Reputation Management

Relevance of Social Media for SMEs – Using LinkedIn

Article by Divya Kamra

Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have become popular social media websites/tools among many online users. Most of them are either professionals or youngsters who use these tools to socially connect with friends, families and others. Most large corporate have their Facebook pages, LinkedIn profiles and Twitter handles. Seeing the all round excitement around social media, a new age SME owner might often wonder whether these tools can be used for meeting any business objectives, their relevance for his business/industry and so on. While the relevance and usage of these tools for businesses depend on multiple factors such as type of industry, nature of sales cycle, product/service involved end objective of using social media, some general guidelines/pointers(for want of better word!) have evolved. Given that these media were not even in existence a few years back, our understanding of how to use social media for SMEs still needs to evolve and these pointers/conclusions will change.

The guidelines are probably more relevant for SMEs selling/dealing with other SMEs and not SMEs selling to individual consumers (such as retail firms). So SMEs in professional services, business support services, software, BPOs and other similar services companies could find these guidelines relevant. They can also be selectively applied in a manufacturing context particularly to exporters primarily as a media to facilitate business development.

Let’s start first with the “obviously relevant” social network for SMEs- LinkedIn.

Using LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a professional network and can be very useful for SMEs particularly those in exports and services. Some ways that you can use LinkedIn are:

1. Search for detailed profiles of people whom you want to know more about. They could be potential customers, potential vendors, employees and strategic partners. We have often used LinkedIn “to size” the lead/vendor, to identify right executive to cold call, to understand more about the lead/company/vendor beyond what their documents indicate2. Join Industry groups “not” with the aim of just selling. These groups are genuinely a place where people come to find information, to look for solution and to learn about industry practices. This is a place where you can “showcase” your industry/software knowledge.3. Use LinkedIn In mail to selectively target (not carpet bomb) suitable profiles with a soft pitch of your services4. Locate suitable employees for managerial hiring. LinkedIn is not a good source if you are looking at hiring entry level/experienced operational people as even if they are in LinkedIn, their Linked accounts may have low levels of activity

In Indian context for the average SME in services sector, LinkedIn has the highest relevance especially those in exports. It can be used by small services/exporters to identify targets customers, relevant executive within the firm and reach out to them. For sectors focused on domestic markets, LinkedIn can primarily have less relevance as I have seen most India centric LinkedIn groups are filled with sellers/service-providers and the rare buyer. Hence all you will end up doing is looking at multiple posts from sellers/service-providers marketing their services. For such firms, LinkedIn should be more of an information gathering tool (of potential employees, competitors) rather than business development tool.

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