How SMEs can use SOCIAL MEDIA to build a strong Brand

Do you know you can convert your friends on Facebook, followers on twitter and connections on LinkedIn into customers and through them you can build a huge a market for your small business?  With over 4omillion Nigerians online, there exit a great market waiting for you to tap into. With proper strategy and consistency in promoting your brands through these social media, you can attract great number of customers and grow your business with ease. Just few clicks on your mouse can position you business. If you are an entrepreneur, all you need now is to go beyond using your social media accounts in sharing gossips, debating national issues and for fun,. Learn how to use them to help your business.

I first heard of Facebook some time in 2008, and then I was still an undergraduate. It was exactly the period I was undergoing the mandatory Industrial Training program in one of the drilling companies in Delta State. After the six months program and back to school, I realized how I have failed to reach out to my friends and colleagues while we were all in our separate locations for the IT program. For the long six months I realized that I had unconsciously cut off myself socially from my fond friends. With Facebook information were shared and friendships were strengthened through its engaging interactions. Prior to the program, what brought most of us together were the lectures; the lecture halls were reliable meeting points for us. Having temporarily stayed out of school and immersed in the massive society to become a trainee in different fields of endeavor, we all missed our lecture halls which provided us not only with the exposure to academic knowledge but the thrill associated with the social integrations. For me, I missed the school and its excitements, but unknown to me a new media on the block has stepped in to still provide us with the same pleasure of social exposure and constant communication just like the lecture halls. Facebook was central in every group discussion then in school. To safe myself of missing out of the kick of it all I opened a Facebook account, and has been operating it ever since. Four years after school and becoming a business person I have realized again that Facebook just like any other social media is beyond a social platform. There is business marketing advantage it provides.

One of my daily routines is to visit business sites and blogs especially those involving branding which is where is my area of speciality to update myself with relevant knowledge. In one of such moments of surfing through the internet I stumbled upon many business success stories about how social media has helped to transform businesses and increase entrepreneurs’ market shares. Let me summarize all the success stories with this attributed to Brian Henry, an entrepreneur, who sells pimento cheese, “Once we started truly interacting with our customers and created a community, we began to see an increase in interest and customers”. Yes, this is what social media can do for your business. It will help you generate dialogue with what you offer as service or product, stir emotional interest and build you a customer base. Anyone can be like Brian, if he / she truly understand how to use the social media as a platform to build a strong brand and marketing it to a target audience.

No business survives without proper visibility, your target audience needs to hear you and get a notification of your existence. This is where marketing comes to stimulate interest and to bring the market into accepting your brand. There are so many marketing strategies that ordinarily require huge capital spending that most SMEs do not have. But Social media has provided the most affordable springboard your small business can utilize to gain publicity.  Ok! I know many are asking, “How then can I commence taking advantage of the social media to establish my brand?” Just simple, get an account and do the following.

1. Establish a difference between your business and personal / social entities.

For instance, if you intend to use any of your social media accounts as business marketing platforms avoid posting pictures that do not connect with what you sell or offer as service. Know that you are online to garner trust, reputation and to grow, so posting a picture of you on a wild party or your funny dog peeing or hanging out with friends over some bottle of beer wouldn’t help convince “would be” customers of your responsibility. It portrays you as an unserious individual and one who should not be trusted or engaged.  Thus, once you have decided to use these media as a marketing space then you need to be careful on your language, the messages and pictures you post on them. The truth is when it comes to business; no one wants to associate with an unreal character let alone one that have already portrayed himself as an unserious fellow.

Build a professional / business profile. You are perceived by the content of the messages and pictures you post on Facebook, twitter, etc. You face your market on these media and no potential customer would spend when your character is in doubt

2. Freely share resources and information:

This is another way to grow your fan base and express your perceived expertise.People don’t buy a product or pay for your service, they pay for solution. So your brand should ideally be built on delivering solution. And one of the fastest ways to express that is constant provision of useful resource and solution tips to help people with some challenges that primarily aligns with your line of business. If you are a personal development coach you can begin by posting tips on how to gain self-confidence and positive esteem. It has to be engaging and insightful enough to stir interactions among your audience. If you sell shoes, you inform in series how to differentiate an original leather shoe from the fake. You can enlighten why they should prefer shoes manufactured in Italy to that produced in Thailand. If what you do is to sell fabrics, and you have me as your social media audience, I would love to know why Turkey and not China? Some of these regular updates not only establish you as being knowledgeable about your business but an expert and this enhance your reputation. By providing content and showing customers you understand their struggles, you build trust with them. Social media helps businesses build more loyal customers by putting the focus on education, not selling. And the result of that is we trust the brand helping us to solve our problems, not just pad our wallets. As a small business owner, your business relies on trust more than a larger business. If your customers don’t trust that you can solve their needs and that you’ll be around in the morning, they’re going to seek out other companies. Conclusively, educate them on your page, give important information. This will build trust and get them looking regularly for the solution that you offer.

Inform, share free resources and empower your audience with important tips on what you offer. You are not selling free information; you are inviting your audience with reasons why they should pay you for more of it.

3. Use Pictures to entice:

One thing that an image does is that it has this immediate influence on people’s impression about you. It sends out instantaneous signal to their senses which interprets who you are or what you offer.  Your audience should be able to deduce your business by going through your pictures. Amazingly, pictures generate emotional connections between your business and your target market. Sometime last year, I met a young guy in a seminar here in Lagos, he told me he makes furniture, and I told him what I do too. At the end of the day we exchanged contacts and became friends. Days after meeting him, I went to his Facebook page, scanning through his pictures I was amazed and got emotionally struck by the aesthetics and the magnificence of his work. I appreciated his creativity right there on the spot. Just watching his pictures I became a customer, and through me he had gotten several other customers.

Post pictures of your business or people enjoying your business. If you are a fashion designer keep your audience busy with exquisite pictures of your designs, let them see your creativity and have a view of what is like to have you make couture clothes for them. No amount of words can convince more than images. If you have 200 friends on Facebook and a quarter of them appreciate your work, at least an appreciable number of them would contact you or share information about you. Same as in LinkedIn, twitter, etc. On YouTube, post videos of your business, customer experiences, and encourage customers to make their own. You can also ‘favorite’ other YouTube users’ videos and they will end up on your page. Share those videos on your other accounts such as Twitter, Facebook and even LinkedIn. I know many people who don’t have an office, what they do is to upload pictures of what they have to sell on their Facebook pages, and there they start enticing their audience. Social media provides them with the opportunity to reach out to customers. There on their pages, price bargaining commences and even sales. Just like them all you have to do is to have a business page and regularly posts pictures of what you offer. Yes, you can still make use of your personal account. This exercise may seem unfruitful at inception but through time you would have established in the minds of your audience that on your page they can buy things they need and even if you don’t have what they want you can advise them on where to get them or still get it for them for a token. What you succeeded in doing is building a market place on your social media page. I call it building a Wall Mart on your page.

Through pictures your audience comprehends your specialty and what you offer. They have a feel of your product and service, and this stimulates the desire to immediately contact you

4. Finding important friends and followers:

The more you have friends and follower or connections the more you are likely to get more people hear about you and get them on board. But here, what matters is your strategy or systematic approach. The knowledge of who your target market really is will help in narrowing your search or which group to continuously follow or interact with. For those who use Twitter following an individual or organization with thousands of followers has great promise for your business. All you need to do is to comment on their posts regularly, send them messages or comments like ‘I look forward to following their great content.’ Doing this continuously you will gain their audience and trust. Your first priority should be building that relationship with people, not pitching your service or product. If they so much like what you say can retweet it; boom your profile must have reached thousands or millions of their followers. What this simple strategy does is it gives you publicity, exposes you to people who will appreciate your work.

If your target market is the corporate people, go to Twitter or Google+ search keywords like banking / banker or even narrow it to a name in that industry that you know can be of good boost to your brand. Follow them, and strategically position yourself before them and garner their trust. For some if not all share their links on your wall and/or comment on them. Wish them a Happy Birthday. Birthdays are big on Facebook. Always acknowledge them. Maybe even offer them free gifts from what you sell or a discount on special occasions.

NOTE: Do not ask for help/favors or too much from people until you’re friends or at least warm acquaintances with them. And the #1 way to become friends is to offer tons of help/favors without expecting anything in return. One skill you cannot acquire in school is “Networking which is a *long-term* activity – it CANNOT be done for short-term results. Follow these basic concepts, and you’ll be ahead of 99.99% of others who are botching their networking attempts online. So those you follow on twitter or who are your friends on Facebook try keeping their page active, like their posts, share them, comment on them, write useful and friendly things on their walls and keep the conversation going on. Don’t think they don’t check your profile; they do and keep it on their memory as you people acquaints. Many of you referrals might come from those who read your posts on their walls. You are to wasting your time rather you are smoothing your path and gradually getting them to remember and get fond of you. Knowing how to build, sustain a network is good an advantage for an entrepreneur who understands it.

Always look beyond one individual or organization you follow on twitter, focus on the multitude attached to their names. That is your market.

5.  Get a Blog or write for a blogger:

Do you know that having a blog can actually help make you a better, savvier business owner? Yes it can. Blog is personal mini kind of website you post write ups from your own experience or view-point and get a feedback through comments, etc attached on it. Blog softens your corporate voice and even goes ahead in replacing it with a human tone. Your audiences through your regular writings or postings on your blog have quite seen you not as a shrewd business person but as human being who they can relate with comfortably. In your blog, it’s easier (and necessary) to talk to your customers as if they were standing right in front of you. In the long-term, it becomes easier to keep this voice when creating all of your other marketing materials which, in the end, will make them more effective and relatable. Through blogging everything about you has been seen through your creative writing, the content of the story that relates with your trade and the quality of knowledge you get across to people. One advantage of blog is that it is homely, it doesn’t have this corporate feel that keeps people uncomfortable and confused, here it allows them be allies in your business and freely say their mind. Being able to engage people on your blog is one of the best ways to build an emotional brand.

Your blog is a space for you to provide value to them by answering their problems, talking about their issues, and helping them to understand the value in your company. By forcing you to put the focus back on your customer and not your company’s agenda, you become more aware of their needs. The more you’re able to think like your customers and address their problems, the more successful your business will become. To drive more people to your blog for more visibility and traction you can partner with established bloggers and write stories for them. They will tag you on every article you write for them, share your link and profile on their blogs. In addition you can comment regularly on their blogs and drop your link on every comment you make. NOTE: Use a business related usernames or catchy names on such blogs as you comment. Names like, ‘Cynthia designers’ Bag’, ‘the brandspecialist’, ‘Programmer’, ‘cheap products’, etc.  This helps to identify you to people as one who offers a particular product or service and stimulate quick interest by other users to know who you are and what you do by clicking on the name which automatically takes them to your blog or other business profile you have online.

Marketing yourself using the social media has lots of benefits but it doesn’t just happen over night. It takes consistency, long time investment and creative strategy to gain a breakthrough. It is cheap yet its gains are so much. Just with an internet you can move across boundaries and pass through marketing barriers you would have faced offline. I hope some one the above tips will help you position or reposition your brand, and will surely increase your customer base. Keep branding. Keep attracting.


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