The rapid and continuing growth in the use of the internet and 24/7 electronic communications has acted as a great leveller for those involved in global trade. That means that a manufacturing start-up in Frankfurt can connect with a supplier in China; a marketing agency in Cape Town can instantaneously collaborate with a client in London; and a services firm in France can have software developed in India*.
Unlike their larger rivals, though, SMEs rarely have the time or resources to invest in outsourced services to deal with the needs of a global customer base, or to overcome the challenge of different time zones, languages and cultural nuances**. That’s why many SMEs are now finding it more efficient to serve customers via social media platforms.
It’s really quite easy to use social media to create interest in you and what you do, so here are a few simple tips to help you get started. They’ll really help to generate results once you’ve decided to invest the necessary time and effort.
Build a following
- You need to ensure that you target and create a sufficient follower base for your social platforms.
- A good example is Betfair.com, the UK-based online gaming company, who did this by establishing an active Twitter presence in 2009. Frequent updates on a wide variety of sports and witty, creative content have resulted in almost 120,000 followers.
- Building a following may in due course require making certain subsidiary investments in, for example, advertising. Nevertheless, it’s possible to do this with quite small budgets e.g. you can advertise through suggested posts, recommended followers and other means such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter for just a few euros or pounds per day.
Remember, you’re the newbie!
- You need to work on ways to make links with what’s going on around you, your company, your products so as to give followers a real ‘feel’ for who you are and what you do.
- Let people know what you do, so they know enough about you to contact you when they need your goods or services.
- Take advantage of existing online communities such as Facebook pages, LinkedIn communities or Twitter hashtags in the markets you are trying to penetrate. This will help you gain the footholds you need to build a following among customers in new markets.
- Take the time to learn about different social networks and how they attract different audiences. That way you can find out how to share relevant content and grow distinct communities related to your own particular messages and goals via different networks.
Quality, not quantity
- Develop a distinctive social media voice so that you stand out from the crowd***.
- Build a reputation for real expertise by researching the people and issues that have the biggest influence in the markets you are targeting.
- Produce status updates using a tone and style of expression that reflect the attributes your customers would value in a real person.
- Employ a friendly, approachable style – and don’t be afraid to use humour so long as it’s appropriate.
Find out what works
- Always track the results of your engagements with social media followers***.
- Make use of free tools to monitor mentions of your business or products on the internet. Socialmention.com, for example, is an online platform that provides real-time social media search and analysis.
- Such tools can quickly help you to develop a feel for what tactics work best.
- Track and manage your company’s presence on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest etc. to help you decide exactly what content really engages your followers.
Ultimately, of course, social media is not an end in itself – the real yardstick of success is how much business is coming in. But by learning from the experts, making a conscious commitment to social media as a sales or customer service channel and leveraging your inherent flexibility and adaptability as a small organisation, you too can get it right and reap the benefits.
** Forrester Consulting, Seizing the Cross-Border Opportunity, December 2014
***The Guardian, How SMEs can make the best use of social media, 13 December 2013