Pranshu Diwan, who runs Travel Another India, a tourism outfit, found that his company could tap a wider set of travellers looking for offbeat destinations on the largest social networking platform Facebook. By creating a page on Facebook, the business now interacts with an audience of about 50,000 followers who share their experience on the social platform. With over 50 million users from India, networking, sharing and recommending restaurants to holiday destinations to their friends, Diwan and many other small business owners have found Facebook as the new-age means to promote their businesses.
In turn, Facebook, too, has upped its offering. The social networking major has launched a series of webinars designed to help small and mid-sized businesses understand and use the new Facebook product offerings, such as Timeline, Offers, Sponsored Stories and real-time Page Insights. Kirthiga Reddy, director (online operations and head of office), Facebook India, says, “Timeline has been rolled out to all brands and in India most of the companies have done a great job of moving to Timeline. The success of SMBs on Facebook can be judged on the basis of the popularity of the page and how much business/inquiries does the brand generate through its Facebook page. As of end-March 2012, there are more than 42 million pages with ten or more Likes.” Diwan of Travel Another India reflects on the changes, “While it is too soon to determine the effects of the new marketing features on FB platform, nevertheless we have seen an increase in interest on our page. The new timeline view allows people to better scroll through posts and enables better highlighting and tagging of key stories. Facebook platform and metrics help us quantify which stories, photographs, posts are more effective.”
Earlier this year, Facebook also announced a partnership with Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) to enable micro, small and medium enterprises to learn how to use social media. The partnership is aimed to expand Facebook’s global SMB Boost programme in India and provide Indian SMEs with educational resources and free advertising to help them get started and grow their businesses online.
For companies trying to reach more of their audience, creating a Facebook page has become central hub for connecting and communicating with fans. It makes sense for home business owner, Bhadra Shah, an Iyengar yoga teacher in Mumbai, who chose voluntary retirement from a leading insurance company to pursue yoga. While he started with friends on Facebook and how Yoga could help them. Shah then got requests for private classes and small-group yoga sessions from friends on the social networking site. Today after 15 months, Shah runs seven private yoga sessions for high flying executives and has regular yoga training camps.
It was a similar experience for Ashwin Menda, a mumbai based caterer, who today spends 6-8 hours on his Facebook Page to connect with prospective clients every day. Word of mouth publicity on Facebook worked for Menda, especially when it came from clients. Better still, when people post pictures of food items cooked and served by the caterer, it further helped Menda’s business. On average, Facebook enquiries generate close to half of his business and the repeat customer base comprises mostly of clients who came to Menda via Facebook.
“Marketing is much flatter now," notes social media expert Guy Kawasaki in a webinar. "Word of mouth is now what makes products tip.” Social media websites, he argues, present personalized customer service and thus are the quickest way to communicate with your consumers.
While Facebook is the de la creme of social networking sites, there’s no denying that Google+ is close on its heels. With over 100 million users on Google+, it is time small businesses start channelising the social platform as part of their marketing game plan, list experts. A big reason, they claim, to be active on Google+ is the boost it gives small businesses’ online presence through Google search popularity and page ranking. Jason Hennessey, CEO of EverSpark Interactive, a search engine optimisation company explains in a blog post why Google+ is not to be ignored. “The more frequently you add content to your page, the more frequently Google will ‘crawl’ your site, and the higher you will rank in searches. Adding more contacts to your Google+ circle will also help to push your content higher and connect their blogs and sites with yours,” he noted. In other words, the more you become engaged with Google+ and the more people you havefollowing you on Google+, the more promotion your content will get acrossthe Web.
Prabhu Ram, general manager (research and consulting), Cybermedia Research, reasons, “A majority of the established social networking platforms have developed a unique positioning for themselves among users. For instance, while Linkedin is used for professional networking and lead generation, Facebook is preferred for social networking. As per our survey results, a ‘new generation’ tool like Google+ is being used in both professional and personal settings within a short span of its launch.”
Meanwhile, Facebook is already out with engaging marketing tools that can be deployed by business owners easily. For example, the new Pages for businesses have features that allow business users to express what their brand stands for. Another new feature, Real-time Page Insights presents data that is now more actionable, so businesses now have a better window into what’s working and what’s not on their Page, and how to optimise quickly. The effectiveness of Timeline and the marketing tools can be measured by increased engagement and the number of likes on the brand pages. Additionally the new ‘insights’ feature also helps brands to understand and connect with their fans better.
For now small business owners and social media experts conclude that while Google+ has its benefits, it just doesn't match up to Facebook today. Unless you have the time to spare to run a Google+ page, it's likely not worth the effort because the ability to engage consumers is so limited, and the breadth of audience is too. But they also don’t deny the fact that Google+ could close that gap over time.