and that all they needed was to connect their product to a customer, a first move, a pick-up line and that is what social media provided them.
Heather Bestel is another case in point. Bestel is the creator of Magical Meditations 4 Kids, a children’s book that helps children relax and sleep easier. Aside from the UK, she has also marketed her product to the U.S. and Canada. Sales have been steady but not enough for her to make a living off her product (Wakeman, 2011).
She decided to embrace social media and she landed a publishing deal that launched her CDs in UK and Europe in 2010 and eventually in other markets like US & Canada and Australia/New Zealand. She is also being offered to license her brand to develop items like toys and apparel.
Her strategy was simple. She knew she had a great product and she simply needed the market to notice it so she connected with people that have high influence in the same industry she is in. She followed Janey Lee Grace, a natural health expert. She eventually got Grace to review her product and endorse it via reviews on facebook and twitter. That got other influencers to notice her product. Eventually, she not only met new people and but got free personal endorsement without spending a dime.
Social networking gives each product or service that one chance to get noticed, form a persona and have a venue to reach out to customers (Tan, 2011). It provides a level playing field. It does not require millions of Euros just to have 30 seconds on air. The air is always open, it’s just a matter of knowing how to use it wisely.
However, it is not a sales venue. In both cases mentioned above, social media served the same purpose as advertisements do, only more personal (Babski, 2010).
Targeted Marketing Not Sure Sales
As controversial as it may seem, one of the biggest value of social media is the access to personal data and direct contact to relevant consumers. It allows you to find people that is already interested in the product or service you are selling. On Twitter, for example, you can scan any mention of the brand of you competitor or product you are selling. For example, if you are selling beds, you can find anyone talking about “buying a bed”, “looking for a bed”, “new bed sheets”, “need to get better sleep”, and other variations you desire. You can then send a direct message to them.
The same principle works on Facebook. This was proven by the Voice of Library, an organization of librarians and book lovers operation in the UK. They wanted to start a national movement that would call for the continuous government support on libraries. They knew that the only way the government will listen and for philanthropists to donate to their cause is through mainstream demand but they don’t have the money to start a campaign through traditional media.
They started on Twitter summer of 2010 by posting several messages alluding to how libraries are becoming extinct and is being replaced by the internet. BBC’s Newsnight got hold of the tweets and reported the low numbers of public libraries. This further aroused the interest of other librarians all over UK and, eventually, Europe. Ideas started pouring in on how libraries can survive and by September, Voices for the Library was formally launched as an non-profit organization that aims to reinforce the value of libraries (Barron, 2011).
With zero budget, hundreds of volunteers worked to recruit members that developed new marketing ideas, plan and stage events, all to get donations and support for the continuous support and growth of libraries. Through the volunteers, the twitter account, facebook and other accounts are manned 24/7. The power was clearly demonstrated when, on January 16 of this year, #savelibraries trended worldwide with over 5000 tweets. Except for direct mail, no other media has the capacity to target consumers with that level of relevance.
There is, however, one thing that is important to note. The effort was highly successful in getting people to work together but is yet to result to actual donations. Social Network is exactly what it claims to be, a social network. It connects people to work together. How that connection may be utilized to lead to sales is a different discipline (Tan, 2011).
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