SMEs adopting social media as key marketing tool!

Simple steps to give your business a competitive edge, on a budget!!! Small and midsize businesses are aggressively using social media to promote themselves, according to a new survey by Internet research company Internet2Go and small-business social network MerchantCircle. The online survey of 2,403 of MerchantCircle’s small-business members, conducted in September, found that 45% also have a presence on Facebook and Twitter with the express intent of promoting their businesses. Internet2Go and MerchantCircle attributed this to the ease and low cost of participating in social media. Of the small businesses polled in the survey, 79% reported annual marketing budgets of less than US$5,000 per year, with 44% spending less than US$1,000 annually. Conversely, another independent study performed by Citibank Small Business has found that in the economic downturn, a shocking eighty six percent of small businesses are not using social media for marketing. According to Reuters, this is unexpected, considering social media usage has grown overall. Does this surprise you too? I am not at all surprised, especially if one should look at it from a Jamaican perspective. It would be interesting to know how many of Jamaica’s SMEs are online, and are in fact using social networks to promote and brand their businesses. Recently I did an informal survey among some of Kingston’s small business owners, and when I asked if they were using social networks in their marketing, not even ONE of them was incorporating a blog into their web strategy. Two-thirds of them didn’t even have an eMail address, much less a website. I believe that the Small Business Association of Jamaica (SBAJ) should give this serious consideration. In fact, I wonder what the SBAJ is doing or planning to help SME’s move forward, especially now that it is under new leadership? One of the problems I find with most small businesses in Jamaica is that their thinking is even smaller than their size. I've been running my public relations consultancy for the past eight months now and can tell you that when it comes to public relations and marketing, the small businesses I've worked with think too small. It's not that the small businesses don't think about what they can do with their small business, they don't know how to think about it - beyond what it's going to cost, and, in some cases, don't know where to start. Here is where the SBAJ comes in. As we observe the soaring cost of advertisement in local media (newspaper, radio, TV, and billboard), and the fading utility of the Yellow Pages, it’s time for small business owners to not only consider moving their ad dollars online, but to make social networks a key part of their marketing plans. However, only a small fraction of small business owners are members of services such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. Out of ignorance, some believe they are for kids. Meanwhile, mobile platforms and real-time services such as Twitter will no doubt depend on smaller, location-based businesses for some of their revenue. What are the barriers that need to be overcome to bring small businesses and the social networks, who desire their ad dollars, together? The organisation that was set up to lead the charge forward for SMEs seems to be sleeping on the job. What they should be doing is seeking to empower entrepreneurs and small businesses by educating and exposing them through training, workshops, and seminars for them to do so to help the bourgeoning small business sector understand what is happening in the market place. Sure all the “big guys” are using social media more and more (generally, social media can be blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts, email marketing, social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, Plaxo . . . all the “new ways” of marketing using the internet). But how does a small business use social media in their marketing strategy? Well, I will tell you one or two of the small business owners that I have talked learning to use the blog – so a lot of the other Web 2.0 tools are not even in their marketing arsenal. Do you realize what an opportunity you are missing? Blogs drive traffic to your site (increasing your search engine ranking) and they offer an incredibly candid opportunity for you to put a personality alongside your products! People can actually know (and start to like) you even before they start doing business with you. So, if you decide to take the social-networking plunge, here are eight ways to harness social media to help your business:
  1. Use free sites. Use free online services, such as the mobile short-message site Twitter, and popular networking sites FaceBook, Linkedin, Plaxo, and MySpace, to post significant news, specials or events. For example, you run a small floral arrangement business with a loyal following. You could create a Twitter account and upload the lunch or dinner specials via "tweets," or short messages of up to 140 characters, daily to customers' smart phones or to other Web sites.
  2. Shift marketing costs to social media. After learning how social networking operates, use social media to free up traditional marketing dollars for your small business by putting it online. You can quickly learn which of your FaceBook or MySpace "friends" or online "group" members received and responded to your message.
  3. Do your own social-media optimization project. Learn about the competition in your industry and geographic region that are tapping social networking. I recommend starting by researching the competition in the major search engines -- Google and Yahoo.
  4. Take social-network marketing to the next level. Create and post richer content about what your customers would expect from someone in your business. Don't view social media sites as a place to simply hype your wares. It's a place for conversation.
  5. Use blogging to drive search results and help new customers find you. Lately, blogging has gained greater attention, with the advent of "microblogging" on Twitter. But consider the time commitment and strategy before launching an account.
  6. Reach out to bloggers in your niche. Entire articles and seminars are given about how best to do this, and I won’t pretend to explain it all in a couple sentences. You can find bloggers via TechnoratiBlog Catalog, and any number of similar sites. Once you identify blogs that might be interested in your product/service, read their blog for a month or two before you email them. Leave some quality comments first. Your first impression can’t be a sales pitch. The small business news blog, THE EXPOSURE, is one that you should consider when thinking about getting the word out about your business to a targetted Jamaican audience.
  7. Use traditional PR. Thankfully, sending out press releases is easy and generally inexpensive. PRWeb and PR Leap are two options worth looking at. Target your releases to individuals and publications that might be interested in your unique product/service. If you’re only doing business locally, target it to outlets in your region.
  8. Advertise & network offline. Again, if people aren’t searching online for what you offer, you have to work harder to get noticed. That can include offline advertising, but it doesn’t have to be expensive.

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