Why Ugandan Businesses should embrace Social Media.

Recently, Randi Zuckerberg a  sister of Facebook.com founder Mark Zuckerberg resigned from the position in Facebook as director of marketing to start her own organization RtoZ media which will be helping businesses integrate social media in their marketing mix. This only shows how big and important social media has become to marketing.Back home in Uganda, there is an on-going argument within the Ugandan business community as to whether social media is an effective marketing tool or not.

The Business community in Uganda needs to understand that there is a fundamental shift taking place in how people find your business and more importantly in how your customers communicate on the Internet.
According to Internet World Stats, usage and population statistics, Uganda has a population of 34,612,250 as of 2011 with 3,200,000 Internet users as of June/2010, 9.2% of the population, per ITU, and 304,100 Facebook users as of June 30/2011, 0.9% penetration rate. It is therefore unwise for any business to ignore such figures.
For starters, according to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, the term social media refers to the use of web-based and mobile technologies to turn communication into interactive dialogue, and according to www.seoptimise.com, here is a list of ways to use social media for business people:
Get feedback: There is even software for that like Uservoice, GetSatisfaction or OpenMind. Or simply listen to what people say on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and forums. There are also tools for that.
Create demand: This is about proactively informing your target customers about upcoming products, features or services. This way the demand is there before the actual product arrives. Apple is doing it all the time.
Offer discounts: Once you have an account on Facebook or Twitter or even before you gain a significant following the best thing you can do is offering discounts. People will follow you then and they also will buy. Dell has been selling computers on Twitter for years.
Get attention: Sounds simple doesn’t it? Say something of importance and then you might get attention. Why? Well, on the Web, money is not the most valuable good, its attention. It can be turned into money but you earn more money in the long term by trying to get attention repeatedly.
Spread the word: Tell the people about you and your business once you have established a connection with your following by getting attention over and over again and again. Announce changes on your blog, promote your next appearance at a conference or like mentioned above present your new product.
Build brand loyalty: Brand loyalty is self-explanatory isn’t it? People like your brand and then buy from it in the future again. How do you make them loyal customers? Either by providing formidable goods and services or you provide something for free, be it information or community.
Establish a community: The Web is a great place for creating communities. Why? People from all over the world who are obsessed about the same weird hobby can virtually meet with other like-minded individuals. You can establish a community of fans of your brand right there on your blog, feedback site or Facebook group.
Answer questions: People have questions all the time on the Web. That’s why start ups like Quora try to be next big thing while Yahoo Answers had more traffic that Twitter up to 2010. Replay and answer questions, be helpful, whether you are dealing with your won products and services or the niche by and large.
Provide support: sometimes people have more than questions. They are annoyed, angry or even desperate. Your product or service may have caused that suffering. A simple tweet can help.
Improve CRM: Does your company use customer relationship management tools like Salesforce? Well, many CRM tools already support CRM features to manage relationships beyond customers or rather before they become customers. Even simple Twitter tools like CoTweet provide CRM features. You can view past conversation with each Twitter user you interact with.
Empower staff: In Germany they have a drugstore chain infamous for being stingy. Their shops are small, look shabby and they don’t even have a phone to prevent staff for private conversations. Thus these drugstores get robbed regularly as staff can’t even call the police. Likewise many companies forbid Facebook, Twitter etc. on the job and isolate their workforce. Other companies empower their staff and win customers or clients on social media.
Monitor trends: You can find out more on social media than just who is talking or complaining about you. Many tools allow watching trends unfold. You determine what’s cool and where the demand is almost instantly by scanning Facebook and Twitter with simple tools like Topsy.
Identify influencers: Topsy also allows you to find out who actually tweets about your business. You can check how many clicks these people brought to your site via bit.ly or Twitter’s own stats. Indeed Topsy marks important users “influential” or “highly influential” based on their activity.
Reach out: Once you know who likes you, you can reach out to these people. Blogger outreach is even an established industry term by now. Contact them, simply express your gratitude, invite them to your next product presentation or send them your products for testing purposes.
Discuss features: Feedback is great but as long as it’s a monologue by disgruntled users complaining about you it isn’t very helpful. Often users can already suggest solutions. Or you can try to explain how you’d like to change your product or service. A discussion will often yield far better results than just simple feedback.
Facilitate testing: social sites are not only for talking aka conversation. Some sites like Clue e.g. offer user testing as a free service. Usability testing is not only a task for experts you always need real people do the testing as well. Approach them on social media and simply ask to perform a short test.
Debunk myths: People are often complaining about you in public or social media in an exaggerated way. They may misunderstand your product or go way over board out of anger. These people will make you look like the worst hotel in history or the most expensive car dealer in the country. Just counter these allegations with numbers, customer feedback etc. Often people complain about your brand even without trying it just because someone else said “it sucks”.
Market offerings: Yes, indeed, you can market your offerings as well. It’s not like marketing elsewhere though. You don’t appear on the social media scene and start shouting about you and your offers. All the actions mentioned above and below are part of the marketing. People like you when you do all of or at least part of it right and then nobody will be mad at you for just mentioning your offer even without it being new or a bargain.
Forge relationships: Did you know that people don’t want to talk with companies; they want to talk with people. So they really want to have a relationship with you. They want to know who you are, where you live and that you are a human being. People don’t want to talk to anonymous call canter agents. Social media users want to follow a CEO, a public figure, a visible representative. Rad Fishkin, Matt Cutts and Lee Odden are perfect examples of this in the SEO industry.
Develop authority: A real life person telling the truth, being helpful and sharing valuable information more than once is on her or his way to develop authority. Isn’t it logical? So having a recognizable representative over time can make your company exec or spokesperson become an industry authority important beyond the position s/he has in your company.
Raise funds: Your business model doesn’t have to be selling something. Maybe you don’t even have a product or you work for an NGO. Social media is an excellent fundraising tool. There are sites that automate that process and promote your projects. Its called crowd funding: Kickstarter is quite well known by now but only open to hip elite projects. Other sites like Kapipal do not have such high hurdles. There also is P2P credit where real people can lend you money for your business idea.
Get publicity: What’s the difference between getting attention, spreading the word ( mentioned above) and getting publicity? Well social media is used not only by bloggers but also by old school journalists. Social media press releases and giving away the news to bloggers can result in publicity beyond the social media sphere itself.
Watch the competition: In case you are not on social media your competition probably already is. You can watch their steps and try to learn or mimic them. As long as they excel on social media you have to do that. Than you can just watch them like you watch your overall industry and mentions of your brand. Google Alerts is your first love to do it but plenty of other tools assist you here.
Organize: Do you know Anonymous? It’s a group of Internet activists who are really a pain in the back of the corrupt and powerful these days. You might not condone their methods or goals but their mode of organization is simple, it’s social media. You can organize your workforce all over the planet using social media.
Create value: These days value is often short-lived. Stocks and money are often virtual and traded at the speed of light. Real value as in gold or made of steel, brick and mortar are rare. Assets are often data and knowledge. It’s very easy to create value by sharing and thus multiplying information.
Locate markets: Do you know the idiom “big in Japan”? It refers to artists or musicians who have been overlooked in the US, UK or Europe but who are hugely popular in Japan. Likewise some products and services flop at home but are all the rage elsewhere. On social media you have people from all over the world listening. When your market is crowded you can discover another somewhere else.