By Mike Southon, FT Columnist

Those suity accountant/consultant types at KPMG have just come up with a very surprising new report which says that European companies are way behind developing nations (especially the BRIC countries) in their use of social media - that's everything from LinkedIn and blogs to Instant Messaging.

Surveying over 4000 managers and employees in ten countries, KPMG found that 80% of UK business managers used social media; whereas in China, the figure rose to a whopping 98%.

That's too big a difference to put down to chance. Similarly, 83% of Chinese companies use the likes of Twitter and Facebook to communicate with their customers and suppliers; whereas us Facebookaphobic Brits are languishing at 48%.

There's still an attitude here that social media is too cool for school - a bit of fun and irrelevant to the conduct of business. There are still CEOs who refuse to engage with technology, who get their secretaries to print out emails, or, worst of all, see customers as people to keep at arms' length. Oh dear!

On the contrary, a well managed social media strategy can powerfully improve a raft of line-of-business activities:

- Marketing: engage with customers online and build a solid brand and reputation

- Customer Service: turn customers into evangelists
Internal Communications: connect teams, departments and workgroups

- Finance: save money on travel, print and plenty more
Smaller businesses have even more to gain than the larger companies surveyed by KPMG. The web opens up more opportunities to one-man-bands on a limited budget than ever before. They can reach a global audience, find evangelists across the world, dig out hidden niche markets, or just try ideas out without betting the whole house on it.

The challenge for smaller businesses isn't money, though. (That might be a surprise in these tough times!) No, what small business owners don't have is time. Get to grips with Facebook, LinkedIn and all the rest, and you can easily gobble up most of your workday on merrily chatting to people who love your company, but don't love your company enough to put their hands in their pockets.

To avoid this trap, you need a simple and effective social media strategy - or as it's often called, common sense. In this article from June 2009, find out how Peter Roper solved the social media conundrum without breaking the bank, or his back.

For the Financial Times Saturday 12th June 2009
Network Management

Many of us feel guilty about our personal time management; we think we should spend more time reading, in the gym, or with our families. Now there is a new mantra: to succeed in life and business, you must spend more time using on-line networks.

There is clearly an age issue here. I doubt if anyone in the UK under the age of thirty is not on at least one of the popular networking sites, and the average age of those who say that they are essential to their business creeps up daily.

There are many people who claim to have an unimaginable number of contacts and can reel off impressive statistics for the tangible benefits they receive, implying that those who prefer to spend their time doing old-fashioned, proper work are inadequate and face extinction.

Some organisations even encourage their staff to spend a sensible amount of time on networking sites; for others, it is a question of allocating precious leisure time. A small business owner has to balance the promised benefits against the real challenges of survival in a highly competitive marketplace.

This is the dilemma faced by Peter Roper. As well as promoting himself as a keynote speaker, facilitator and publisher, he has two other synergistic businesses. His daughter Sara Beth runs a successful company running events for other speakers, and they also produce web-based radio shows.

Roper realised quickly that to promote his personal brand as a speaker he had to at least have his profile on all the major on-line networking sites in case a potential customer happens to search for him. This was a relatively simple process as he had a detailed speaker profile and a good set of photographs already prepared

The best on-line networking sites also encourage you to select 'keywords'. As well as your own surname you can also specify specific subject areas of expertise or interest, in his case presentation skills for individuals and organisations. This makes life easy for the search engines and ensures that when you put 'Peter Roper' into Google, the first two results are from his own site, and the next two are the popular on-line networking sites Ecademy and LinkedIn.

Internet marketers will claim that if you get this on-line piece right, business will then flow in, as if by magic. While we all hope this is true, it is clearly wise to also go looking for new revenue in all the right places. For a personality-based business this means understanding that if you want to scale your business, it has to be more than just about the principle.

While people do buy from people, it is important to also develop a parallel business brand which reflects a wider intellectual and ethical purpose than just the attributes of the star performer. In Roper's case it is 'Positive Ground, Meeting and Event Architects and Syndicated Radio Producers'.

Once the twin brands are established, the issue is how much time should you allocate to interacting with others on-line, and which networks to select, as the list is almost endless and grows daily.

On-line networking, like entrepreneurship in general, is a team sport, and the clue to using these platforms most effectively is to realise that you should work with someone else who has opposite and complimentary skills.

Roper and his daughter between them cover the important range of ages. She feels more comfortable on social network Facebook, while he is used to the more complex, feature-driven site Ecademy. He is a more extrovert character, so looks for off-line opportunities such as networking events. She is happier to promote the business via e-mail and the internet. In both cases they use both business brands at different times for maximum benefit; for example Peter is active on micro-blogging site Twitter as himself, while Sara Beth is 'Positive Ground.'

Underlying their strategy is the understanding that they are primarily in the content business. Large numbers of network contacts in themselves do not benefit their business; you must also provide real value. You cannot really have a proper, meaningful connection with several thousand people, unless they are signed up to your newsletter, and you provide them not just sales messages, but relevant and useful content on a regular basis.

Peter Roper's blog is at:

Originally published in The Financial Times: Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon- Co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur & Business Speaker-

Mike is one of the world’s top business speakers, a Fellow of The Professional Speakers Association. Mike is a Visiting Fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at London South Bank University. He has made frequent appearances on television and radio, has a monthly sales column in Real Business magazine and is a regular commentator in the Financial Times.

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