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“Can social media generate fruitful business partnerships?” That’s the question Dynamic Business put to 17 entrepreneurs and industry experts, this week, for our exclusive “Let’s Talk…”, investigating the value of social networking for SMEs.

Although the consensus was “YES”, some commentators qualified their response, pointing out that a business partnership formed on a social media platform, such as LinkedIn or Facebook, will only be fruitful if it develops organically, the benefits flow both ways, it can transcend the platform that gave birth to it, and both parties have patience and are willing to invest in the partnership’s success.

One commentator noted a multiplier effect, with the potential for businesses to mine their partners’ networks for further partnership opportunities, while another described social media as a terrific channel for businesses to promote their new business partnerships and, in this way, increase brand currency amongst their target audience.

Read on for hot tips and actionable insights from this week’s line-up…

Can social media generate fruitful business partnerships?

Sarah Moran, Co-founder & CEO, Girl Geek Academy: “Social media can generate fruitful business partnerships… but like fruit, you have to grow it first. You CAN’T start an account today and sign a contract tomorrow. Social media is a long-term, sustainable way of generating value for your business. The value comes from exposing your audience to your business incrementally over time so when an opportunity comes up you are there to close the deal.

“You have to be willing to invest in building organic relationships without always expecting quick wins. It’s not a numbers game. It’s not about how many followers you can get, but how strong you can build the social ties so you can later lean on them to convert into business opportunities. You’re literally building relationships using online tools. I like to share things of value to my audience – such as insights and industry lessons learnt – so that they can understand my business culture and feel the partnership flows both ways.

“When you reach out on LinkedIn (not just a place for your resume, but an emerging connection platform), comment why you’re a fan of someone’s work and why you think it’s worth connecting. This will make them much more likely to respond and engage.”

Rob Hango-zada, Co-Founder & Joint CEO, Shippit: “Social media is a great channel for engaging your loyal followers and leveraging paid social allows a business to connect with prospects of a similar profile. We use social as a channel to announce new features, general updates and other news about our business – this helps our team maintain a terrific dialogue with our customer base and reduces our reliance on email campaigns. Whilst we don’t believe these announcements generate fruitful partnerships, it has been a terrific channel for announcing the partnerships we have secured which then drives increased interest in our brand. We have found LinkedIn particularly helpful in generating positive buzz around our partnerships as it creates a multiplier effect on their success.”

Nazar Musa, CEO, Medical Media: “Yes, absolutely. Social media provides both established businesses and start-ups a platform to share, listen to and otherwise engage with an interconnected community. It is through meaningful dialogue that businesses have the opportunity to cultivate relationships and achieve mutually beneficial partnerships.

“Social platforms such as Facebook have created B2B products such as Ads Manager to help businesses target prospective leads, cost-effectively. The key to leveraging social channels is to ensure the objectives are clearly defined (and aligned to business goals), the target audience has been fleshed out and content is creative, engaging and authentic.”

Mike Pritchett, CEO, Shootsta: “Definitely! Social media is all about putting yourself out there into the wider community, which can prove incredibly useful when it comes to finding brands you want to align with professionally. When companies expose their brand image and personality via social media, they’re more likely to have other companies with similar values clock their presence, follow them and reach out.

At Shootsa, we have multiple partners in complementary businesses, be it hosting companies that have found us through social media or companies we’ve reached out to via social media – or because of it. The social media accounts of existing partners are also an invaluable marketing resource. For example, we’ve found some of our current business partners via the social media networks of our OTHER partners. Because social media is basically a window into the life and culture of a firm, who you follow — and who follows you — reveals a lot about the type of business relationships you have and like to conduct.”

Siobhan Hayes, Head of Marketing, easyshare: “Social media continues to evolve the way we generate new business partnerships and collaborations and manage day-to-day operations as well as converse and engage with our customers. LinkedIn is an excellent way to find and speak directly to the right person in an organisation, instead of sending generic emails to shared inboxes. Facebook groups are also an easy-to-use tool for reaching out to communities and networks, which we’ve found to be useful. At easyshare, we’ve found that it’s our users who are really driving us to integrate social media into our day-to-day operations. The convenience and accessibility of customers communicating with us through Facebook messenger has been a key tool for us in providing more responsive customer support.”

James Alexander, Co-Founder, Galileo Ventures & Founder, Incubate: “For a startup with less than 100 customers (i.e. 90% of startups), social media is a fantastic way to do research and get your first customers for free. Some pro-tips…

  • For Twitter, search for people complaining about the problem you’re solving and reach out;
  • For LinkedIn, get to know your potential customers and watch their movements, article likes and job changes.
  • For Facebook, search for groups in your industry and join in on the conversation
  • It’s important to connect authentically – automated messages don’t work in the early days.

Jeff McAlister, CEO, Trybooking: “Social media is a good tool for building an online community inclusive of partners, brands and influencers –  it’s a faster way to reach who you want, when you want, with a more considered introduction. It can be difficult to replicate these kinds of encounters in real life where there are less abundant opportunities for connecting. However, I’d be more inclined to treat social media as a starting point and not rely on it entirely (particularly as the business relationship develops). Otherwise, you risk falling into the trap of the relationship becoming transactional and not built on long-lasting values/camaraderie.”

Matt Butterworth, CEO & Founder, EasyWeddings: “Social media is an integral part of building fruitful business partnerships at Easy Weddings. One of the most successful ways we’ve been able to harness social is via a B2B Facebook group for wedding businesses, where we share content to help them improve their service. Suppliers are also able to share their ideas and network with other members in the group, building their own connections within the industry.

“One of the key ways we’re delivering this content is via Facebook Live, whether that’s a weekly tip, a new product launch with real-time demonstration, or live streaming of a presentation at one of our monthly industry events. In our experience, social media allows businesses to develop a true connection with their clients by creating community around their brand and demonstrating the human side of the business.”

Maria Bellissimo-Magrin, Founder & CEO, Belgrin: “It absolutely can! LinkedIn is an absolute dream for this. By personalising your connection message and following up on these, there’s some excellent business opportunities to be had. I’ve also made partnerships on Facebook in business groups by commenting on relevant posts and assisting where possible. You never know who will be reading through the thread.”

Fleur Brown, CEO, Launch Group & Personal Brand Specialist: “LinkedIn is currently the highest impact B2B platform — it’s like a de facto personal website where people go to check out your business credentials before they meet with you or consider getting into a business relationship. To use it successfully, you need to use your personal brand to engage and make sure you shift your LinkedIn profile well beyond a recruitment-oriented set-up.

“It’s also more of a ‘closing’ tool for your existing network than a new lead generator and it’s vital to post content that genuinely interests you and the audience you are hoping to engage with.  Less is more.  Go for less high-quality content over multiple, low-quality posts. High frequency items into the news feed are one thing, but when it comes to writing an official LinkedIn Post don’t do that more than twice a month or you are getting into spammy territory. Company profiles are good to have, but don’t tend to generate the same high engagement as personal profiles.”

Mez Gallifuoco, Chief Product and Growth Officer, Thred Ltd:Social media — if used well — has the power to form very fruitful business relationships and partnerships, and leverage a unified audience. At a consumer level, social media usage is growing at a rate of 17% annually and recent studies show 90% of Australians aged between 18 and 25 are influenced by social media on where to go, eat and shop.

“Smaller brands who don’t have the larger marketing budgets know they need to get creative when it comes to competing with the big brands, and social media can provide just this opportunity. Some of the most successful strategies I have seen have been where businesses work with brands to create compelling content and ‘share’ their following in order to get a much larger, targeted reach. This shows how we are at a stage where social media can form fruitful business relationships, which in turn can develop into consumer-brand relationships.”

Rony Chiha, Founder & Managing Director, Adcreators: “Social media can certainly generate rich business partnerships. Research shows that more than 50% of all sales and online enquiries are the result of social media. Consumers are becoming more and more savvy and well informed, with increased purchase decisions influenced by the recommendations of friends as well as, online reviews. It’s important for businesses to establish and maintain a strong online presence across multiple social media platforms in order to engage with potential customers. Social media isn’t just about reaching optimal followers; it’s about online engagement with them, which will subsequently create a domino effect with each of their followers.”

James Hopkins, Head of Digital Marketing, Mon Purse: “Facebook and Instagram are our ‘always on’ marketing tools. We run multiple campaigns across Facebook and Instagram at any one time. And have seen returns as high as 60 x ROI for the business. We began using Facebook as a re-targeting tool, but having had so much success through the platform, it has quickly become a prospecting tool. We use a broad range of ad formats, including custom audiences and highly optimize ads throughout the campaigns. Instagram is a key brand platform for both organic and paid campaigns. These two platforms are a safe investment for us and have been a huge factor in the quick growth of the Mon Purse business.”

Davitha Ghiassi, Head of Social, Red Agency: “The arrival of Amazon means Australian e-tailers need to play on the power of social algorithms more to drive relevance in this increasingly cluttered and competitive space. Crafty content, exceptional service, pleasant P2P experiences and impactful partnerships are core differentiators online.

“Social ‘networking’ isn’t what it used to be. Today, social serves as a mass media channel and two-way inspiration street where – rather than reach – lasting impressions, tailored (re)targeting tactics and speedy yet spectacular service are key. Here are three ways Aussie brands can stand out from the crowd:

  1. Make your reason for being THEIR reason for buying. Underpin every post you publish with the purpose that sets your business apart.
  2. Tailor to the target. Drive relevance by using owned data and smart paid social media methods to fuel highly relevant customer experiences.
  3. Find fruitful partnerships. Leverage influencer marketing to co-create and publish content that makes a lasting impression.”

Rafael Niesten, Co-founder, Bricks + Agent: “Social networking is a great way to make connections… but that’s what everyone says. It’s HOW you go about making those connections – and their quality – that counts. Unsolicited invites, as either the sender or receiver, mean little – unless you think there is something in having a lot of random connections. Joining groups of people in the same business, similar field or who share an interest gives the connection a firmer starting point and is more likely to result in a genuine connection. From there, you have something to build on, and can add value to the group and find people who actually value your connection.”

Scott Cooper, Global VP of Marketing, Go1: “Social media is a great way to communicate with your audience, but should be used to support other marketing efforts rather than being relied on as the sole method of outbound leads. By creating an environment where you are engaging with your followers through the sharing relevant and useful content, you will be able to expand your reach, while at the same time establishing yourself as a leader in your industry. Don’t fall into the trap of only running self-promotional content in an effort to increase conversions.”

Helen Awali, CEO, Bookmarc & Portfolio CEO of Heads Over Heels: “Social networking is a powerful connector. The future of online social sites like Bookmarc will, form our view, involve harnessing social media networking to a wider capacity to capture a greater audience. In fact, we are seeing increasing interaction from businesses discovering Bookmarc through our social media channels, which is leading to high user acquisition that is targeted. Businesses who don’t utilise social networking will be left behind.”

About “Let’s Talk…”

This exciting new, weekly initiative provides entrepreneurs and industry experts with a forum to share rapid-fire views on a range of issues that matter to start-ups and SMEs. Every Wednesday, we pose a themed question to a line-up of knowledgable industry figures, with a view to picking their brains for valuable insights to share with you, our readers.

 See also: Let’s Talk… Raising capital (Parts ONE and TWO), Let’s Talk… Ecommerce and Let’s Talk… Late Payments.

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James Harkness

James Harkness

James Harnkess previous editor at Dynamic Business

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