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Social Media Research on Micro-Businesses

Do micro-businesses not exist in the UK? Upon conducting research for my honours Dissertation I was shocked at how little research and information was available about micro-businesses and SME’s for that matter also. An official definition of a micro-business is an organisation which has 10 or fewer employees with an annual turnover of €2m or less. All UK private sector businesses comprise of 99.9% SME’s with sole-traders accounting for 62.7% of the total market. Therefore a substantial portion of UK businesses are operated by micro-businesses whom are mainly sole-traders.

Micro-businesses play a vital role in our economy and business communities yet nobody seems to care enough to give them the credit and attention they deserve. I’m glad I decided to focus my attention on the “little guy” as they truly need support and guidance through more detailed research and analysis. Having conducted research with a small group of business owners in the Scottish Borders about their social media usage a few interesting issues were raised.

Initially I wanted to focus on how micro-business owners use social media for business rather than personal purposes. However research concluded that most micro-business owners actually depended on their existing network of friends and family to promote their companies on social media. Failing to separate business and personal contacts means micro-business owners apply limited marketing strategies such as segmentation and targeting. Micro-business owners were reluctant to separate their personal and business use of social media as they depended on their personal network to gain exposure and benefit from peer recommendations.  The growth lifecycle of the business may be significant as businesses with no or very few employees may reap success by capitalising on personal networks. However as the business grows the number of employees using personal networks will become more difficult to manage and formal marketing planning would then be required.

One primary conclusive finding from the research with micro-business owners established that companies selling products experienced more enquiries and sales than companies selling services when marketing their businesses through social media. In particular this finding signifies that social media platforms like Facebook may reap better results selling products instead of services. Using personal networks on social media may prove to be more difficult when selling services indicating that companies offering services require a professional network to achieve similar results. “Content is King” is a favoured buzzword in the marketing community, yet product-based companies seemed to prove this wrong. However I doubt that this approach can be sustained over the long-term.

Being small is actually a big advantage on social media as true engagement with prospects and customers can be achieved which multi-national big brands cannot offer such a personalised service to their followers. Small is good and use this to your advantage by engaging with individuals and groups on a 1:2:1 basis and create a competitive advantage over larger competitors.

More research will follow in the forthcoming months about how micro-businesses use social media and the problems and benefits they encounter. Lack of time and knowledge were cited as the main barriers to successfully implementing a social media strategy, so let’s get them the knowledge they need to become successful.

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