At a time when consumers are using social networks in huge numbers, small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) don't seem to be getting the most out of these websites to communicate with their customers and increase brand loyalty.

The vast majority of SMBsare present on the social networks: close to nine out of ten companies have a Facebook page, nearly half have a LinkedIn account, and a third use Twitter, according to a study carried out among 1,100 heads of start-ups and 500 customers in the United Statesby US-based Zoomerang Online Surveys. Even though these companies state that they use social networks in order to ensure visibility on the Internet and establish direct contact with their customers, social networks still only rank in third place among their preferred communication channels, behind their website and newsletter. Which means that there is still considerable scope for investment in social networks - all the more so since, Alex Terry, General Manager at Zoomerang, points out, "consumers are far from their saturation point with social media".

Businesses must get in step with their customers 

"Social media have become a way of life for consumers and it's essential that SMBs use these tools to their maximum potential to connect with customers," underlines Alex Terry. In fact consumers and companies are not always on the same wavelength. While 37% of customers admit that they "follow" a brand on Facebook in order to obtain discounts and free samples, only 10% of businesses see it as an effective tool for gaining customer loyalty. Why? Damien Douani, an expert on social networks and new media at BlueKiwi, told L'Atelier that many SMBs don’t want to invest in a channel from which the business returns are far from proven. "Businesses are desperately looking for instant profitability. They don’t want to risk spending money in this sector," he explained.

Time and money

This view is confirmed when we see that three quarters of all SMBs haven’t appointed a staff member to manage their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. This is a mistake, believes Damien Douani: "Businesses need to realise that when it comes to marketing, the Internet isn’t just an instant fix. Regular follow-up is needed, and that means both time and people," he explains, adding: "If small and medium-sized businesses gave themselves the means, they could improve their image, enhance brand awareness, prospect for new customers and even carry out client management this way".