Exploring the Key Factors of SME Social Media Marketing: Initial Findings and Reflections

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1 Exploring the Key Factors of SME Social Media Marketing: Initial Findings and Reflections Go-Eun Choi, Ulster University, Peter Bolan, Ulster University Karise Hutchinson, Ulster University, Richard Mitchell, Ulster University Abstract An increasing number of Small to Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) are adopting social media as part of their marketing strategy (Sethna et al., 2013). The main advantage of utilising social media as part of an SME marketing campaign is that it allows owner managers to have the opportunity to enhance the success of their company in a very costeffective way (Persaud et al., 2012). However, despite the substantial increase in the use of social media, as outlined in this paper, there still remains a gap in the knowledge and application of social media within SMEs. This paper s purpose is to examine and overcome this gap by encouraging and challenging SME Marketing Managers to consider using and implementing the freely available social media marketing avenues open to them, as part of their regular marketing campaigns. This case study employed the method of observation, together with an in-depth interview with the Marketing Manager of an independent SME food retailer. This study contributes to the elimination of key social media issues and limitations experienced by SMEs. Therefore, this research case study provides valuable knowledge of best practices to both academics and practitioners. 1

2 Exploring the Key Factors of SME Social Media Marketing: Initial Findings and Reflections Introduction Today, the economic climate necessitates that businesses, in an increasingly competitive market place, fully understand how to utilise the range of digital marketing channels, the benefits of online marketing and, furthermore, how to harness these online platforms successfully. The most exposed to these challenges are perhaps SMEs which, to ensure their competitiveness, survival and growth in the digital marketing landscape, need to be fully prepared to carefully craft a definitive marketing strategy (Leithner & Guldenberg, 2010; Persaud et al., 2012). From previous research findings, there appears to be a gap in social media marketing literature surrounding the ways to overcome the current challenges faced by SMEs. In response to this gap, this paper will report the initial findings discovered from a larger study, which aimed to explore the practical use of social media as a marketing strategy in SMEs. The purpose of this paper is twofold: first to understand and identify the social media marketing issues and challenges encountered by a Marketing Manager of an SME grocery retailer. Second, to offer SMEs both practical and effective ways to overcome their social media challenges. This is achieved by drawing upon the findings taken from a current case study, which has highlighted the most significant challenges encountered by a typical SME grocery retailer. Literature Review SME Marketing Strategy and Social Media As noted by a number of authors (e.g. Centeno & Hart, 2012; Durkin et al., 2013; Pentina et al., 2012) SMEs, as opposed to larger national enterprises, face numerous economic and practical restrictions and do therefore require special attention and understanding. Nevertheless, literature currently available still remains under-developed in the context of SME marketing strategy and social media (Tuten & Solomon, 2014). There have however, been a few isolated studies examining the use of social media in SMEs (see Bulearca & Bulearca., 2010; Durkin et al., 2013; Kahar et al., 2012; Michaelidou et al., 2011). These particular studies were unable to fully comprehend the relevant and widely applicable characteristics, barriers and limitations found in SMEs, which so often require more sensitive and sympathetic guidance. This paper endeavours to identify and deal with these key shortfalls and provide the best practices and sound social media marketing advice for all SME marketing personnel, in order to assist in their forward planning and wise decision making. It is worth noting that the practices applied within this study, have been based upon the recommendations by Hudson et al. (2001) and Nevin & Torres (2012). 2

3 Methodology The research in this paper has adopted an interpretive approach, using a case study methodology (Yin, 2014). Data collection methods included observation and in-depth interviews with the Marketing Manager of the case organisation (Saunders et al., 2012). The exploratory strands set out in Appendix 1 have guided the initial data collection and the subsequent data was then thematically coded using Nvivo software. The case company was identified and chosen using the initial purpose sampling for an appropriate case organisation. The selected case study, an award winning independent grocery retail business located in Northern Ireland, was based upon their engagement with web 2.0 marketing channels (website and social media) and the fact that they had won an award. This case study is a fine example, clearly illustrating the challenges currently faced by SMEs. Case Study Findings Findings: Social Media Challenges and Issues: The following presents the primary themes pertaining from the study, which will be discussed further in the main presentation. I. Lack of understanding of the importance of social media marketing - This fact was very evident and was clearly reflected in a lack of marketing planning, focused social media objectives and a lack of time invested in this area. A distinct lack of interest, together with a lack of understanding of the benefits and importance of social media existed amongst the owner/manager s team. This was partly due to the company not following up and seeing the outcome of their social media activities. II. III. IV. Time management - From a marketing perspective, social media was not prioritised and even the most used platform (Facebook) was not allocated any regular time on a weekly basis to engage with online customers. The Marketing Manager was constantly overstretched, causing a constant lack of time and consideration, together with the necessary effort and enthusiasm required to further their social media platforms. Lack of expert social media knowledge - This was clear due to the largely inactive use of two additional social media accounts (Twitter and Instagram) in terms of how to effectively utilise social media. It was apparent that the Marketing Manager had no intention to close two unproductive social media channels, which unfortunately showed a lack of knowledge, professionalism and concern for online customers. Lack of training and expertise - This has created frustration and undue stress for the Marketing Manager, resulting in an attitude of disinterest and lack of motivation to encourage further knowledge, training and experience in this area. There also appeared to be no attempt to contact or gain external expertise and training. 3

4 Managerial Implications Overcoming the Challenges (I IV) In light of the above findings of this case study, several approaches have emerged that could provide the best practical solutions and effectively close the gap. Firstly, SMEs need to recognise the importance that social media can provide an excellent, cost effective communication opportunity in today s increasingly digitized retail environment. Secondly, it is recommended that managers take a more dedicated approach regarding the strategy of their competitors and be more alert to assess the presence of online customers, before investing their precious time and energy to social media (Varini & Sirsi, 2012). The implication of following this approach will effectively reduce time. Thirdly a further recommendation is to set up an appropriate social media plan. This plan must outline the aim and objective for the social media campaign (Nevin & Torres, 2012) but also recognise the limitations and scope of the SME. An effective social media marketing plan enables an SME organisation to move forward and develop for the future (Hudson et al., 2001). Fourthly, SMEs Marketing Managers should be encouraged to seek further knowledge and training for themselves and/or a responsible member of staff depending upon the length of training, expense and time available. The purpose of this knowledge and training is to prepare SME Marketing Managers to be able to research and examine customer behaviours, target and segment customers, select appropriate social media channels and plan and set specific objectives for social media marketing activities. Alternatively, it is advisable to research local external support to harness the effectiveness of their social media marketing campaigns (Chaffey, 2011). Conclusion This research paper provides an insight (I - IV above) into the typical challenges and issues facing SMEs when implementing social media marketing. Through the lens of SME social media marketing literature, there remains a great need for Marketing Managers to understand both the importance and advantage of social media marketing within their company. These chosen case study findings have also revealed that time management, expert knowledge and the motivation to organise training or to seek external professional assistance are an advantageous necessity to close the gap in today s increasingly digitized world. The case study explored in this paper supports many of the suggestions circulating within the literature but, unlike a number of previous publications, this research utilises a live practical industrial example which clearly indicates that theory is not being put into practice, at least in this context. This paper sets the platform for future research to explore other case studies which will further illuminate the challenges and future steps for developing a more empathetic approach to social media marketing in SMEs. Such research will allow focused suggestions and advice for best practice in social media marketing to emerge, the benefits of which are potentially great within the SME sector. 4

5 References Centeno, E. and Hart, S. (2012) The use of communication activities in the development of small to medium-sized enterprise brands. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 30 (2), Chaffey, D. (2011) E-business & e-commerce management: strategy, implementation and practice. 5th ed. ed. Harlow, England; New York: Pearson/Financial Times Prentice Hall. Durkin, M., McGowan, P. and McKeown, N. (2013) Exploring social media adoption in small to medium-sized enterprises in Ireland. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 20 (4), Hudson, M., Smart, A. and Bourne, M. (2001) Theory and practice in SME performance measurement systems. International Journal of Operations & Production Management, 21 (8), Leitner, K. and Güldenberg, S. (2010) Generic strategies and firm performance in SMEs: a longitudinal study of Austrian SMEs. Small Business Economics, 35 (2), Michaelidou, N., Siamagka, N.T. and Christodoulides, G. (2011) Usage, barriers and measurement of social media marketing: An exploratory investigation of small and medium B2B brands. Industrial Marketing Management, 40 (7), Nevin, F. and Torres, A.M. (2012) Club 2.0: Investigating the Social Media Marketing Strategies of Nightclubs in the Midlands and West of Ireland. Irish Journal of Management, 32 (1), Pentina, I., Koh, A.C. and Le, T.T. (2012) Adoption of social networks marketing by SMEs: exploring the role of social influences and experience in technology acceptance. International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising, 7 (1), Persaud, A., Spence, M. and Rahman, M. (2012) Social Media Implementation in Small Service Firms. International Journal of E-Business Development,2(2), Saunders, M.N., Saunders, M., Lewis, P. and Thornhill, A. (2011) Research Methods For Business Students, 5/e. Pearson Education India. Sethna, Z., Jones, R. and Harrigan, P. (2013) Entrepreneurial Marketing: A Global Perspective. Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Tuten, T.L. and Solomon, M.R. (2014) Social media marketing. Pearson New International edition.ed. Harlow: Pearson Education International. Varini, K. and Sirsi, P. (2012) Social Media and Revenue Management; Where Should the Two Meet? Journal of Technology Management for Growing Economies, 3 (1), Yin, R.K. (2014) Case study research: Design and methods. Sage. 5

6 Appendix 1 Which main SME characteristics, barriers and limitations restrict their use of social media as a marketing channel? What specific social media marketing challenges face the chosen SME? o Does the SME Marketing Manager fully understand the purpose of using social media marketing? o Has the SME Marketing Manager implemented any social media marketing planning and objectives, in order to track the benefit and effectiveness of their social media activities? How can the SME Marketing Manager attempt to overcome their company s social media marketing challenges? 6

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