Can Social Media Help a Small Business?
By Rakesh Raman
As the hype around social media is constantly increasing, small businesses are more confused than enthused about this emerging digital media concept.
With this article, I am trying to bring some clarity to the subject mainly for the benefit of small companies. So what is social media?
Social media is a relatively new development in the Web space. Social media sites are like your normal Websites. But unlike conventional Websites, social sites allow users from all over the world to create their own Web pages on them and interact with each other on diverse subjects in a socially connected environment.
You can create your personal Web page or your company’s Web page on social media sites – also called social networking sites. Although it is difficult to know their actual number, estimates suggest that social media sites connect about 2 billion (yes, 2 with nine zeros) people all across the world.
As many of these users are presumed to be the consumers of various products and services, marketers target them through social media messaging to promote their brands. Yes, this is similar to advertising in a newspaper or magazine.
Social Media Sites
There are further categories of social media sites including general-purpose sites, professional networks, and microblogging sites. Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and Twitter are some of the popular social networks. Similarly, YouTube for video sharing and Pinterest for picture sharing are the other examples of social networking sites.
You can use these sites for your business publicity in different ways. For example, you can create your own (personal) profile with basic information, pictures, and videos, and connect with your friends and other users, and start sharing your brand information with people in your network.
You can also create an exclusive page or section about your company or brand on a social network and invite others to connect with that page. If you have your company website, you can share different links of your Website on social network to attract people to know more about your company on your Website.
Unlike newspapers or magazine ads that have short life, your social media information will always be available to others. All this can be done free of charge.
However, it is not very easy to attract users to your brand messages. Social media messaging is a highly specialized job. It is easy to create your social media presence through profiles or pages. But you can attract other eyeballs toward your brand only with right messaging, scheduled at different time periods while targeting different groups of users who can be your potential buyers or business partners.
Remember, the number of users connected with your social media page won’t have any significance in the absence of their engagement with your brand messages. Level of engagement is the only measure to evaluate the success of your social media-based promotions.
Engagement can be in the form of users’ comments and sharing of your information with others. Although there are quantitative software tools available to estimate social media engagement, they are not quite effective. A true impact of your social media campaigns can be measured only with qualitative analysis, which is a very difficult task.
Although you need not pay for using popular social media sites, you have the option of advertising on them if you want enhanced level of publicity for your business. You can advertise your brands on these sites for which you will have to pay to the social networking service providers.
As social media communications – right from creating your brand presence to regular messaging – is a specialized job, you may have to hire these services, though the skills availability is scarce.
While most public social media properties have not yet established their utility for marketers, big companies have started creating their own private social networks to interact with their buyers and other stakeholders including channel partners or resellers.
Today, the most important aspect of social communications is to build and manage consumer communities around your brand. So, big brands are managing such communities for all types of brand communications.
They are educating their buyers and resellers by delivering multimedia (text, pictures, videos, animations) content through private networks. Companies are also offering after-sales support to buyers using these community networks. Employee training is another application of social networks.
The online communities can be created for customers, resellers, employees, investors, suppliers, etc. depending on your requirement. And only content can drive these communities. Believe it or not, content is not just English language. It is a combination of language, domain knowledge, mass communication skills, expression, user experience (UX) design, and so on.
If you think your company doesn’t have proper content skills and you don’t have the budgets to hire these services, you need not use social media. Simply stay away from it, because confusing content and wrong social media messaging can be more harmful than helpful for your business. Do you agree?
By Rakesh Raman, who is a national award-winning journalist and social activist. He is the founder of the humanitarian organization RMN Foundation which is working in diverse areas to help the disadvantaged and distressed people in the society.
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