Over the past few years there has been a huge transformation in marketing strategies the world over. There is a shift from traditional marketing to digital marketing, especially in tech savvy markets with huge access to reliable internet, including those in Africa. Today, from Africa to Asia to Europe and United States, social media has become a priority marketing channel rather than an option.
Businesses now invest lots of resources - time and money - to maximise their social media marketing strategy. Platforms like Facebook, twitter and Instagram have become integral parts of brand awareness, brand love, content distribution, lead generation, customer acquisition and customer engagement strategies for businesses. This is typical of start-ups, usually referred to a particular kind of businesses that are coming to the market for the first time, and works with smaller budgets and community campaigns.
However, despite its importance, very few start-ups and Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) - which have been operating in the market over a period of time - really do not understand how to maximize the potential of social media. This is especially the case in the Sierra Leone market. The inability of businesses to maximise low budget marketing opportunities has resulted to the early death or slow growth of many start-ups and SMEs, especially in the capital city, Freetown, with about 70 per cent of total internet access in the country. For instance, Free Radio, a small private music broadcaster; Comium, one of four telcos; Splash Mobile Money, probably the first and only mobile commerce established in 2009;Smart Mobile, the latest telco launched in 2013 and Moe Tea, owned by the country’s biggest football star, Mohamed Kallon, were very promising businesses that have eventually died or are into stagnation due to poor marketing activities.
It is extremely difficult to maximise marketing campaigns on a small budget without compromising quality anywhere in the world. Entrepreneurs struggle with marketing because on the one hand, they are being told that they won't succeed unless consumers know their products and services exist. This requires huge marketing and advertising investment. On the other, they understand that they don't have a large budget and spending too much on marketing activities could kill their enterprises even before they start.
However, somewhere in the middle there is a sweet spot that should allow the marketer to reach a large audience with a very small budget. This sweet spot has changed over the years, probably due to the advent and proliferation of social media. Nonetheless, the concept has remained the same.
Word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing has always been a start-up's best chance of success when working with a limited budget. In fact this strategy is a tradition in the Sierra Leone market. Businesses rely on friends and relatives WOM referrals. The Internet has significantly accelerated the pace at which word-of-mouth marketing takes place. Now we talk about E-word-of-mouth (EWOM). WOM basically means the referral one does about a company’s product or services. It becomes E when it is done over the Internet.
Particularly, social media has made it possible for start-ups and small businesses to reach millions of consumers with the click of a button. This is what is referred to as social media marketing. Today businesses are making lots of efforts to maximise their marketing campaigns with limited budgets.
What is Social Media Marketing?
According to Mashable, social media marketing is the process of gaining website traffic or attention through social media sites. Generally speaking, social media marketing is the process through which a business drives traffic to a store, gains attention, promotes a product or services and engages with customers through the use of social media platforms.
Social media marketing activities usually centre on efforts to create content that attracts attention and encourages readers to share it with their social networks. A business message spreads from one user to another and presumably resonates because it appears to come from a trusted, third party source, as opposed to the brand or company itself. This is called third-party endorsement. Hence, this form of marketing is driven by E-word-of-mouth, meaning it results in earned media rather than paid media.
If you are not sure why businesses are turning to social media for their marketing campaigns then look at the numbers. According to brandwatch.com, an online portal that researches about social media platforms, Facebook alone has about 1.71 billion monthly active users. About 823 million of those are mobile-only users. It has 1.083 billion daily active users and 38.6 per cent of the global online population use Facebook, (Kit Smith, 2015). Sierra Leone has about 260,000 Facebook users, according to World Internet Stats in 2015, an institution that researches on Internet, Internet platforms and Internet enabled devices penetration across the world. However, having been a practitioner in the market for the last 5 years, I’ll safely argue that this number has doubled in the last 12 months. My argument is based on the fact that, smartphone penetration is estimated at 65 per cent while access to and speed of Internet have been enhanced to a large extent since 2015.
Are you still wondering why the shift to social media marketing? Below is a simple table with more in-depth statistics:
The above statistics, tabulated for ease of reference, make it very clear that social media is indeed relevant when it comes to marketing strategies anywhere in the world. However, with all the potentials of social media highlighted, start-ups and SMEs need to know how to maximize their potentials with social media. In the case of Sierra Leone social media marketing is fast becoming the surest option for start-ups and SMEs. With little or no money you could market your products or services to nearly 3000 people via Facebook with just a click. I wonder how many businesses would want to run a radio jingle or a television commercial (TVC) after reading this article.
Mapping out effective Social Media Strategy
If you want to leverage social media the first thing to do as a start-up owner is to come up with a SOCIAL MEDIA STARTEGY. A kind of template that defines your social media marketing objective, the channels you want to use and how long the marketing activity will last for. Even before you decide on which channels to use, whether Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, you should put together a well-planned strategy that will guide you right through. I will deal with choosing the appropriate channels in Part II of this series. A strategy that includes, among other things, a goal, a timeline, preferred channels and available resources (time and money) is very central to the success of any social media marketing activity.
The first thing to consider in your planning and strategy is to determine the kind of brand you want to be identified as. Every business has a culture, which is simply a way of doing things. It is very paramount to align your social media strategy with your culture. Be consistent in this as you go ahead with your plan.
Setting “SMART” Goals
After planning and strategizing, the next thing to do is to set your goals. SMART GOALS. Every social media strategy must have goals it wants to achieve. This will help you to determine the appropriate channel. The GOALS may vary depending on the company’s culture, the product or services you want to promote, the size and nature of the company. SMART, as explained by Hubspot Inbound Marketing, means the following:
Well-established businesses use social media to promote all aspect of their businesses. I will strongly recommend start-ups and small business to focus on one or two of the following at any given time:
BRAND AWARENESS:You can use social media for raising brand awareness. It happens organically as you post content, engage with users, and promote your business.
CONTENT DISTRIBUTION: You can use social media as a content distribution and dissemination platform. Remember content is king on social media. If your content is engaging and unique enough, others could share your posts and advertise your brand for you. Content is anything from photo, text and videos. Try to know which one works best for your.
LEAD GENERATION: You can social media to be lead generators that drive traffic to your online and offline store. However if you are new on social media and are using social media only organically, this may take some time to happen.
CUSTOMER ACQUISITION: You can use social media to acquire new customers. Naturally this has turned to be in sequential order. After using social media to raise brand awareness; distribute content that generates leads, it is obvious that some of the leads could turn into customers. It is very cheap and quick to acquire customer through social media. If you can use social media as a customer acquisition tool, then you would have actually maximized its value.
CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT: After acquiring customers and building an online audience it is very paramount to engage with them. It is difficult to talk to your customers in person (offline). The best way to connect and interact with your customers on a daily bases is via social media. After all, you want to delight a customer for buying your product, using your service, liking your fan page, sharing your content. Announce this on social media.
On social media, customers talk to themselves and also talk to you. In the beginning of the article we talked about e-word of mouth, if you engage with your customers they will like and share your content with their friends. This is otherwise known as ‘customer co-creation’. After mapping out your strategy and setting out your goals you can now move on to choosing your right social media channels.
In the second part of this series I will examine the ideal social media channels for the Sierra Leone market, who should use them, how to use them and when to use them.
Editor’s Note about the Author: Mohamed Sheriff Bah is a Social Media Marketing professional and a start-up expert. He has an MBA in marketing from Marmara University, Istanbul, Turkey and several social media marketing certificates. He has honed his social media and entrepreneurship acumen, learning from the top social media certification organisations like Facebook Blueprint, Hubspot Academy and Hootsuite University. Find him on Mohamed Sheriff Bah . Contact him on firstname.lastname@example.org, +905459005387 / +23276806631