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Leveraging social media to spur SMEs, business development

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Beyond the spread of fake news and misinformation, which some social media platforms are associated with, millions of lives and businesses have been redefined positively through the instrumentality of social media and online services.

In 2017, the Director-General of Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria, SMEDAN, Dr. Umaru Radda, said that only one out of 100 Nigerian graduates is employable, as a result of poor skills and lack of entrepreneurial competence.

Radda, who spoke at the opening ceremony of the sensitisation for the Young Business Owners in Nigeria programme, at Amawbia, in Awka South Local Council of Anambra State, said that the programme was initiated by SMEDAN as a way of addressing this challenge.

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Three years after the initiative was birthed, the extent to which the programme has succeeded in addressing the challenge remains a subject of conjecture.
Be that as it may, the soaring unemployment figures have forced thousands of Nigerian youths to take their fate into their hands, and resort to social media, which a multitude of them are now using as office/shops without walls.

Not only are they showcasing various skills right from the comfort of their homes, but they are also deploying little capital to set up their virtual outfits, which in most cases, is a far cry from what they would have spent hiring physical structures.

Apart from the traditional online sale of goods and services, these new breeds of entrepreneurs are also sustaining decent lifestyles as shop owners, brand influencers, bloggers, and social media commentators just to mention a few. Interestingly, their stories are as varied as their faces are.

For instance, Efemena Joy Laba’s journey is highly inspiring. “I learnt how to make hair in 2006, while I was at home waiting for my admission into the university to sail through. It was my dad and I that decided that I should learn a trade, instead of just staying at home all-day, all-night. I had barely learnt the ropes for six months before I was admitted into the University of Benin. Consequently, I had to cut short the training to resume school.

“However, before I gained the admission, I had learnt enough to make money from it. That was the reason that I continued making fellow students’ hair at a very cheap rate while in the hostel. In doing this, I did not only make money while in school but also continued mastering new skills,” said the graduate of plant biology and bio-technology.

She continued: “I graduated from school in 2011 with a BSc (second class lower division), underwent the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme in Lagos State, where I taught, and made corps’ members hair.”

Upon the completion of her national service, Laba, in 2013 was employed by the Ministry of Science and Technology, where she worked at the local council level. “I stopped making hair to focus on my job, even though the pay was very poor. Two years later, there was a massive retrenchment of staff and I was among that cut-off.

“As a friend of mine was getting married, she revealed plans to engage me as a stylist, and since I had ample time, I started learning more skills via Google, specifically how to style bridal hair, as well as makeup artistry,” she said.

In a bid to reach out to more clients, Laba made her presence on social media platforms regular. Now, she confesses that the singular gesture has been a big blessing for her.

“Apart from that outing being a good one, the referrals that I keep getting from people that patronise me on social media has been quite helpful,” she said, adding, “I get most of my clients from Instagram because I love showcasing pictures of my works there, and when most people started complementing them, I decided to start posting a lot more beautiful pictures of hairdos both Instagram and Facebook. On these two platforms, I get more customers that pay well.”

Laba added: “Now, the social media is like my shop, and indeed the platform from which I link up with my clients. Also, through social media, I have met and made hair for some celebrities, including actresses and scriptwriters. I styled two scriptwriters’ hair for the last AMVCA Awards. Both of them got my contact through social media.”

Having gradually built her clients’ base on social media over time, Laba plans to get a virtual shop, which she intends to use as a training school mostly. “Most of my clients prefer mobile services. So even if I get a shop, I might not be on ground all the time. But I’m not disposed to the idea of a physical shop at the moment. Maybe later.”

Mrs. Jewel Igoni, a fabrics trader is another online entrepreneur who has found succour on social media, making use of platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram to service her growing clientele and attract new patrons.

For Igoni, the resort to social media was a very easy decision to make, especially since it was in the overall interest of the family. Asked why she joined the bandwagon of online entrepreneurs, Igoni said: “I embraced online marketing to have enough time to take proper care of our kids till they are independent.”

She continued: “My husband is an employee who leaves home very early in the morning only to return at night. As we were just starting our family, he reasoned that if I rented a shop, I would spend a larger part of my time there, daily, and this would be to the detriment of our young and much dependent children.

“According to him, a shop away from home would mean that our infants would surely lack adequate rest, proper hygiene and experience stress as they may have to always snack on junks in place of proper lunch. In addition to this, they would also get home from the shop thoroughly fagged out at night, and probably sleep off before dinner is ready.

“It was in consideration of these and many other factors that we eventually arrived at going online, while I must say is going on smoothly,” Igoni said.
Mrs. Elizabeth Mene, who operates House of Rajj, had shoemaking as her childhood love. So, “as a child, I would take things from my mom’s fashion house to beautify my shoes. And as I grew older, I became a creative designer for my mom for about eight years. But by the time I got to 200 Level in the university, I decided to make money out of it. That was how I ended up making some designs for some fashion events in school, which were successful, and that was how my business – House of Rajj started in school. As one that had a flair for business, the moment I realised that Nigerians abroad were interested in ponmo (cow skin), I also started exporting it. Along the line, I realised that the products that I used to make my shoes were of low quality, so I started importing leather and some embellishments from China. Then in 2010, I started importing different items like ladies handbags, clothes, kitchen utensils, etc.

“While doing all these, I did not have any social media account, nor was I interested because I was not a social media person until a friend told me I could sell my products on social media, which was just Facebook at the time. The turn out was not so great because I did not know anything about Google ad sense, or Facebook advertising, etc. But I later got used to tapping the benefits of social media. Besides social media, I also have online stores on Konga and Jumia, which have also boosted my sales a great deal over the years. So far, I have been able to achieve a lot of sales through the instrumentality of social media and online marketing. I used to have a physical shop, which was demolished, but when it is reconstructed, I hope to get one again. But online marketing has helped me to go on like nothing happened.”

Not long ago, Diamond Bank before its acquisition by Access partnered with Facebook to train over 20, 000 Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in the country to boost their businesses through online visibility.

The bank emphasised that with the over two billion people on Facebook, the training would enable participants to showcase their products, as well as get links that would take their businesses far and wide.

At the first phase of the training for SMEs, which commenced in Calabar, Cross River State with over 120 SME owners in attendance, Nkem Okoro, an executive of the bank said the outfit was leveraging on technology to boost SME businesses that would give Diamond Bank’s customers the platform to merge their business with their Facebook accounts.

He added that the training was in collaboration with SheLeads Africa, a representative of Facebook. He said: “What we intend to achieve is to actualise what we have always promised them, financial and non-financial transactions. This is one of the non-financial transactions and we know that if they succeed in their businesses, it will trickle down to us, and at the end of it all, we are sure it will rub-off on their businesses positively.”

One of the beneficiaries, Pastor Peace Ogar, said: “I have learnt how to give my business social media presence. I have also learnt how to create content for my business, and how to reach out to my audience. Frankly, I have been using Facebook only to post pictures and relate with friends, but never thought of using it to expand my business, but today, I have learnt how to reach my target audience.”

Last month, Facebook begun its #FBSuccessStory campaign to spotlight Nigerian entrepreneurs using Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to grow their businesses.

The six-week promotion is to celebrate, inspire future entrepreneurs, as well as highlight tools available to them to scale up their ventures.Facebook’s Head of Communications, Africa, Kezia Anim-Addo, while shedding light on the initiative said: “We’re proud of the role that we have in enabling SMBs to grow and scale. We know that small businesses are the cornerstone of economies and make significant contributions. This campaign is a celebration of some of these Nigerian SMBs making an impact, both in Nigeria and beyond.”

Running from November 18 to,
The project, which began on November 18, and is expected to end on December 21, 2020, showcases four Nigerian entrepreneurs that have experienced growth by using Facebook’s offerings to overcome business challenges, connect to target audiences, and achieve successes in marketplaces.

The featured entrepreneurs are Tricia Ikponmwonba of TriciaBiz, Samiah Oyekan-Ahmed of The Gift Source, Oluwatoyin Onigbanjo of Augustsecrets, and Gina Ehikodi-Ojo of Foodies and Spice.

Featured in the programme and commenting on Facebook’s impact on her business, Oyekan-Ahmed, a medical doctor-turned entrepreneur and founder of The Gift Source, stated: “My business experienced phenomenal growth using Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. I was able to build a formidable community on the platforms using audience insights, which helped me to deliver meaningful messages to new and existing customers. As a result of this growth, I have been able to employ more people and deliver more sales.”

Ikponmwonba, founder of Tricia Biz, an online training and academy platform in Lagos, has used Instagram to reach and guide over 130, 000 small and medium scale businesses in increasing their bottom lines in various industries worldwide.

Onigbanjo of Augustsecrets, is an award-winning child nutrition brand in the country that provides healthy, handmade cereals and snacks for babies. And the founder fed over 30, 000 children with her products within the first 18 months.

The influence of social media is rising by the day. Apart from being a social platform, an increasing number of businesses are now using them to reach their clients as well as win new ones leveraging on their potential as tools for economic development.

Made possible by the advent of the Internet, with social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, SMEs can gain access to resources that were otherwise not available to them, increase their scope and worthiness, cultivate strategic partnerships, and increase their contact with customers and suppliers.

While researches have shown that the media play important role in governance, economic and political development, social media help in creating special communities, further media development in Nigeria, while many are thrilled by the potential of YouTube, which is threatening national television.

Beyond creating communities and groups where members share common interests, stay connected, and engage in fruitful or consequential friendships that are highly interactive, social media has also proved to be a tool for social activism, and a potent instrument for sparkling, stirring and setting in motion social movements in the recent times.

Areas such as education, politics, religion, health communication, and so on have also experienced the awesome power of the social media, and this is visible in their dynamic civic engagement, which they bring to bear, especially in socio-political matters

Several studies have affirmed the diverse uses of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, but with the emergence of WhatsApp, new aspects of social media have also been thrown up. One of such is their effectiveness in commercial transactions, even as WhatsApp is believed to be the most widely used social media among youths in tertiary institutions.

While this development opens up opportunities for educational publishers, global brands and organisations have also grabbed opportunities provided by social media to widen the frontiers of their marketing strategy.

Without a doubt, social media remains a powerful tool for engaging customers and fans in a conversation. It opens up two-way communication between business and consumers, connecting both parties and providing ways of popularising less familiar brands.

A telecoms expert, Kehinde Aluko, said social media enables interaction, and by engaging in conversation, “you’ll gain exposure on social channels and increase credibility by getting your customers to refer your brand, or talk about their experience with your company.”

Indeed, in a dynamic market environment, distribution channels, marketing activities, diversification strategies, and food quality are increasingly important.

Aluko, who said that innovation in social networking media has revolutionised the world in 21st Century, added that social networking media present potential opportunities for new forms of communication and commerce between marketers and consumers.

“As advertisers typically want to find some ways to follow their target audiences, many new media opportunities are presented to advertisers. Communication through social networking media is more specified, with an effective interactive strategy among its users. In recent days, Internet advertising has taken new forms, which have more advantages over traditional mediums like print media, TV, and radio. Marketing communication is becoming precise, personal, interesting, interactive, and social.”

With an estimated population of over 200 million people, StatCounter, a global statistics platform, informed that as of October 2020, Facebook has 55.13 per cent penetration in Nigeria.

According to it, Twitter has 22.01 per cent; Instagram 6.89 per cent; YouTube 4.4 per cent; Linkedin 0.23 per cent, and Pinterest 11.93 per cent. Aluko disclosed that there are over 90 million small businesses on Facebook, most of which generate crucial advertising revenue for the platform.

He, who said that Facebook has always aimed to support small businesses explained: “Automated Ads’ and appointments are just two tools it has previously created to help small brands succeed on the platform.

“Now, in the light of COVID-19, Facebook has launched the Business Resource Hub to support those affected by the pandemic. The free-to-access hub includes a resilience toolkit, which has information about preventing business disruptions, and a quick action guide to help coordinate response activities,” he stated.

Speaking on how the social media has helped boost her business, the Chief Executive Officer, Zebelle Curls Natural, a natural hair care brand, Faith Adetunji, affirmed that the social media has helped her brand a lot, describing it as the new word of the mouth marketing, where clients are eager to see what you have to offer.

Adetunji said she uses Instagram more, “but lots of sales come from Facebook; about 80 per cent. In a month, I make about 30 to 50 per cent of sales, with added marketing from Facebook, WhatsApp, and Google advert. It could be more, but this is subject to a bigger budget for marketing.”

According to her, social media platforms have helped in spreading the brand and other products to potential customers, even abroad. “We live in an image and video-crazy digital world, where people want to see the features of a product. Social media has made this very easy.”

Speaking with The Guardian, the immediate past president, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, described the impact of social media SMEs as mixed.

Essentially, Teniola said social media, since the advent and popularity of Facebook, has been a platform used mostly for entertainment, infotainment, and connecting with family and friends.

He said in terms of SMEs productivity, social media platforms and others like it have been used for advertising and marketing purposes that complements the traditional market communications outlets.

Teniola, an engineer, however, noted that when it comes to moving products and creating innovative solutions that address established business problems, social media hasn’t solved, or improved on what has existed over many decades.

According to him, the World Wide Web (www) has been a better platform for solving the many issues that businesses face, and especially other innovative solutions outside social media platforms that have mainly been used as an extension to marketing efforts. He stressed that SMEs should heed social media limits and underlying constraints.

On offers available to virtual entrepreneurs, Teniola said social media platforms provide tools that assist SMEs or virtual entrepreneurs to rapidly build their businesses online. However, these are just tools in the whole scheme of doing business.

According to him, what is more important is what exactly is the service, or product that the business is offering to the consumer? He pointed out that the Internet expands what the social media platform can offer to those virtual entrepreneurs, who are more adept at navigating the Internet and can manage access to gain a first-mover advantage, for instance.

The former ATCON boss enumerated the downsides of doing business on the Internet to include difficulty in building trust due to the cyber threats and the presence of the dark side of the Internet as it reflects society.

He said the Internet is excellent at transmitting information and communicating using digital technology. “However, trust in payment systems, logistics, and complex processes are extensions of the Internet that require much more control and a level of digital literacy in the society to be beneficial,” he added.

On possible regulation of social media, Teniola said it is not possible to regulate . He said using artificial intelligence and other analytic tools may assist in educating and filtering certain pieces of data, or information. However, the content can also be accessed via other means, or pushed onto the dark side of the web, which is then out of the reach of those even attempting to control the information flow on the platform. “A very difficult thing to achieve in the more advanced parts of the world where the Internet is heavily used,” he stated.

On how to make the online space better and stronger, especially for our “sleeping economy,” Teniola said the government can focus on digital skills acquisition and digital training alongside educational curricula in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) at a very early stage of learning.

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