The 2011/11/09 at 06:30
The commercial potential of social networks has been confirmed from year to year. The US Chamber of Commerce, Facebook, and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) announced in September this year a cooperation project aimed at boosting the growth of SMEs as well as job creation. The joint efforts target helping businesses to acquire and win the loyalty of new clients including the 800 million users of the leading global social network. “Social networks provide incredible support for companies which, by nature, lack a substantial budget for making their assets known,” explains Blair Latoff, the US Chamber’s Director of Communications. “The recommendations system and the possibilities for diffusing messages via different forms of media make them relevant tools for the concrete realisation of communication campaigns. As well as the publicity aspect, the idea is also to be able to develop a community of consumers around an offer.”
The NFIB is an association of small businesses with offices throughout the country’s states. Founded in 1943, this non-partisan and non-profit organisation gives owners of small independent businesses a voice in public policy issues likely to affect their activity. Its studies indicate that low sales have been at the heart of problems afflicting small companies in recent years. So any help whose direct objective is to draw clients is welcome. According to Blair Latoff, “this partnership with the NFIB and Facebook is being established naturally, given today’s evolution and the common interests that are emerging. This is a unique opportunity for small businesses to take advantage of one of the world’s most popular communities and to establish a connection with current and potential clients.”
In concrete terms, the NFIB and the US Chamber place at the disposal of local companies “webinars”, case studies and tips for best exploiting the potential of social networks. The aim is to educate business owners about how to better connect with clients and reach out to new consumers thanks to the use of free tools. Companies will be shown how to promote their advertisements, the history of their brands, the specificities of their products…
The programme encompasses a roadshow travelling throughout the country, coordinated with each State, local Chambers and regional offices of the NFIB. During the roadshow events, experts will meet local companies face to face, to discuss ways to obtain optimal results depending on their situations. From January 2012 onwards, Facebook will commence granting free advertisements to the value of 10 million dollars (7.24 million euros).
This advertising credit translates to giving 200,000 businesses a 50 dollar (36 euro) boost. Small companies employ over half of the workers in the private sector and generated 64 % of new jobs in the past 15 years. They therefore play a core role in the national economy. It is currently estimated that half of the 800 million Facebook users have links with a small company. Blair Latoff estimates that “these personal links can help millions of small businesses to grow and hire”.
Social networks also appear to be a strategic axis for getting over the crisis. In 2010, 36 % of small American companies declared their intention to use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn for development purposes. This choice of social networks represents a 12 % increase compared with 2009. At the same time, other marketing tools have shown downward trends. The desire to improve Internet presence through web sites, banners, referencing and so on lost 4 % over the same period. Meanwhile, intentions to communicate via newsletters and marketing emails dropped by 25 %. “The Chamber has already for several years been working on raising awareness on the advantages that social communities and innovative communication campaigns may bring. It was itself one of the first commercial associations to use the Twitter platform,” enthuses Blair Latoff. “Small companies need new solutions to stay competitive. We will continue to put forward innovative propositions to bring about success in a constantly evolving economy.”
This type of agreement is not new. In 2008, the number one in credit cards, Visa, unveiled the first Facebook application dedicated to US SMEs – a service aimed at putting companies into contact with one another to allow them to exchange their experiences and ideas. The project enabled the social network to gain considerable publicty. In 2011, Facebook’s advertising income is expected to exceed the 2 billion dollar (1.45 billion euro) mark, according to a survey by eMarketer firm, placing the US company ahead of Yahoo and Google in this ranking. What remains to be seen is whether the enthusiasm for this type of operation does not risk being hindered by a climate of mistrust relating to problems of respect of the confidentiality of information facing the social network.
In May this year, the IT security company Symantec stated that advertisers could access, via Facebook, profiles, photos, conversations and other private data of its users. Certain security keywords had become accessible to third-party applications, allowing them to send messages or obtain personal information on profiles. Symantec rapidly alerted Facebook about the problem, and the latter undertook measures to resolve it. The issue of confidentiality was already at the heart of debates in 2009 when the Internet giant modified its operational rules so as to authorise the unveiling of members’ private information if they did not take care to check and reconfigure their wishes. The decision triggered the wrath of several American associations for the defence of civil rights and the freedom of online information, which suspected the social network of introducing this new system so that Internet users would expose more personal information online.
Social networks also arouse certain fears within companies. When a communication policy is not clearly defined, a company’s image and reputation can easily come under threat. If an employee who expresses himself in the name of the company speaks without too much thought, he may diffuse, deliberately or otherwise, words that can have a disastrous impact for his employer, or else strategically critically information. To counter these difficulties, the role of the community manager, a new position aimed at being the interface between a company and social networks, is gradually becoming essential.