Doing business the fun, nimble, transparent, FB way

(first published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer Sunday Biz, November 13, 2011)

“Social” has taken on a second meaning when applied to a business.

Not too long ago a “social enterprise” referred almost exclusively to a revenue-generating firm primarily driven by social and altruistic motives – such as to provide livelihood, employment,  and other benefits to the community – rather than to generate profit for its owners or shareholders.

When IBM Corporation vice president and social business guru Sandy Carter visited the country a few months ago, she urged businesses to go “social” – and she meant to harness social networking sites and tools in their promotion, customer relation and marketing efforts.

She called businesses who have blog sites, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and other such accounts  and use these to interact with customers, suppliers, employees, business associates, and other publics “social businesses.”

More  than 300 million people are on Facebook.  That is a huge “watering hole” and audience for promos and other business messages.  And the good news for local entrepreneurs is that a good part of that audience is Filipino.

Nation of Facebook users

With the high ranking the country enjoys in Facebook and Twitter penetration,  it does make a lot of sense for  Philippine businesses to look into opportunities to harness social networking sites and tools in their efforts to grow their business.

The Philippines is No. 1 and No. 9 in Facebook and Twitter penetration, respectively, among all countries of the world.  This implies that many Filipinos are present online and can be reached through social networking sites.  The conclusion is that a business can communicate and interact with their customers and prospective customers online if it, too, has a presence there.

Among the potential gains for businesses harnessing the power of Web technologies and social networking are:  higher revenues, quicker time to promote and market products and services, and faster access to qualified talents and experts.

Carter relates that social businesses experience an average growth of 15 percent on their revenues as a result of more customer-targeted sales and marketing efforts.

Used on the research and development aspect of the organization, social businesses are also able to roll out new products and services 20 percent faster, on average, she says.

Such businesses are also 30 percent faster in acquiring knowledge and experts when it comes to human resource and talent management.

“You can use (social networking) to make your company more enjoyable, transparent, and nimble,”  she adds.

A business cannot opt out of social.  “Even if you’re not out there, people will still be talking about you, or your competitors can leverage on your absence (to gain traction in the market). You have to have a plan and a team, be proactive and fast, and be transparent in two-way dialogue. Don’t try to manipulate,’’ Carter explains.

Businesses are also advised to analyze the data they get from the sites.  Analytics is not difficult where there are user profiles readily available.  “It is like an index to your company,” says Lon Saiko, social media expert.

The user profile distinguishes social networking sites from other social media platforms. With the profiles, business managers can identify those who are prospective customers, who are in the age and income groups they target, whose interests jive with the products and services they offer.   “ This also means social networks enable companies to invite audiences to get to know its brand in a way that traditional forms of marketing or advertising can’t,” Saiko adds.

What Carter and Saiko advocate is not really new to local businesses.  Many entrepreneurs,  many of them young and Internet-savvy,  have been twitting and face-booking their way to better communication with their clients and customers.

Sebastian’s Ice Cream

Sebastian’s Ice Cream is one such business.  It is on Facebook where it has gained thousands of followers and counting.

“We use the FB page to announce new flavors, post teasers on new products, communicate promos and to gather customer reactions to these,” says Ian Carandang, Sebastian’s product development manager and co-owner.  The fans go to the page to get updated about the products, take advantage of the promos (discounts, buy-two-take one, etc.),  join the contests,  and to give feedback on new products and flavors.

“The most recent contest we launched on the page was how to short- cut the name of the company to fit into Twitter’s maximum 16-character title count.  The response was warm and enthusiastic. We received so many entries suggesting names.

“So, very soon, Sebastian’s would be on Twitter, too.”

Not too long ago, Carandang announced on the FB page his innovative kakanin ice cream (ice cream with chunks of sapin-sapin, biko, suman, and sprinkling of latik.  It was a great topic for discussions and must have drawn customers to Sebastian’s scooping stations to try the flavor.

It is also a good way to carry on one-on-one conversations with customers.  Carandang  and his co-owners handle some complaints early and effectively that way.

One customer complained on Facebook about getting lousy service from a Sebastian’s outlet.  Carandang quickly apologized and promised to talk with the staff and the branch manager involved.  He thinks he was able to fix  a potentially damaging problem early – as negative feedback has a way going viral in the online community — thanks to the power of social networking.

Carandang also put up a section gathering customer suggestions on new products and new flavours.  “Someone asked if I could come out with a durian variant; I had to apologize and explain I was scared that the strong aroma of the fruit might dominate my whole freezer.”

Tips on social networking

Based on his own experience, Carandang shares the following tips on business can make the most use of a social media site:

  1. Learn how to moderate, you have to check up on your site regularly and cut out spammers and other unscrupulous people who join only to put ads on your wall. I’ve seen certain pages left alone and degrade into spam walls
  2. Like in any other website, update regularly. Give people a reason to keep checking your page — even if it’s just a silly update or whatever,anything to keep in touch with your followers.
  3. Check on your competitor’s pages.  See how many fans they have vis a vis your own, just to keep tabs on the competition.

Wingdingz Invitation

When Dennise Avila’s wedding invitations printing business, Wingdingz, was new, complaints about its services spread like wildfire online.  Because she made it a point to be updated online she caught the negative feedback before it did permanent damage.

She traced the problem to late deliveries and confusion in printing specifications  and soon came up with operating manuals and customer relations training.  Soon, the rants were being replaced by raves.

Today, the Wingdingz fan page on Facebook has become a bustling community where couples-to-be exchange ideas and experiences, including wedding jitters.   Like Carandang, Avila announces promos and new designs on the page.  She would take pictures of couples ordering their invitations and post it on the page.  “Some customers are so happy with their invitations they would send us a box of pizza or doughnuts.  Then we would post photos of our staff enjoying the chow – our way of saying thank you.”

Dennise administers the page herself, making sure there are always fun and stimulating posts, including tips on  how to stay in love, how to cope with wedding jitters, and unusual weddings.

Facebook (as well as e-mail) has also been useful in facilitating the revision/editing process so inevitable in the printing process.  “We submit the drafts online to the couple.  Then they give us their revisions the same way.  More revisions might follow – all these taking place online.”

Sebastian’s and Wingdingz are only two out of thousands that have embraced social networking as a component of their business strategy.

Social networking is for NGOs, too

Going social is the way to go not only for businesses but also for non-government organizations looking for ways promote their respective advocacies.  After all, the communities “residing”  in social networking sites are not only after products and services to try but rather are also open to help the unfortunate, contribute to development, and embrace advocacies that will touch lives.

One such NGO is the Small Enterprises Research and Development Foundation (SERDEF) , dubbed as a resource hub for micro, small and medium enterprise development.  Advocating the building of an enterprising Philippine society, SERDEF has put up a site chockfull of information on how to start and grow a business.

The SERDEF site at www.serdef.org looks like an online magazine with sections on:  beginner’s tool kit and how-to’s (including a business planning template; a catalogue of over a hundred small business ideas from A to Z); a small business exchange post (where entrepreneurs share management, problem-solving and innovating strategies and experiences); RX for small business (advice to the troubled entrepreneurs),  news affecting mSMEs, and a series of entrepreneurial success stories.

The SERDEF fan page publishes teasers on the website articles,  announces industry and trade exhibits and forums, posts business inspirational quotes, holds fun contests, and encourages exchange of ideas among existing and wanna-be entrepreneurs.  According to Dr. Paterno V. Viloria, SERDEF president, having the fan page has put the 35-year-old Foundation “on the map”  and has given it a more “contemporary, fun identity.”

If you’re a business owner or  NGO manager that hasn’t hopped on the social media networking bandwagon, it is perhaps high time you try to catch up and be — what else — liked.

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