Since the dawn of the 21st century, African economies have been characterised by the mushrooming of small to medium enterprises (SMEs). This has been chiefly due to the fact that many governments have seen the need to support businesses from grass-root level hence putting in place policies that support SMEs and home grown industries. Some of these businesses have matured into fully-fledged enterprises that are doing well on the international scene. However, others have had their fair share of experiencing stillbirths and being doomed from the onset owing to mismanagement and failure to exploit simple, easily accessible business strategies.
Looking at the successes and failures of SMEs in Africa, a question that begs to be answered is, “Do they (SMEs) leverage and optimise on prospects created by social networks like Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc… but mainly Linkedin?”
In a research by Unisa published in the African Journal of Business Management Volume 5(13), the reasons for business failure within SMEs is lack of marketing skills and financial problems (running costs). This means these small companies do not have adequate resources to promote themselves. But surely how is it not possible, in this day and age, for a company to survive when cheaper media platforms are available to market themselves and save costs. In South Africa for example, according to a research done by AddPeople, an Advertising agency specializing in SMEs, 80% of their new SMEs customers do not have any form of presence on Social Media. Of the 20% who had, 69% were inactive and passive on the networks. Given that 71% of social media participants are more likely to buy a product or service from a company they have connected with via social media and 36% of people have posted about a brand on social networks, the importance of SMEs making good use of social media cannot be underestimated.
Facing north, one cannot help but notice the impact of Social Media on the successes of SMEs. Although they are not totally snubbing traditional advertising they prefer to use the internet (websites, blogs and social networks) because it is economical and easier to implement. Take the U.K. for example, a whopping great 43% ofonline consumers are ’liking’ or following the brands they use on social networks. 87.3% of UK consumers reading online reviews before making a purchase. UK companies that successfully gained new customers through social networking rose to 41% in 2011, 8% up from the previous year’s figure. Globally the figure has seen a 7% rise for the same period.
Kimberley Waldron, co-founder of SkyParlourPR in the UK explained how Linkedin is important in building contacts. She says: “In the past 12 to 18 months it’s generated some real opportunities for us. I spent five weeks in New York in February this year going around meeting potential customers and trade bodies, and 90% of all the contacts and meetings I had were set up via LinkedIn.” She says that having some visibility online creates a reputation and instant transparency that enables clients to trust you. It is this trust that leads to a company attracting more clients or customers.
It is the naked truth that social media networks especially Linkedin have matured to become social e-commerce platforms where Business-to-Business (B2B) and Business-to-Consumer (B2C) relationships are built and communication is conducted in a very professional mode. Businesses new to social media should focus time and attention on the platform that will deliver the most for them. According to marketing software company, Hubspot, B2B companies say they have acquired the most new customers via LinkedIn, whilst 67% of B2C companies have acquired a new customer through Facebook and LinkedIn. Twitter shouldn’t be overlooked, as it is a powerful tool for instantaneous interaction with customers and can be crucial for protecting and enhancing your brand’s reputation.
“African Enterprises shouldn’t see social media as something to be afraid of and equally social media shouldn’t be viewed as a tool solely for teenagers. Companies need to focus on choosing the right platforms for them and commit to a strategy of interaction and unique content updates, as well as always remembering to communicate as a person, not a corporation!” according to AddPeople Unfortunately, most African SMEs are still to realise the benefits of participating on social networks otherwise they will never see their businesses developing into what they want them to be. They will remain small and invisible on the market scene.
Article written by Miss. Ritta Hove, Copywriter and Media Consultant at Chess Plains Coaching