Desire Mugabo has thousands of friends on social networking site Facebook, as well as followers on Twitter and Instagram. Initially this human traffic gave him bragging rights among his peers, and had no idea that such huge numbers of followers could benefit his small business in downtown Kigali.
“I was always trying to find a cutting-edge marketing strategy that would make my business stand-out, and grow without costing me a fortune,” he said.
Mugabo added that it was until one of his old campus friends, ‘a social media enthusiast’ tipped him on how he could revitalise and grow his business via social media platforms and reap big.
“He took me through the ABC of using these tools to promote a business effectively. So, I started posting and highlighting my services on all of my social media pages. I was surprised at the big number of online followers and friends who picked an interest in what I was offering,” he said.
He added that within a short period, his friends from the virtual community started making referrals to his business or visiting him themselves. Such is the power of social media networks in today’s increasingly dynamic business arena. Besides, gone are the days when social media platforms were considered spaces for young people with a lot of time to ‘waste’, or rumourmongers.
Experts say that with creativity and innovation driving the corporate world, and making big inroads in the informal sector, more people have embraced social media platforms to reach out to customers, while others are using them to launch new products or deepen market reach and grow their businesses.
In fact, both big and medium-and-small enterprises have jumped onto social media marketing bandwagon and have made huge inroads, reaching far more people online than they could ever have done ordinarily. This has greatly helped them enhance their brand visibility, deal with customers on a sort of one-on-one basis and also entered new markets.
Besides, businesses are able to access valuable data, like preferences, about their clientele from social media.
According to Mugabo, social media marketing enabled his enterprise, a stationery and general merchandise store, to reach more people and grow in revenue within five months of employing the strategy.
“My sales and returns doubled, and I was always getting feedback on the services offered which helped me to improve and make the business more competitive,” he said.
In an interview with Business Times, the young entrepreneur said he has now opened another outlet. He is also mentoring other young entrepreneurs on how to employ social media as a an effective marketing tool.
He argued that youth “are always online, so instead of spending time and money on non-profitable networking, they can now use these platforms to grow their businesses and make more money”. What’s more, I never spent any money on the drive apart from buying weekly data bundles, Mugabo added.
“If I had known that social media networks can be used to sell ones products 10 years ago, mine would be a multimillion business today,” said a small business owner in Kimironko, Gasabo District.
Before the advent of social media marketing, many a small business proprietor or even the already established firms, had been weighed down by or feared the huge budgets involved in placing ads in newspapers, TVs or radios. But with social media marketing, anyone with access to the Internet can advertise their products or services, experts say.
“Advertising through social media networks does not require a big budget, which makes it user-friendly to small businesses and start-ups, giving them an edge to compete with established brands,” said Jacqueline Kalisa, a 29-year-old social media enthusiast and consultant.
Kalisa, who has helped develop social media pages for different firms in the city, said social media increases brand awareness and loyalty.
“When you have a presence on social media, you make it easier for your customers to connect with you. This will, ultimately, increase customer retention and brand loyalty,” said Kalisa, who has close to three years’ experience in social media marketing and brand positioning.
She believes that learning where your audience is, the platforms where they are more active or like to search is fundamental in identifying how to further grow your business. New media experts say social media networks make it easy for businesses to gain valuable customer insights and a lot of data about customers in real time.
Life made easy
Social media networks have not only driven business growth, but have helped customers access services easily. It is now easy for one to order for lunch or breakfast online, besides other several services, like shopping, learning about new products launches, entertainment, among others, thanks to online markets that link clients with service providers.
Maureen Murekatete, a city shopper, says she often uses social media to do her shopping, arguing that it saves time.
“As a Facebook ‘devotee’, I am able to browse through many products that companies advertise on the Internet by checking different links, and Facebook ads.
I no longer burn my fuel to go shopping; I order online and enjoy home delivery services,” says Murekatete, a mother and resident of Kicukiro District. In addition, social media gives customers a convenient and easy way to connect with service providers, especially to lodge complaints or complement services offered. Therefore, these platforms enable businesses respond to customer complaints in real time, and also help them improve service delivery.
IT specialist and business analyst Jackson Musiime says Facebook has been the most efficient in helping businesses to grow, among all social media platforms.
“Facebook commercials, for instance, allow a firm to target users by traits, like location, education level, production, and even purchase history or the pages they have liked,” Musiime said.
He added that it gives firms an option to install a Facebook pixel on their site, which they can use to retarget the users who visit the firms’ account. “It’s this online human traffic that turns into potential business customers, or ambassadors of your business and brand,” he said.
Indeed, with over 50 per cent of Rwandans owning smartphones that gives them access to the Internet,enterprises of any size, type, age, and from any sector should leverage these tools to boost their visibility, attract more clients and grow sustainable firms.