Small businesses struggle with two main challenges, financing and marketing their products and services. While large corporations can spend millions of dollars on marketing campaigns, many small business do not have such a luxury. And yet they have within their grasp, one of the cheapest ways of marketing. Using social communities and social networks.
The internet impacts business innovation by expanding reach and minimizing the time-lag to markets. Not so long ago the goal of an online marketing campaign might only have been to entice the consumer to click-through to a company’s website, but now the objective is to create ‘‘sustained engagement’’ with the consumer. The growing popularity of websites such as YouTube and Facebook demonstrates how the internet is changing. Users are no longer simply downloading static data, but are increasingly uploading and sharing content among themselves, leading to a proliferation of social networks and other user-generated content sites.
Get down with Web 2.0
This latest reincarnation of the internet has become known as ‘‘Web 2.0’’. In many ways it represents a return to its roots. The internet started life as a peer-to-peer communication tool to exchange data among a number of users, allowing members of the scientific community to collaborate and share information easily. Today community sites such as TripAdvisor encourage users to review services that they have experienced for the benefit of other users who are considering their own possible purchases. These peer reviews are regarded as far more trustworthy than traditional promotional materials that have been produced by the company itself. The applications and software that can be created and uploaded on the internet now allows for much more interaction between business and consumers, making this an ideal marketing tool for cash strapped small businesses.
Creating online communities for your business
On line communities are created by businesses to alleviate the expectation of face to face contact that customers sometimes can not be possible . Any type of business can create an online channel for customers to communicate with it. For example:
Cisco (www.cisco.com) is a successful example of a company that has fostered customer communities and saved significant customer support costs by letting customers help themselves to technical support information via web communities. After Cisco put the technical support function online, customers began to compete with each other to answer queries that had been posted by other customers. Can you imagine the good will that this has created for the company?
Conversations within online communities can encourage customers to co-create brand values, co-create products and spread a message virally, rather than just passively consume brands as per the traditional marketing model. Think for example of how customer-to-customer interaction has contributed to the growth of the eBay brand, one of the most popular online stores in the USA and UK. eBay’s transparent service quality rating system allows prospective customers to evaluate potential suppliers in terms of their trustworthiness and reliability based on the experiences of other customers’ transactions with that supplier.
The untapped potential of Social networks for business engagement
Alongside the growth in company or industry-specific communities, more generic online social networking has become hugely popular in recent years and yet they remain largely untapped in Africa markets. Figures show that a larger proportion of the population in African markets choose to communicate with friends through social networks than by e-mail and that the age profile of users is rising rapidly with strongest growth amongst the over 40s. Businesses need to realise the potential of these communities for the development of their brands and to build relationships with key customers.
Micro blogging – the next big thing!
Another form of social networking activity to emerge recently is ‘‘micro blogging’’ through sites such as Twitter. By using these sites, people can communicate with their chosen network in a real-time via short messages For example, a typical message may read ‘‘click here for a preview of my latest book published today’’. These messages can reach a wider audience when they are fed through to display in the author’s blog or Facebook profile.
Small businesses can use Twitter to make their networks aware of new products and promotions, sales and discounts they are offering. Twitter sites can be linked to Websites to capture uploads from your URL. An electronic business could very successfully use Twitter because many twitter users are proven to be:
- early adopters of new technologies
- well-educated, with high-profile careers
- receptive to relevant online advertising and are likely to talk about products within the Twitter community to ‘‘spread the word”
- very influential within their own community and potentially able to develop the profile of the brand through its endorsement when interacting with their followers.
“Super fans”, the holy grail of fan clubs
Fan clubs are no longer just for music and movie stars such as Rihanna and Justin Bieber or popular football teams. Corporate brands are also benefiting from the desire of their “fans” to show their support by creating these online communities. On line fan clubs are network of customers who are so positive about a brand that they do much of its marketing and sales themselves – and for free.
Good examples of this are the Coca cola fan club,TheAppleBlog.com, and the Nokia fan club. On line fan clubs are created by fans of a brand, for fans of the brand and yet by virtue of their relationship with the brand, they become a marketing channel for the brand. Brands have been quick to recognise the importance of on-line “fan” clubs and are increasingly engaging them by introducing news concepts to them first, allowing their fans to critique new developments and learning from their “fans” about new product and service expectations. SMEs can assist their fans to create fan clubs by doing what Dell Inc did….. start your own fan club and see how viral that grows.
Take babe steps
Modern marketing requires a focus on innovation and the building of brand relationships. Organizations have to be ‘‘remarkable’’ to succeed in the marketplace today, which comes down to getting ‘‘talked about virally’’ both online and offline. The key for SMEs is to take the first steps by learning as much as they can about how the internet works, where their customers are talking on-line and taking the first baby steps to choosing an online channel that works for them.
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