How to make social media work for SMEs

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Updated: Jun 19, 2015 1:36 PM

For many SMEs, the rapid growth of cross-border e-commerce—tipped to be worth $2 trillion this year in B2C alone — makes the opportunity too valuable to ignore.

FacebookWithout the large dedicated digital and social media team that many large brands have, even this can seem daunting. However, a few simple tips can generate results for SMEs that invest the necessary time and effort. (Reuters)

In today’s super-connected, always-on era, businesses of almost any size can reach markets and customers beyond their borders with unprecedented ease. For many SMEs, the rapid growth of cross-border e-commerce—tipped to be worth $2 trillion this year in B2C alone — makes the opportunity too valuable to ignore.

In many respects, technology acts as the great leveler, opening up global trade that was once the exclusive preserve of large multinationals. SMEs on eBay are almost as likely to export as large businesses, for example. However, SMEs still have to grapple with challenges that their larger competitors don’t face. Servicing a global customer base means overcoming problems such as time zones, and language and cultural nuances. Small businesses rarely have the time or resources to invest in outsourced customer service support, and some are finding it more efficient to serve customers via social media platforms: one LinkedIn study from 2014 revealed that 81% of North American SMEs use social media.

Without the large dedicated digital and social media team that many large brands have, even this can seem daunting. However, a few simple tips can generate results for SMEs that invest the necessary time and effort.

Build a following: The most finely-honed messages and beautiful content won’t have much impact if only two dozen social media ‘followers’ ever get to see it. Building a following may mean subsidiary investments —for example, in advertising. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter all allow companies with small budgets to advertise through suggested posts, recommended followers and other means.

Remember, you’re the newbie: No point going overboard on the social media. Start with existing online communities—such as Facebook pages, LinkedIn communities or Twitter hashtags—in the markets where you’re trying to penetrate. These may provide you a foothold to build a following. This was the experience of Herschel Supply Co., a Canadian manufacturer of backpacks and outdoor goods. Allison Butala, its social media manager, had this to say: “Our Instagram account attracts aspiring photographers; our Pinterest following caters more towards females; Twitter attracts those interested in our product releases and news stories. Knowing this, we share relevant content and grow distinct communities.”

Quality, not quantity: A few thousand followers who are genuinely won over by your offering are far more valuable than hundreds of thousands who ‘liked’ a Facebook page s. Build a reputation for real expertise by researching the people and issues that have the biggest influence in the markets your company is targeting. Position your company as having the same attributes customers would value in a real person—think friendliness, approachability or a sense of humour.

Find out what works through constant monitoring.: Always monitor, preferably in-house, the results of your engagements with social media followers. A number of free tools will help you do this. Some online platforms provide real-time social media search and analysis. They can trawl the internet for mentions of your business or products.

Ultimately, 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 their inherent flexibility and adaptability as small organisations, SMEs can get it right and reap the benefits.

The author is president, FedEx Express Asia Pacific

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