Social media can be used by small businesses to market their products and services, and to interact with customers.
According to a 2009 report by TNS Research Surveys and MWeb, the most popular social media networks in South Africa (in rank order) are Facebook, YouTube, MXit, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and BlueWorld.
16% of respondents surveyed in the report indicated that they used social media to promote their business, while 15% used social media to market a product or service.
The importance of social media as a potential marketing and communications platform for small businesses in South Africa is borne out by recent independent research on usage statistics:
• There are an estimated 3.8 million Facebook users in South Africa, and the country is ranked 31st globally in terms of the number of Facebook users
• There are an estimated 1.1 million LinkedIn users in South Africa, and LinkedIn is the 11th most visited website in the country
• There are an estimated 55 000 active Twitter users in South Africa (unique users who Tweet at least once per month), and Twitter is the 7th most visited website in the country
The issue for local small businesses is how best to leverage these social media platforms. Developing a formal or informal social media strategy is a good place to start, identifying which particular social media networks to target based on user demographics and other criteria relevant to your business.
As part of the strategy, it is important to understand the tone, style and format of communication on the different social media networks in order to develop the right content for blogs, podcasts, photos and videos. This is particularly applicable when using various social networks in combination with each other.
A distinctive characteristic of social media is that it facilitates two-way communication between a business and its customers (and the wider public), and requires businesses to be more consultative and open to feedback. If done well, the information and relationships established in this way can be used to co-develop products and promotional materials, easing pressure on businesses to guess or anticipate customer needs and wants.
By the same token, small business owners should avoid trying to transplant traditional marketing and communication techniques (which tend to be formal, impersonal and ‘top-down’) into the social media space as this can alienate target audiences and cause reputational damage.
Small business owners in South Africa should boldly embrace social media as it allows them to compete on a more equal footing with more established or bigger companies. Social media also presents opportunities for small businesses to play a leadership role by introducing innovations in this dynamic arena.
Written by Fadzai Munyaradzi for Simply Biz