How can small businesses and non-profits use social media?
Small businesses and non-profits generally have access to fewer resources than larger organisations. Social media provides a cheap, (and generally) easy to use, platform for these organisations to build relationships and to reach their target audience.
For example, Comer (2010) defines the strategic uses of Linkedin as follows: building relationships, understanding prospects, handpicking specific prospects, attracting prospects to a particular brand, and listening to clients.
Small businesses and non-profits can also use social media as a means to building their public profile, getting to know their existing clients and leveraging that knowledge to attract potential clients.
Organisations use social media to safeguard or build reputations, find new customers, build communities, and engage customers or constituents in conversations
(Jones, Temperley, and Lima, 2009).
Other uses or reasons for small businesses & non-profits to use Social Media:
- Cheap way to have a public profile
- Social media is generally easy to use
- Allows for timely updates
- Ability to interact with existing customers
- to seek feedback, what’s working, what is not
- for unhappy customers, the ability to interact directly and the potential to turn a negative experience into a positive one by seeking to address the issue.
The above utilisations of social media are from a “push” perpsective, whereby the organisations are using social media to educate people about their products/services, what they offer, as well as a means to interact with their existing and potential customers/clients.
On the other hand, small businesses and non-profits can also use social media from a “pull” perspective, using it to acquire new knowledge from professional associations, local government, business contacts, suppliers, etc., as well as:
- Monitoring feedback pages from customers to see what is going well and what needs attention
- Using LinkedIn for background information on potential (and existing!) employees – a cheaper alternative than having a dedicated Human Resource (ahem) resource
- Monitoring the competitions’ social media pages to see what they are doing and what feedback they are receiving from customers.
What are the risks of using social media to small businesses
The inherent risk for small businesses and non-profits is in ensuring their information is kept up to date and relevant. Not doing so could result in the loss of engagement with their audience, and potential damage to their brand.
There are no shortcuts to regular Social Media activity and you will need to allocate time and money in order to succeed in today’s Social Media community. It’s not enough to ‘just have’ the profile and sporadically publish 2-3 tweets a week, maybe even less.
Regular posts about the latest company, as well as industry, news will help your business be seen as an authority within the industry.
As cheap as social media may be, adopting it still requires investing time and resources in learning and eventually spending on media.
Bakeman, Hanson, 2012
Small businesses generally have limited resources to dedicate to their social media content, or the resource they have may not have good knowledge about the fundamentals of social media. As suggested by The Bakeman & Hanson (2012) article, they may need to leverage the expertise from within their existing team – “Employees who have grown up with information technology and social media represent a latent resource that could help small employers incorporate social media into their marketing efforts.”
While there are obstacles to having a relevant and useful online presence, a greater risk to businesses would be to have no social media presence at all. This could lead to the perception that the business is old-fashioned, not-relevant, and a sense of disconnect with customers. Consumers are looking online for feedback and ratings to assist them with selecting the businesses they wish to associate with. A social media presence is an important part of that selection process. Businesses without any social media presence risk being excluded or overlooked entirely.
Bakeman, M. M. & Hanson, L. (2012). Bringing social media to small business: A role for employees and students in technology diffusion, Business Education Innovation Journal, 4(2), 106-111.
Witzig, L., Spencer, J. & Galvin, M. (2012). Organizations’ use of LinkedIn: An analysis of nonprofits, large corporations and small businesses. Marketing Management Journal, 22(1), 113-121.