Getting social in tough times

Using social media to boost your business is easier than you think, and can reap rewards.

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that technology is good for business.

Social media is paying big dividends to the small businesses that are savvy enough to embrace it.

Recent research released by Facebook shows nearly half of Australian businesses made more than one-quarter of their sales digitally in August alone.

Facebook data points to a surge in new online shoppers, with 54 per cent of Australian consumers buying their goods through a messaging service for the first time.

This is backed up by NAB’s online retail sales index, which shows the COVID-19 lockdown spurred a massive shift in consumer activity, recording a 62 per cent jump in online shopping in July, compared with the same period a year ago.

The “Buy Local” movement

It’s encouraging to see the “buy local” movement is gaining momentum. The Australian Made campaign has seen a 400 per cent increase in businesses requesting to use the iconic kangaroo logo, indicating a significant rise in demand for Australian-made products.

“Social media is paying big dividends to the small businesses that are savvy enough to embrace it.”

We saw this play out with Gold Coast manufacturer UGG Since 1974, which lost 95 per cent of its business back in January when flights stopped from China. The UGG-boot maker was one of the first businesses to be hit by the COVID-19 crisis as they relied heavily on international tourism. They were worried about their staff, overheads and lack of sales. Their dramatic turnaround came after posting on a million-member Facebook group. Within hours of that post, the orders started streaming in. It resonated with people because many assumed UGG boots were made in Australia, when the reality is that 96 per cent are made overseas.

It really is amazing to see the achievements of small businesses that have devised a clever and cost-effective social media strategy. For small businesses that aren’t sure how to get started, there is always the opportunity to jump on existing social media campaigns.

The Buy from the Bush campaign is an excellent example – in the first four months of its existence, the 275 regional businesses profiled saw an average revenue increase of 300 per cent. The campaign delivered $5 million to those featured small businesses – all of which had an online presence – by increasing their brand awareness and attracting new customers.

Click for Vic

A similar campaign, Click for Vic, connects consumers with Victorian businesses offering at-home, virtual or delivered-to-your door experiences or products.

Even as trading restrictions ease, it’s clear there’s a shift in the way consumers are buying goods.

A survey conducted on behalf of NBN Co revealed that 49 per cent of respondents had increased their online shopping during the pandemic shutdown period and 70 per cent have been consciously supporting local businesses online.

But more than two-thirds of those surveyed were restricted by a limited digital presence, even though they would like to support more local businesses. Among the harsh lessons delivered by the COVID-19 crisis is that small businesses can no longer rely on outdated business models and bricks and mortar stores. Digitisation is now essential for small businesses to be truly competitive. It’s not enough to have a website – it needs to be e-commerce functional. Equally, it’s not enough to do the occasional post on social media – targeting your customer base is crucial.

Getting started is easier than you think

There are a number of online workshops that offer good tips to small businesses. SkillFinder (skillfinder.com.au) is a new initiative, backed by the likes of MYOB and Xero, which offers free upskilling courses to SMEs. Everything from cloud computing to digital marketing.

Navii’s One Small Step series offers free, practical tips for small businesses that want to use digital technology to improve their business.

Making sure your online systems are protected goes hand-in-hand with digitisation. This means regularly changing your passwords, ensuring your security software is up-to-date and making sure you don’t give your computer to your kids, who can accidentally install malware when downloading games and other forms of entertainment.

It’s important to protect your online business, just like you would a bricks and mortar shopfront or office.

Kate Carnell AO, Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman

This story first appeared in issue 31 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine

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