29/09/11

By Bryan Richter, Mamut

Statistics show that business usage of online tools like social media, blogs and forums can prove problematic for SMEs not totally confident in representing their brands online.

Yell estimates that 60 per cent of local SME entrepreneurs do not know how to promote their business via Facebook, and 43 per cent are unsure about how to increase the value of their website on search engines.

My reaction? SMEs are missing a trick by not embracing social media. These platforms unlock new business opportunities, and enable a company to survive in this digital era.

So here are four tips to help you power up your social media game.

Get online and set up your virtual personality

When developing your company’s online presence, consistency of look and feel as well as the message across all social platforms is key. It maximises the credibility of your business and maintains a consistent brand presence that will inspire confidence in your audience.

In practice, make sure that your company logo appears on your profile. Include a few lines about your company’s expertise and add a URL that directs traffic back to your company website — keep this short, snappy and simple as online audiences have an unlimited number of opportunities to click away from your page if they lose interest.

The answer? Ensure you keep your audience interested in what you’re saying. Once you go ‘public’ on social platforms you must ensure you’re offering regular content, planning for at least 5-10 posts and tweets a week from a range of areas — business updates, news stories and consumer articles to show the personality of your company.

Following complimentary, similar companies as well as industry experts and stakeholders is a good way to get information, insight, and ideas into the industry and it allows you to see what works and what doesn’t.

Once you are online, listen and engage actively

Once you have set up a profile that effectively represents your company and its personality – and have attracted a following looking to engage in conversations with you – it’s time to actively engage with your audience.

Engaging in conversations requires proactive listening — listen to what your audience is saying and respond to them in an honest and timely manner. This is a great way to get to know your audience’s personality and expectations, which in turn will help you to engage with them more easily.

When engaging in online conversations, make sure that you communicate relevant industry information that isn’t vendor specific and that can add value to your followers and at all costs, avoid spamming your online platforms with information your audience won’t relate to like sales pitches. Instead, look to share links to relevant news articles, share ideas and insights about a particular topic, and be a leading voice on the challenges and solutions facing the industry.

With these interactions, your virtual peers will recognise the value of what you’re sharing and will be more willing to respond to you and engage in ongoing conversations that could lead to furthering relationships. It will also establish your credibility as a brand and position your company as a leading expert in the industry.

Take the lead on conversations

Facebook and LinkedIn allow users to create discussion groups to which you’re able to post a topic of your choice. Setting up such groups shows initiative and a desire to engage individuals in an open debate.

In addition, these groups give you the opportunity to take the lead and act as a facilitator, which will further increase awareness and credibility of your brand and encourage users to visit and return to your web and other online and social networking sites.

Taking the online offline by joining industry event groups

Industry event organisers often create online groups in order in order to generate buzz around upcoming events. These groups create an opportunity for participants to meet and greet each other virtually before the event takes place.

Annual events such as European SME Week have LinkedIn or Facebook groups that are constantly adding new joiners. Such groups that feature an extensive number of SMEs could be of interest as they offer both networking and new business potential.

Most of us use social media platform for personal reasons today; however, we often forget how much of this digital literacy we could use for business purposes. It’s also useful to bear in mind the fact that size doesn’t matter in the social media game; recently, Regus issued an interesting survey that outlined that SMEs get more business through social media than larger firms. This shows that the size of your company doesn’t matter when it comes to online engagement.

In fact, smaller companies are often able to use their size to be more nimble and reactive than some of the bigger companies, which is a golden goose in a world where speed of engagement is paramount to success.

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