SMEs: social is where your customers are

A social media profile can be a scary thought for many small businesses and it’s easy to understand why.

Having your own personal social presence is one thing but managing a business’ profile can be very different. Very rarely are food pics, viral videos or cat memes relevant. 

So how can small business owners improve their social media presence, or feel less daunted at the prospect of being active on social media? It’s a question vital to the future of many Australian SMEs.

Early in my career I helped launch Australia’s first online ticketing website, Ticketmaster, so the difficulties of taking an offline customer service experience online are certainly not foreign to me. 

" Australian small businesses are at risk of losing customers with their limited presence on social media." Guy Mendelson

I’ve heard many businesses ask: how do I find the time to post content and respond to comments? What if I open the door to online trolls? What if a Facebook page or Instagram account does more damage to my brand than good?

But, as the latest Sensis Social Media Report highlights, Australian small businesses are at risk of losing customers with their limited presence on social media.

According to the 2017 report, customers are more likely to review a brand’s social media presence before making an online purchase if they are first-time buyers to the website – while the number of people reading online reviews or blogs has fallen from 60 per cent to 44 per cent. 

A new approach

Many brands struggle on social media because they don’t take a customer-centric approach, using  social to spruik products and services only. This misses an opportunity to make a genuine connection with customers online.

An Australian business I’ve admired on social media recently is Cargo Crew, a workwear and uniform online store and alumni of the ANZ Business Growth Program.

Social approach

Sensis’ Social Media Report 2017 offered many interesting insights valuable to small businesses, including:

  • People are more likely to review a brand’s social media presence before making an online purchase if they are first-time buyers to the website, with the number of people reading online reviews or blogs having fallen from 60 per cent to 44 per cent;
  • There is increased trust for brands that interact with customers in a positive way on social media (64 per cent) and brands with engaging and relevant content (63 per cent);
  • Small businesses with a social media presence fell one point from the previous year to 47 per cent, in comparison to 79 per cent of consumers (up 10 points); and
  • Among concerns around investment of time and an inadequate understanding of social media, a significant 50 per cent of small business owners without a social presence don;t see any benefit to having one.  

Cargo Crew Founder and Director Felicity Rodgers says her brand has been able to use social media successfully for ongoing customer engagement - as well as driving revenue.

The business has social presences on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn with a combined following of close to 10,000.

“Instagram and Facebook are great customer engagement tools,” Rodgers says.   “As a visual, design-led brand, we are particularly drawn to Instagram and find it is increasingly becoming a platform for people and businesses to engage on equal level.”

What stands out is while Cargo Crew knows what social platforms work for them as a brand, it also considers where their customer audiences like to live online. 

“Pinterest has been a great platform for Cargo Crew as our audiences tend to use it for sourcing styles and ideas,” Rodgers says. “This has led to Pinterest being an effective revenue driver.” 

Four rules to follow – by Rohini Fernandez, ANZ Senior Marketing Leader of Social Media

1 Develop a social media plan

Your social media plan should consider:

  • Who are you trying to reach and what are their interests? This knowledge will help you create engaging content for them and get more traction for your posts.
  • What platforms are being used by your audience? In Australia, Facebook has the largest reach, followed by Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
  • What is your budget for social media?  Budget should cover cost for social tools, social content development, social training if required and social advertising.
  • What are your key objectives for your social channels – drive traffic to your website? Lead generation? Brand awareness? Customer servicing? 
  • How you will measure success? Regular evaluation will help you see easily what’s working and what’s not so that you can adjust your strategy. 

2. Set a policy for staff to follow.

If social media accounts will be managed by others your policy should include areas such as tone of voice; how quickly you will aim to respond to comments/messages/posts from customers; escalation process; examples of what responses should look like; what content from third parties you might share; unacceptable social media activity and so on. 

Use social media as a tool to facilitate a two-way conversation with customers, and not just as a publishing platform to sell your products or services

Social media can be one of the best platforms for businesses and customers to interact directly. It gives customers an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback in a convenient setting.

Negative feedback in your comments section should be viewed as an opportunity to rectify a complaint in a public forum – allowing people to view your customer service in action.

As a rule of thumb, comments should not be deleted unless they are threatening or offensive. Under your Facebook page settings, you can find a profanity filter and a page moderation setting to help you manage this.

3. Content is king

Above all, quality content is vital to a successful social strategy. Quality content is visually appealing, looks reputable, is relevant to your audience, is informative, and is something your readers will want to spend time viewing.

Try to avoid sharing content that uses clickbait tactics or has already been frequently shared. 

4. Plan and use management tools to save time

Set aside some time and plan a content calendar for the week or month ahead to ensure your posts are strategic rather than ad-hoc.

Be clear on what you want your content to achieve – that is, what you want your audience to know, feel or do. Management tools like Trello, HootSuite, Synthesio or Socialbakers will allow you to plan, schedule, manage and monitor social activity.  

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PIC: Cargo Crew

The trick

Perhaps the trick to Cargo Crew’s social success is Rodgers considers social media a natural extension of the brand’s digital and marketing activities.

After all, social media still requires the same principles and strategies as regular marketing activities - they’re just being used on a different platform.

“Our social media is a shared role between digital and marketing,” Rodgers says. “We find this works extremely well for us as the social content we create is always an extension of our digital and marketing activities,” Rodgers says.

“Social content scheduling is structured around our marketing and product calendar. We have a weekly structure and monthly plan for our social media.”

Rodgers says Cargo Crew has also made a point of staying connected with their customers beyond the initial point-of-purchase - and social media has made this easier than previously possible.

“Social media is essential to keep engaging with our community as this often leads to ‘shout outs’ and shares,” Rodgers says.  “Sometimes this is more effective than paid advertising,”

While it can be argued small businesses are up against more challenges than ever before they can now also reach more customers than ever believed possible.  

By using best practice and time-saving strategies, small businesses can harness the power of social media and reap the rewards of greater trust, consumer engagement and brand equity.

Guy Mendelson is General Manager, Small Business Banking at ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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