By Max Clarke

Research amongst 1,200 businesses reveals that only six per cent of entrepreneurs use social media to gain customer insights

Less than one in ten small and medium sized enterprises (6%) are monitoring social media to better understand their customers, new research from business software and services provider, Sage UK, today revealed.

The Sage UK Omnibus surveyed 1,200 SMEs from its 800,000 strong UK customer base ahead of ‘Social Media Week 2011’, which runs from the 7 — 11 February 2011. While 83% of business owners think that the economic conditions have made delivering a good customer experience more important, only 1% believed that engaging with customers on social media by responding to comments or criticisms is a key part to delivering this.

Online comments and opinion have a significant impact upon purchasing decisions. More than 53% of consumers have decided against making a purchase based on an online recommendation and half indicated that online reviews and ratings influenced their buying decisions more than any other form of online advertising.

“The past two years have been characterised by a highly challenging and competitive landscape, but firms that are not listening to their customers are putting themselves at serious disadvantage. Making the time to get regular feedback from customers and check satisfaction levels is an essential mechanism for understanding what is working well and identifying areas for improvement from the customers’ perspective,” explained Matthew Forrest, Head of Commercial Marketing for the Small Business Division at Sage UK.

“Social media offers a fantastic array of free platforms that are ideal for small business owners to not just promote themselves, but to gain a better understanding of their customers and deeper insight into how their own firm and services are perceived. With social networking dominating the time people spend online a few negative comments on these sites can really damage a brand. In today’s information age, where the majority of consumers conduct research online before making a purchasing decision, no business can simply afford to ignore this channel or their customers’ feedback any more.”

Social media provides an important way for small businesses to ‘listen in’ to online conversations and gauge people’s perceptions. It also offers a vital conduit for engaging and educating existing or prospective customers and helping to build and maintain a company’s online brand.

Launched in 2009, Social Media Week brings together hundreds of people at online and offline events around the World. It aims to advance people’s understanding of social media’s role in society.

To help small businesses tap into the benefits of social media, Sage has developed a White Paper called “Connecting with your customers; A guide to social media” which includes:
- Using social media to gain insight to improve customer relations

- Managing your reputation online

- Driving traffic and improving Google rankings

- Social Media and CRM software