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Success with social media

It is difficult for small and medium sized enterprises to stand out from the crowd but savvy social media strategy can make all the difference.

The articles represent the views of the author only and not those of American Express.

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Six months ago, Gwen Kua decided it was time for her family restaurant, Gu Ma Jia Food Pot, in Singapore's east, to engage with social media.

"As a fan and user of Facebook, I had a strong feeling that we could use it to get our message out to a wider and younger audience," says Kua.

After a slow start, she now credits social media, combined with search engine optimisation, for a lift in her restaurant's turnover of around 3

"We expect to attract young adults, but we have to teach them how to eat this traditional dish," she laughs.

Kua, 40, was a professional with a multinational company before quitting to join her extended Kua and Chan families in opening Gu Ma Jia four years ago.

Gingerly, small to medium sized enterprises like Gu Ma Jia have cottoned on to the value of social media as low cost marketing tool.

Social media revenue worldwide is expected to reach $US34 billion by 2016, up from $US12 billion in 2011, according to Gartner Inc, the world's leading information technology research and advisory company.

Gartner forecast year-on-year growth of 43.1 per cent, generating income totalling $US16.9 billion for sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn in 2012. SocialMedia Michael Netzley, assistant professor of corporate communication at the Singapore Management University, says social media offers a rich and important opportunity for SMEs, but they must understand the real implications of adopting these channels.

Netzley says the first thing is to get SEO efforts up to speed and then to carefully design social media strategy with specific goals in mind.

This means SBOs may have some catch-up work to do before their ideal strategy can be implemented.

"SMEs around Asia under-invest, typically, in digital channels and potential customers can often find little or no information about relevant SMEs simply because they have not invested a small amount into search market marketing, Netzley says"

Social media experts in Singapore and Hong Kong also stress that companies must identify their own unique sales proposition before launching into social media.

A common error is to use social media as an alternative to advertising - the sure way to lose Facebook friends.

Mark Hellman Regouby, found of Authentic HK Ltd, says SMEs typically use social media as direct mailing with giveaways and coupons.

But he warns that such a campaign will run its course in just a few days.

Regouby senses that SMEs are generally moving past the direct mail phase into relationship building with customers. "This is a challenge because companies are not used to doing this," he says.

Justin Fong, principal of CW Fong and Associates in Singapore, says social media is 85 per cent about having a conversation - and listening - with your Facebook fans and 15 per cent about selling your products.

Fong cites the example of a company selling skincare products, with target customers -women in the 25-32 age group. The company offers tips on dressing, relationships, career advice and so on, to keep this group interested in its Facebook page.

He suggests that SMEs should adopt a trinity - with Facebook as the hub or platform, Twitter to drive traffic to your Facebook and a blog which will be picked up by search engines.

Regouby says Twitter does not place a restriction on the number of tweets an SME sends out, but Facebook restricts the volume of free postings to 20 or 30 per cent of what companies would like to put on their page.

Allan Tan, managing director of Ying Communications in Singapore, says SMEs are caught between fear of losing control where a crisis could go viral on social media, and the fear of missing out on opportunities that social media can offer.

Fong estimates that 80-90 per cent of young start-ups have social media as part of their communications strategy.

But in general, SMEs are time-poor and older business owners uncertain about new technologies.

These companies turn to firms which provide social media services. Gwen Kua went to Justin Fong to set up, maintain and monitor activities on her restaurant's Facebook page.

It is not a question of firing off thousands of tweets - a better approach is to target the sites that are best suited, says Tan.

LinkedIn now has specific groups, like chief information officers. In Singapore, there are now some 1700 CIOs on LinkedIn, Tan says, and a firm wanting to sell technologies will have better results befriending such a group.

Government agencies in Singapore offer various forms of advisory assistance. Industry bodies and chambers of commerce hold regular conferences and advisory services to members about the use of social media.

Quote: A common error is to use social media as an alternative to advertising – the sure way to lose Facebook friends.

Quote: Justin Fong, principal of CW Fong and Associates in Singapore, says social media is 85 per cent about having a conversation – and listening - with your Facebook fans and 15 per cent about selling your products.

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