By Gary Swale and Sandy Carter
Small businesses can no longer ignore the impact of going social.
In fact, more than 6.1 million South Africans are on Facebook with 100,000 new members registering each month, generating 800 million updates every day.
While large corporations all over the world are leading their countries forward with rapid innovation and expansion, small businesses are playing a vital role in grassroots economic development. Small businesses provide a platform for wider employment and economic opportunity at the local level and, like the small stores and vendors supporting the large anchor store in a mall, the local support larger corporations need to function.
South Africa’s small businesses are no different.
There is a wide consensus among economic thinkers that small businesses act as the fuel to power South Africa’s economy. The national government is seeing the huge potential of small businesses, and has initiated efforts to invigorate this sector.
To more efficiently engage employees and customers, and improve sales, small businesses are applying social technologies to collaboration, communication and content management – the connected web of people and assets that impact a given business goal or outcome. These social technologies are then amplified by social media, from blogs and social networking sites to content communities, to reach the most influential audience for maximum brand impact.
Unlike many developed countries, mobile devices play a more critical role in how the social messages are disseminated. By 2016, it is estimated that there will be one billion mobile phones in Africa, and mobile Internet usage in Africa is among the highest in the world.
As a result, significant opportunities exist in South Africa for small businesses to build more social businesses. Small businesses are discovering innovative ways to educate, manage their business and engage with potential customers via mobile networks. That is empowering people in all the diverse ethnic and economic strata that is unique to South African society. If you combine Africa’s mobile internet proliferation with the natural willingness to tell and share stories, the enduring spirit of ubuntu which means I am, because we are, will prevail in any South African social business success story.
Yet small business success in South Africa requires more than tools and technology. Small businesses need to re-imagine business with a social mindset.
Even in today’s highly socialized world, many small South African businesses dismiss the potential of social business, either relegating the idea to the exotic realm of Internet marketing or ignoring the buzz of social marketing as a passing fad.
Now we are seeing that way of thinking changing as South African boomers become more digitally savvy, millennials permeate the workforce and social media becomes a part of daily life.
In other words, South African small business doors are now open for social business.
Social business can shift a small business’ dynamic from isolation to engagement within seconds by providing vehicles for discovering, growing and propagating its products, services and expertise to local consumers. This shift requires small businesses to take a more active approach to social. Small businesses can establish their own online town square to encourage and monitor interaction with consumers via the social sphere.
In many ways, the balance of power has shifted from the business to the individual. Technology has made it easier for consumers to discover and participate in social networks, to impact both brand perception as well as brand reality – how a small business creates, presents and maintains its content, authenticity, integrity, reputation, commitment and follow-through.
Conversely, a small business can rely too heavily on new-fangled social business methods, and forget how to engage customers on a personal level.
A small business’ best marketing remains a friendly face behind the counter. Social business methods have been the trick to increasing the number of customers on the other side of the counter, either real or virtual.
These mobile social business methods have been most effective in South Africa, and have set an example for the rest of the world’s small businesses.