By David Byrd
Normally, I combine small and medium size businesses into the common category of SMBs. However, today, I want to primarily address small business and their social media opportunities and considerations.
Over the last couple of months several articles and studies have been released regarding how small business can benefit from social media. It is very important that this segment of our economy — which has more than 5 million representatives — recognizes that engaging in social media can result in growing sales, increasing customer satisfaction and improving customer stickiness.
As service providers, we can help small business by functioning as trusted advisers as they address the ambiguity of social media by providing some industry/business vertical best practices. Currently, 88 percent of all companies do not believe they use social media effectively. In most cases, I would suggest, the business did not begin with a clear goal but rather thought they should be tweeting, updating Facebook, building a LinkedIn presence and using anything labeled a social media application or tool. Most of the time this approach is a mistake. A business that has a planned methodology for using social media is twice as likely to experience revenue growth than one without such a plan.
Small businesses should approach social media as a way to stay in touch with their customers. This can mean something as simple as congratulating a long-time customer who has had a life-changing event (birth of a child, graduation, marriage, etc.). Keeping in touch should be a two-way conversation. Most social media is used to push products or information out to customers rather than to pull information from them. It is true that open forums can become tricky to manage and certain complaints or conversations may be best resolved in private. But ignoring customer complaints or requests for contact increases customer churn and according to Gartner that churn uptick can be as much as 15 percent.
The best way for a small business to approach social media is to decide what type of expanded relationship with their customers will benefit the business. Oddly enough, neighborhood businesses where relationships are valued the most use technology and social media the least, according to the Center for an Urban Future. Engaging local customers via social media increases the frequency of contact since it does not require the customer to come into the store to speak to the owner or learn what the business is doing.
Engaging in all forms of social media at once can be time consuming and the return not effective. It may be best for a small business to select one or two methods of social media contact and focus on doing them well with engaging in conversation valued over pushing a product or sales opportunity. Social media should complement email campaigns that provide product offers or information. It should be used to personalize the relationship between the business and customers thereby strengthening the relationship.
David Byrd is chief marketing officer and executive vice president of channel sales for ANPI ZONE . He previously spent five years as vice president of marketing and sales for Broadvox and before that was vice president of channels and alliances for Eftia and Telcordia.