Social media has revolutionised the way we do business and engage with our customers, there is absolutely no doubt about that. However, it seems there are some reservations about the extent to which it can benefit businesses in comparison to the time and energy social media accounts require to maintain. During this digital tug of war we’re on the well-armed side that champions the impact of social media on small businesses but there are some who are still left questioning its purpose.

A waste of time and money?

According to new findings published by business consultancy, Deal With The Media, social media is viewed as a ‘waste of time and money’ for a majority of small and medium-sized enterprises Small business social mediaacross the UK. The company carried out a survey of 1,000 SME owners and managers and found that a substantial 62% admit to being unsure about whether or not social media marketing had proved effective for their businesses.

Peter Walter, founder of Deal With The Media, said: “At the moment social media doesn’t seem to be working for the majority of small businesses. Most of the UK’s five million SMEs spend between six and ten hours a week marketing themselves via social media, making their businesses feel modern, digital and connected to their customers.

“The unfortunate reality is most think they are wasting time and money in doing so. Collectively, all that time spent tweeting updating various sites adds up to more than one billion man-hours a year – or the combined workload of more than 520,000 full-time employees.”

The experts don’t agree

However, many industry experts are strongly contesting these claims and imploring small business owners and managers to apply a little more patience when it comes to growing a base of followers. It takes a great deal of time and dedication to build up a decent following on social media but business owners who don’t recognise this fact are becoming frustrated and discouraged at the lack of instant gratification.

Heather Baker, founder of TopLine Communications, said: “It’s very difficult to grow a following organically from a low starting point. The good news is LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter now allow companies to set small budgets of just a few pounds per day to advertise through suggested posts, recommended followers and so on.

“You can tap into the type of people you want to reach by where they are and what they’re interested in, and you normally only pay when they click on your advert. It’s a very fast and effective way to start building a following.”

As well as a lack of necessary patience, Dianne Richardson from the University of Central Lancs also cites a shortfall in understanding about the most effective way to use social media as being one of the reasons why SME owners currently see it as futile. Factors such as tone of voice, multimedia content and time of posting all need to be considered in order for a business to reap the many benefits that social media has the potential to provide.

Many of these existing hurdles can be knocked down by putting a few simple practices in place. We’ve put together a few expert tips and tricks to help you get the most out of your social media accounts to help your business flourish in this digital age. Those companies that don’t have a well-managed online presence are at a disadvantage to those who do, no matter what your stance on social media, so it’s time you whipped yours into shape.

Getting more out of your social media accounts

Engage in conversation – Penny Power, founder of the Digital Youth Academy, recommends that SME owners and social media managers should treat their online interactions more like a trip to the pub than a platform for one-sided promotion. So rather than bombard your followers and feeds with advertisements about your company, dedicate some time to engaging in conversations and cultivating a network of digital connections.

She said: “Don’t just keep saying how good you are and how everyone should buy from you. If you’d just moved into a town or village you wouldn’t open the door of your new local pub and shout that you’re a plumber or an architect and people should come over and give you business.”

Remember consistency is key – In her account, Dianne Richardson also suggested that a lack of available time to dedicate to maintaining digital profiles is an ongoing issue amongst SME owners who aren’t benefiting from the value of social media. However this issue can be quickly ironed out by taking advantage of the many facilities such as Hootsuite and TweetDeck, which allow you to bulk schedule posts months and months in advance. This means you can go about your day knowing that your social media profiles are active and up to date.

Capitalise on trends – Do the phrases ‘trending’ and ‘going viral’ mean anything to you apart from what’s in the highstreet shop windows and a nasty winter bug? If not, they should do. Trends and viral items basically come about because there are so many people talking about them on their social media profiles and are often represented with a hashtag.

Business can jump on these hashtags to expose their content to a large and targeted audience. For example, tonight is the final of the popular BBC television programme, The Great British Bake Off and this is being represented on Twitter by the #GBBOFinal hashtag.  If you’re a catering company or own a bakery, this is a prime example of how you can use a trending topic to your own advantage by digitally mingling with your target audience.

While you’re doing all of these things make sure you’re not focusing too heavily on the competition of big companies and leading competitors. While some healthy competition is great for keeping you on your toes and inspiring your own ideas, it’s crucial that you don’t become so preoccupied with what other people are doing that your own digital reputation suffers.

Iona St Joseph, social media account manager at A Social Media Agency advises that, “if you concentrate too much on the competition, you’ll never get anything done” and adds: “if someone is already dominating your sector on certain social networks, you just need to find another way to stand out. They might be first to break news on their giant corporate blog, but by updating your accounts and blog in a friendly, humorous way, you’ll begin to stand out as a more personable business that people can engage with.”

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