Is there any value in social networking for SMEs?

Simon Lawrence is yet to be persuaded that social networks offer small businesses any real value.

26th May 2009 at 9:57 am

Keeping in contact with old friends couldn’t be easier these days. Hotmail, WAYN, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter – the list is endless. That’s all well and good for your personal life, but what about in a business situation?

Some big name companies have thrown themselves into the social media space e.g. Dell claiming to have made over $1million from their twitter feed. That’s all well and good for the big boys who have spare money to experiment but does social media have any real value for SME’s looking to network?

Many business people are already tuned into the benefits of using LinkedIn to network. But is that where social networking should start and finish for small businesses?

Last year Visa Business launched a new network page designed for Facebook, the social network page. They used it to encourage small business owners to exchange ideas, manage their resources and expand their customer bases. This was in addition to the $2 million Visa already spent on advertising on the website.

But was it really an effective strategy? Undoubtedly many small businesses have signed up for Facebook pages but most of these are for fun; offering ways for Facebook’s 200 million active users to play games, share photos, rate music and track friend’s activities.

Whilst I understand the desire to harness Facebook’s rapidly growing audience for business, in my mind it still hasn’t proven that its social playground is an effective tool.

Businesses using social media may also be in danger of blurring the lines between personal and public life. We’ve all seen the stories of employees moaning about their job apparently in the domain of their private network of friends, only to find it gets back to bosses and they’re promptly fired.

Another unresolved issue with these new sites is privacy. Do businesses really want to be doing all their deals and negotiating out in the open? Surely when competitors see new business lined up they will try to lure them away?

As for expanding business opportunities and customer bases, I’m not sure how many people will want to do business with someone they found on a social networking site, predominantly used by teenagers for seeing what their mates have been up to.

Clearly this technology is still evolving but for the time being I’m not convinced it’s a key tool for SME.

Simon Lawrence

Simon is the founder and CEO of Information Arts one of the UK's leading business-to-business marketing consultancies set up in 2000. Simon has over 17 years experience within the industry and is widely regarded as a leading expert in businesses marketing to other businesses.

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  1. I run an outsourced marketing services company, and have been active on Twitter since the beginning of this year. A few months ago I mentioned on Twitter that I had updated my company website with a short promo, illustrating the impact of integrating video within a company’s website.

    Four days later, our company had an enquiry from a firm in the US (we’re based in France) and about a week after that we had supplied them with a video promo for their own website – and received payment. It turned out that my Twitter post had been ‘re-tweeted’ by one of my followers, which eventually was brought to their attention.

    I believe that social media can indeed work for SMEs, but much depends on the nature of your business and how much effort you make, as it can easily eat up your day. I am careful with whom I connect on my social media accounts, and try to contribute as much as I can to topics, threads, etc. without giving any sales spiel.

    I’d like to say that social media is working for our company, but then I’ve yet to repeat the Twitter example 😉

  2. Tim Kimber says:

    “Some very valid points raised here, Simon but I’m afraid that I am going to have to disagree with you. I believe that there are significant ways in which SMEs can benefit from social networking. Since the conception of the internet, we have seen a consistent rise in the popularity of social networking sites. As such, SMEs need to embrace this phenomenon and reach out to their customers in the medium that they understand and clearly enjoy using.

    Because of the large number and variety of customers using social networks, SMEs are able to reach a vast number of potential customers. Essentially, this is a free and instant process where SMEs can target specific groups, promote their products and keep the public informed of new products/services as well as special promotions.” Tim Kimber, OfficeLiveGuy

  3. Zafar Majid says:

    You make a good point when you say that social networking is “blurring the lines between personal and public life”.

    I agree with that sentiment, but business, the web, social networking, all appear to be bringing the two closer and closer together.

    The bottom line reads something like “this is me… I’m a really nice guy with all these interests and friends… why don’t you become my friend and we can do business together”.

    Perhaps if we can’t beat them, we really do have to join them!

  4. Zafar, thanks for commenting, always good to hear readers’ views.

    I think business has always been intensely personal.

    Social networks, twitter and other tools are helping us communicate better and understand each other better.

    I reckon that’s good for business and good for society in general.

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