Social networking sites like Facebook have become a tool for success for many young start-ups and entrepreneurs. While Facebook, Twitter or other such networking sites have been successfully deployed as marketing platforms by multinationals, it is the small-scale entrepreneurs who have begun to get the best out of networking websites — by using these to promote their business and services.
The low cost in reaching out to customers is what drives the small entrepreneurs to social media, points out independent product designer, Neil Dantas. He says: “To put an advertisement on Yellow Pages or get a public relations executive, it would have cost anything between Rs 1,500 and Rs 20,000. Facebook lets me put out a message to consumers for free.” Two years ago, Dantas introduced a project on Facebook called ‘Kuch Bhi’, which has amassed a huge fan base. The project has nearly 1,000 followers, including approximately 300 who have started contributing with designs. His own line of products are promoted solely through the social networking site.
Most importantly, it is the word of mouth on such sites that drives small businesses. For textile designer, Shubhi Sachan, who actively promoted her bag made by women from Dharavi (slums in Mumbai) on Facebook, has already bagged her first set of orders. “Once the consumers are involved, a business needs no other publicity,” she says.
Advertisements on Facebook can be used at targeted groups such as women, pet lovers or teenagers. Besides, photos put on Flickr, videos uploaded on YouTube, cross promotion on various websites, linking and bookmarking drives the point home. Finding the right customers for your product or service is half the battle of promoting your product, feels Arun Tyagi, general manager (Marketing), IndiaMART.com. He says: “Our followers on Twitter, or fans on Facebook are the ones who do all the publicity. In social media marketing, every fan becomes a brand ambassador,” reasons Tyagi. IndiaMART, a B2B marketplace, joined Facebook last year to be in touch with its customers.
Since social networking sites are all about user-generated content that acts as a testimonial, they help businesses build credibility. “We play a lot on the viral aspect,” says Anisha Singh, founder and CEO of group-buying site Mydala.com. “Our customers shared and emailed the offers and what we got was a roller-coaster effect.” Mydala was launched in late 2009 and is now spread over Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. A team of 25 people in Delhi, along with teams in other cities, decides on the deal of the day and gives out a discount of anything between 45 per cent and 90 per cent. Most entrepreneurs are relying on international sites to market their services. Therefore, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube are doing much better than Indian networking sites like Ibibo. “What works best is where more people are,” says Rajesh Lalwani, founder, Blogworks.
Though not a direct sales driver, social networking sites allow customers to get the feeling that they are in touch with the seller and people tend to buy items from people that they know or that they are more comfortable with. Product designers like Dantas, for instance, now supply t-shirts to several leading retail stores in Mumbai that got in touch with him after looking at his work on the web. He lists: “A designer like me can start by making Rs 10,000 a month from the sale of all his products. This only increases with time.” Businesses like MyDala.com claim to make little under 50 per cent of its sales through Facebook or Twitter.
Websites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter attract new members everyday, giving you access to new and potential customers daily. For now, social networking sites are beginning to act as an outlet for young entrepreneurs to explore possibilities by reaching out to their customers and ask for feedback.