When social media virtually exploded a few years ago, the Internet was buzzing with success stories – burger joints, florists, baby-sitting services, car washes… you name it and small businesses of all sorts, especially in the US, had leveraged social technology to devastating effect.
Among the big corporations, Dell led the way in Twitter monetisation trough direct sales, Comcast Cable used the platform to fine-tune customer care and Sprinkles Cupcakes offered free cupcakes in return for using a password posted on its Facebook page – tangible rewards for fans who repeatedly visited their pages.
The question many entrepreneurs are probably asking is – has it all been done before? Is social media as a business tool passé? On the contrary, with mobile phones offering direct access to the Internet and people still hooked to social media sites, there’s more reason than ever to leverage these platforms to grow your business.
If you’re looking for statistics to convince you, here’s what you need to know.
* Facebook now accounts for 1 in every 7 minutes spent online
* Today, India has over 60 million Facebook users, and this figure is set to increase by 80 per cent in the coming year
* 40 per cent of Facebook users are aged 23-35, the target audience of most SMEs
* Twitter has nearly 14 million Indian users and LinkedIn 15 million users
* The time individuals spend on the Internet is multiplying at breakneck speed
Indeed, people are spending more time on social media sites. This means just one thing: SMEs and start-ups already have a significant base of their consumers online and social media is a brilliant way to reach out to them. But gone are the days when the formula for success was – set up a fan page, avoid hardsell, post great content and then… wait.
To break through the clutter and get talked about online you have to think out of the box and you simply have to engage. The idea is to give fans, customers, clients and people in general a very compelling reason to keep coming back to your page – contests, reward points, coupons, freebies and content that is nothing short of dazzling.
Benefits Of Social Media For SMEs
* Cost: If you are innovative and creative, you don't need a lot of money to start. “We have seen clients save over 40 per cent of their customer service costs when they shifted to social media. Many businesses have shifted a large part of their customer support online, which results in cost-saving. The direct traffic can grow by 15 per cent, month on month, due to brand visibility, which may lead to reduction in costs on other marketing channels,” reveals Advit Sahdev, Founder, Odigma.
* Social Reach: If your content and offerings are really appealing, you can reach a very large network of people within minutes. This could take your business from a home-scale business to a national-level business very quickly.
* Increase In Sales: Since social media promotes your brand, creates awareness about your products, builds a strong connect with your prospects and ensures that your loyal customers stay with you. Hoopos.com, an online shopping portal for products catering to babies, kids and moms-to-be, saw an increase in traffic by 40% on their portal after they started using social media effectively. According to Sahdev, businesses that focus entirely on social media may experience growth in their annual revenue up to 4 times, in just one year.
* Seeking The Right Talent: Social media also helps you while headhunting talent for your organisation with groups like Media Jobs Daily connecting job seekers and recruiters. “You can get a fair idea about a candidate by merely looking at his/her social media profile. It gives you an idea about the candidate's personal life and helps you decide whether he/she will be a good fit for your organisation,” says Ankita Gaba, Founder, Social Samosa, an Indian Social Media Knowledge Storehouse.
* Internal Communication: Having an internal social network within your organisation will help your employees communicate easily with each other. It encourages peer collaboration, thus bringing them closer and building an organisation that is tightly knit with a low attrition rate. For instance, last year, Infosys came up with its own internet social network Infy Bubble.
Beating The Biggies
For a start-up competing with biggies, the challenges are huge. For instance, India has large brands like Tata Docomo and Dove which have built a fan following of 6-8 million on Facebook. So what can the SME do?
The solution is to create a niche market for yourself. “You need to map out people who will buy your products, define their age group and towns and track their lifestyle. In short, you need to resort to in-depth profiling of your customers. This will help you develop a focused approach and achieve realistic objectives,” Sahdev advises.
Here’s a tip. Use pictures liberally as they clearly speak louder than words. “A post with a photo gets twice the number of ‘likes’ compared to a text post, and about 8 times more compared to a post which is just a link. But here’s the clincher: a text post gets more comments (about 1.5 times more) than a post with just pictures,” according to a report by Odigma.
The report also states that weekends are the best time to interact with users and Thursday is the worst. Make sure your posts have less than 20 characters to get maximum ‘likes’ but more than 400 characters to get maximum ‘shares’.
The Engaging Exercise
As mentioned earlier, the key to social media is following the rules of engagement. Here’s how it worked for Citrus Check Inns, a start-up that provides integrated hospitality solutions. The start-up found LinkedIn very effective for hiring and development of channel partners (DSAs) while Facebook, Twitter and Blogs to engage with existing and prospective clients. It launched at least 10 contests and creative engagement activities which resulted in acquiring more than 2,000 genuine ‘likes’ and ‘followers’.
Explains Somnath Pal, CEO, Citrus Check Inns, “A major hit was ‘the Citrus Check Inns Holiday Experience Contest’, where users had to share memorable holiday stories through pictures. The results were overwhelming and we engaged around 1,000 people with over 75 stories being created around the posts every day. At present, we are running a ‘Tell A Tale’ activity to promote travel blogs by our clients and visitors on Facebook and Twitter.”
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