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.”