How the evolution of social media has changed Australian small business

Cade Witnish

The explosion of social media channels over the past five years has changed the way companies communicate with customers. Marketers watched as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, followed by Tumblr and Instagram, dominated their customer’s pastimes. More recently Snapchat has enjoyed being the ‘New kid on the block’, gaining early adoption and then mass following.

The most recent Sensis Social Media report revealed that 50 per cent of consumers are accessing social media every day. In fact, Australian Facebook users are spending on average one full working day (8.5hrs) a week on the site!

No wonder we are feeling so time poor – yet only 31 per cent of SME businesses are implementing a social media engagement plan.

While there’s no doubt Facebook continues to be the dominant social media platform, Instagram, Snapchat and Linkedln have all shown strong growth in Australia over the past 12 months.

When looking at how consumers feel about brands and businesses in their social media channels, the results are interesting. Research shows 32 per cent enjoy following businesses and brands that they like, 19 per cent use the channels to conduct online research to inform their purchasing decisions and 20 per cent actively take up promotions and offers provided through social media by businesses.

This suggests that social media is the perfect channel for small businesses to share their vision in a meaningful way. By sharing your brand in a compelling way through the use of images (tightly cropped photos) or video, consumers can easily understand what you stand for and how this brand might relate to them.

Social media channels have matured to a level and now play a critical role in the consumer purchasing decision journey. As a result, different channels are continually adapting business tools for businesses.

Instagram has effectively introduced advertising into its platform through the use of carousel ads. This visual storytelling feature allows brands to post sequenced photographs with an external link. The feature emulates the experience of reading a magazine, giving marketers a fresh way of communicating with users.

LinkedIn has introduced sponsored InMail allowing businesses to send targeted direct messages to a wide audience.

And then there’s Facebook Messenger for Business. Businesses can offer an option for shoppers to sign up for updates via Facebook Messenger – blending social, business and brand experience.

With this new feature, all information about a purchase (receipts, confirmation emails, shipping notifications, and customer service issues) is delivered to the customer in one Facebook message thread. If the shopper has an issue or needs to alter an order, they will be able to interact directly with the company within Facebook Messenger.

Twitter has introduced a ‘buy’ button to be displayed in-feed. Used for sales of tickets and merchandise, as well as Twitter only deals. This will be available on both the mobile app and the desktop versions of the website.

For small businesses, social media presents a cost-effective, engaging, two-way communication channel with consumers. It can double as a customer service and feedback mechanism, providing small businesses with valuable insights and feedback on how you are travelling. The world has become a lot smaller through social media tools, and customer opportunity much greater.

With this, however, comes the challenge of navigating the ever growing number of platforms and their features. And don’t confuse likes to engagement – likes don’t mean money. Once you’ve reached your audience, there’s the complex task of working out how to turn online fans into customers.

By alluring customers with tangible benefits such as discounts, giveaways and coupons you can help to bridge this gap and lead potential customers on their purchasing pathway.

Cade Witnish

Cade Witnish is the managing director of Loud&Clear, a full service creative digital agency based in Melbourne. For more information visit loudclear.com.au

Image: mkhmarketing, Flickr CC license

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