Small businesses warn they are at risk of being left behind as corporations embrace social media

ppitt (L) and Todd Sainsbury are developing a platform to help small businesses engage with social media. (ABC News: Louise Merrillees)

“Hospitality by nature, is a younger person’s domain and we’ve seen over the last five years in particular, how wedded they are to their mobile phones,” he said.

“The traditional weekly or monthly media wasn’t dynamic enough, things like Instagram, Facebook became more viable options, and they are more cost effective as well and have an instantaneous reach to a wide demographic.

“I still think the word of mouth is important, but social media reinforces that.

“We had a target to get to 10,000 followers, then 15,000 followers, and I think it is north of that figure now.”

50pc of consumers access social media daily: report

Almost 50 per cent of consumers now access social media every day — up to 79 per cent for the 18-29 age group — according to a report on social media by marketing company Sensis (formerly yellow pages) released in May.

But the survey found only 31 per cent of SME (small to medium size enterprises) businesses actively operate a social media plan.

The report found Facebook users were spending the equivalent of a full working day on the social media site each week.

It also said ratings and reviews should be a major focus for businesses online, with 62 per cent of people open to changing their opinion of a business if it responds to negative feedback on social media.

Professor Leaver said review websites could make or break a small business, depending on the tone of the reviews.

“If you are not putting out something yourself on social media, you can pretty much guarantee some of your customers are,” he said.

“If you don’t have your own presence, those reviews become the very first thing people find. Which can be great if it is an excellent review, but not so great if it is not a flattering review.”

People like to be informed but they don’t want to feel like you are watching over their shoulders 24/7.

Michael Keiller, Northbridge Brewing Company

Michelle Xa Rechichi is the owner of a pizza restaurant in Mt Lawley, and is also a food blogger.

The restaurant took part in a trial with Mr Trappitt and Mr Sainsbury to capture customers’ details throughs social media.

“Every time people came and turned on wifi, we could track data to see how often they were logging on, get email addresses, and we also ran some focus groups to see how engaged people were with wifi and social media, which was pretty cool,” Ms Rechichi said.

“Traditional advertising is expensive and disposable, and I think there is more power in the word of social media because it is the average person saying something about your product and the opportunity for it to be shared widely.”

Good business or Big Brother?

Professor Leaver said business need to balance using data from social media with an increasingly wary public.

“You should be extremely upfront — if you are not just using a Facebook page, but using an app or another tool that is recording customer information where it goes above and beyond what is transparent, you are doing yourself a disservice by not making that clear to your customer,” he said.

  Photo: A cafe in North Perth advertises cheap coffee in return for following them on Instagram. (ABC News: Louise Merrillees)

“Because at some point there will be a privacy backlash. Some shopping malls have trialled passively pinging mobile phones, and you don’t need to inform people you are using their phones to work out repeat customers, and there was a big push back where people found it creepy and didn’t want to shop at those malls.”

Mr Trappit said consumers were being tracked almost from the moment they stepped out the door.

“Your phone sends a pulse out to wifi access points in the local vicinity to try and find out if there are any wifi networks available, it does this every minute regardless wether you are connected or not,” he said.

“Large corporations like David Jones, Dan Murphys track phones, so they know busy times, they know how often people come back, they know how long you are in the store for, and it is all anonymous, but they know your phone comes back once per week etc.

“Google does it also. If you go to a website and you click on something or browse or buy something, have you notice the ads follow you around now? That’s tracking.

“With our platform, we make it clear that this is what is going on, we are collecting information, if you want to take part we would love you to do so, but it is opt-in.”

Mr Keiller agreed that there was a fine line between engaging with customers and spamming them.

“We tend not to direct email as much, I think you run the risk of getting too intrusive,” he said.

“People like to be informed but they don’t want to feel like you are watching over their shoulders 24/7.

“You need to strike the right balance. But in this day and age, if you don’t use social media you’ll be left behind your competitors.”

Vocus-M2 merger to create $3b telecommunications firm

Telecommunications firms Vocus and M2 are planning to merge to create a $3 billion company that can better compete with industry giants Telstra and Optus.

The boards of the two firms are unanimously recommending an all share merger deal that will see M2 shareholders receive 1.625 Vocus shares for every M2 share they own.

If shareholders agree, and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) gives its blessing, the deal would create the fourth biggest integrated telecommunications company in Australia.

ACCC approval appears highly likely given comments this morning from its chairman Rod Sims, distinguishing this deal from an earlier observation about telecommunications takeovers.

“The comment around reluctance about more mergers was certainly about a four to three [player shrinking] and therefore is not relevant to this transaction,” he told Fairfax Media.

“So obviously if it was Telstra, Optus or TPG acquiring M2 I would say that it fits straight under what I was talking about and would be something we would have strong concerns about.

“Having said that, I’m going to be neutral and say we’re going to look at it … with an open mind.”

Top 100 company

The two firms say the combined entity would easily sit within the ASX 100 index of Australia’s biggest listed companies, with a market value of more than $3 billion.

Combined revenue is expected to be around $1.8 billion, with pre-tax earnings of approximately $370 million this financial year.

However, the companies expect to make cost savings of around $40 million per annum by financial year 2018 from the synergies of combining the businesses.

The companies are also hoping to boost revenue as a combined firm, by being able to bundle more services together for clients.

If the merger goes ahead, the combined company will offer retail internet, electricity and gas sales, corporate internet and IP voice, wholesale internet and IP voice, data centre and cloud services and access to various fibre.

Vocus chairman David Spence said the deal makes sense for both sets of shareholders.

“The businesses combine Vocus’ telecommunications infrastructure and corporate customer base with M2’s demonstrated expertise in the consumer and SME [small-medium enterprise] segments,” he noted in a statement.

The board of a combined company would include four representatives from each of the current boards.

Vocus chief executive and founder James Spenceley will remain on the board as an executive director, as will Vaughan Bowen, the founder and an executive director of M2.

M2’s chief executive Geoff Horth will continue on to run the combined group

Junk food, alcohol and gambling advertising banned on Canberra’s ACTION buses

Junk food, alcohol and gambling advertisements will be banned on ACTION buses under a strict new ACT Government policy.

Under the new rules, fossil fuels and weapons advertisements will also be prohibited.

Minister for Territory and Municipal Services Shane Rattenbury said buses were a government provided service and it was important that the products and messages promoted were appropriate.

He said the policy was particularly important given a significant number of ACTION passengers were school children.

“Across the board we’re looking to promote healthier food to school children and so leaving junk food advertising off the buses helps contribute to that overall objective of delivering a healthier message to our kids,” he said.

“It’s quite clear that junk food advertising is targeted at children, in many many places it’s quite pervasive and I think the buses are just another example of that and we need to make sure that kids are getting a healthier message given the level of childhood obesity we see in our community.”

Mr Rattenbury said advertising on government assets needed to be in line with community expectations.

Government following lead of community campaign

The ACT Government recently decided to divest from fossil fuels due to their environmental impact.

Mr Rattenbury said similarly, it was only appropriate that the Government did not promote investment in fossil fuels on publicly owned buses.

“We have also recently seen the launch of a community campaign to remove weapons advertising at the Canberra Airport, as this advertising does not represent the Canberra community nor does it reflect the image we want visitors to Canberra to see,” he said.

“I think the same should be said for our ACTION buses as a reflection of our Canberra.”

The previous ACTION advertising policy already restricted the type of material that could be promoted, including political or religious advertising, tobacco products and anti-social or offensive messages.

NSW Government cracks down on illegal ride-sharing puts Uber on notice

The New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) has put controversial ride-sharing giant Uber on notice, issuing 40 suspension notices against offending drivers.

RMS Director of Safety and Compliance Peter Wells said ride-sharing services were illegal and the Government was cracking down on those allowing their vehicles to be used.

“Taxi and hire car services in NSW must be provided by an operator accredited by Roads and Maritime, in a licensed and insured vehicle which is driven by an authorised driver,” Mr Wells said.

“Thousands of dollars in fines have already been issued to drivers offering illegal ride-sharing activities and compliance actions will continue.

“If drivers continue to offer illegal ride sharing services – they will continue to risk registration suspensions and fines.”

Mr Wells said 40 drivers have already been issued with suspension notices.

“The vehicle suspensions will take effect from midnight 30 September and will be in place for three months.

“The suspension notices have been issued to registered owners of vehicles found to be operating a privately registered vehicle for business purposes.

“If a suspended vehicle is found on the road after 1 October, the vehicle is deemed unregistered and uninsured, with penalties of $637 for each offence, increasing to around $2,200 if heard in court.”

An Uber spokesperson told the ABC the RMS was denying drivers due process and the company is reviewing its legal options to reverse the decision.

“The people of Sydney are choosing Uber in their hundreds of thousands and we look forward to seeing the Government recognise this by putting sensible ride-sharing regulations in place as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said.

In a statement, The NSW Taxi Council said it “welcomes the announcement by RMS that it will enforce the law to crack down on illegal ride-sharing.”

“The Taxi Industry meanwhile will continue to focus on safe, reliable transport and good customer service,” the statement reads.

The NSW Government has established an independent taskforce to examine the future of the taxi and hire car industry.

Premier Mike Baird said “We’re waiting for that review to be completed and obviously we will be responding appropriately.

“But at the moment the status quo is the status quo and that’s what we expect participants to abide by.”