Almost half of all SME owners aged under 44 use social media as their main tool for customer communication, according to a survey of 522 businesses released yesterday.
The Westpac SME Performance Survey found 35% of all small businesses now use social media to network with customers, but platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are far more popular with younger business owners.
While 48% of SME owners aged between 18 and 44 have a Facebook page for their business, and 13% use a business Instagram account, 27% of small business owners over the age of 45 use Facebook for business and just 2% post photos on Instagram.
Julie Rynski, Westpac’s general manager of small business, says business owners have high hopes in social media driving success for their ventures.
“Twice as many businesses who use social media said that they expect an improvement in activity in the next three months, compared with those small businesses who don’t use social media,” Rynski said in a statement.
“New and established small business owners cannot afford to ignore social media as it provides the opportunity to expand their footprint by leveraging their current network,” said Rynski.
“It also allows for a two-way conversation to attract customers and increase brand awareness at a relatively low cost when compared with traditional advertising channels,” she said.
SmartCompany Hot 30 Under 30 lister Jane Lu is an expert on using social media to drive business. Lu is the founder and chief executive of Showpo, an online fashion retailer that markets itself almost exclusively over social media—and made $1 million last month alone, after turning over $2.6 million last year.
Lu says companies looking to crack the social media market need to develop a communication style their target audience can connect with.
“Give yourself a voice! Even big companies don’t give themselves a voice because they don’t want to alienate certain sections of their customer base – but then [the customers] can’t relate to anyone,” says Lu.
“You need to be personable—we always sign off personally,” she says.
The best tip Lu has for small businesses thinking about trying social media is to just give it a go.
“If you have an idea, just start the social media page now! Don’t wait until you have the website ready, because you can learn a lot in the process,” says Lu.
“You need to have a product ready before you can get scale—but in the meantime you can start learning how to use the page properly,” she says.
But while social media certainly gives tech-savvy business owners the opportunity to spruik their wares to an unprecedented audience, the jury is still out on whether SMEs are preparing themselves adequately for success on the web.
According to a Sensis report published last month, four in five small businesses are jumping into social media without any strategies or long-term measurements for success.
The report found only 24% of small businesses using social media have a plan in place, and only 17% formally assess the return on their investment.