The first chapter will offer an outline of the study that is presented in the dissertation. It is an introduction of the background, importance of the study, problem statement, assumptions, research questions, limitations, and delimitations of the study. It serves as preparation for the reader for what will be presented in the rest of the study.
In the modern world, organizations need to integrate social media into their marketing strategies. It is an essential avenue for creating relationships with clients and prospective customers. Small businesses are embracing social media as a marketing tool due to its limited barrier to entry. However, the majority of small business enterprises lack a strategy when embarking on social media marketing, which can lead to their struggle and hardships. Consequently, they miss out on essential opportunities due to an inadequate understanding on the benefits of social media for marketing. It is especially a challenge for the firms that, until recently, have been using traditional media for their marketing and communication. Technological advancement has led to an increased use of computer-based gadgets that have eased Internet accessibility. The increased and ease in the use of the Internet has fostered the creation of social media platforms. Their popularity is growing due to their numerous advantages channeled towards the consumers including ease in communication, transparency, referrals, and empowerment. Marketers have to ensure that they tap into the opportunities offered by the social media to market their businesses.
In addition, modern life is fast-moving, with people busy working, studying or engaged in family issues, and as a result social media has become an important tool for keeping in touch with friends and family members. Social media have decreased the distance between people in terms of space and time. It aims to create social communities through the establishment of connections between the people and the organizations. Social media platforms have billions of users globally. They have both potential and existing clients, and sales personnel of businesses, considering both business-to-consumer and business-to-business.
Importance of the Study
Social media have created a platform where customers can comment on brands and businesses without the involvement of the brand marketers. Social media have eroded the marketers’ control over information due to its unique characteristics (Strategic Direction 2010). Brands are forced to listen to the customers, and respond appropriately. For instance, if a customer has a negative experience with a given brand or business, he or she can is able to rapidly share the information with millions of people through the social media (Beaubien 2009). The study’s purpose is to identify the strategies that can assist small and medium enterprises in the use of social media to involve consumers. The SMEs have a significant impact on the UK economy, accounting for 99.9% of all private sector businesses. In 2013, they had about 14.4 million employees, and a combined turnover of ?1,600 billion (FSB 2013). Given how essential the small and medium business sector is in the UK economy, it is vital to understand how the firms are using social media as a marketing tool, and promoting their relationships with the consumers. Social media offer SMEs various marketing opportunities at little or no monetary cost. They ought to embrace these opportunities since their resources are often constrained on money and time. The study offers an understanding of the manner in which small and medium businesses develop by using social media to build customer relationships and interact with the clients.
The study’s purpose is to find out the strategies that assist SMEs in the application of social media to interact with the consumers. The study focuses on the marketing strategy of SMEs that use social media. The available literature concentrates on the use of social media by large organizations. As a result, these findings cannot be replicated in small and medium enterprises, or they may need some modifications if they are to be useful. The purpose of the study is to understand their application of social media in marketing. The findings will be useful to fill the literature gap, and benefit other SMEs.
Potential Benefits of the Study
Today marketers and academics have their focus on new trends that are transforming the world. The current study will benefit both parties. A professional marketer will acquire knowledge and understanding regarding the current challenges of the marketing strategies as well as the opportunities and challenges posed by social media. Most marketers focus on the strategies that have already been implemented at their organizations and rarely focus on what researchers and academics are saying about market trends. The paper offers insight that marketers can benefit from, and promotes their organizations’ performance in the market. Academics will also benefit from the study because it focuses on marketing, social media, and SMEs. Although academics are conversant with the three issues, there has not been a study that integrates all three. The aim of the study is to create a link and filling the gap in the literature. The study will also develop a conceptual framework through the literature review, which aims to offer opportunities for future research in the area. SMEs use various strategies to solve hardships. Social media platforms offer an opportunity to do this. The study will help both businesses and the academics.
A research problem provides context for the study at hand and uncovers the answers that the researcher seeks. It involves a situation where there is a gap between the actual situation and the perfect state that is desired (Zikmund, Babin, Carr & Griffin 2013). In order to continue with the study, it is important to internalize the problem that needs to be solved, as it guides the entire research process. Therefore, the following are the proposed research questions for the study:
1. How can SMEs use the social media as a marketing tool?
2. Does the public acknowledge the use of social media as a marketing tool?
3. What is the general impact of social media on organizational marketing strategies?
The objectives of the research are formulated to give precise details on what it seeks to attain (Saunders, Lewis, & Thornhill 2009). The study’s objectives are:
1. To review the available literature on strategic marketing in relation to SMEs and social media.
2. To investigate the gap present between what is practiced and the available literature related to SME marketing.
3. To analyze the use of social media as a marketing platform by the SMEs in the UK.
4. To create a theoretical structure regarding the utilization of the social networks by the small and medium enterprises.
The study focuses on exploring the use of the social networs by various SMEs in the United Kingdom. The study will incorporate all social networking platforms as one and assess their benefits. The central focus is the SMEs’ strategies regarding the incorporation of social networks in product and brand marketing. Although social media is used for business-to-consumer and business-to-business marketing, the study’s primary concentration will be on the business-to-consumer perspective. However, it will provide the foundation for research on the business-to-business perspective.
A dissertation should be guided by an argument as it answers research questions (Fisher 2007). Furthermore, it should have a storyline, with an introduction, middle, and culmination (Quinton & Smallbone 2006). The current study will answer the research questions by using this approach.
Definition of Key Terms
Marketing – From the perspective of small and medium enterprises, it is a means of informing existing and prospective customers about the business and what it offers (Reijonen 2010). SMEs also focus on marketing as an avenue to create and maintain customer relationships.
Small enterprise – A business with between 10 and 49 employees (FSB 2013).
Medium enterprise – A business with between 50 to 249 employees (FSB 2013).
Social media – The various websites and Internet-based applications that enable users to create profiles, share content, and participate in networking purposes. The user can also develop and exchange content with other users (Tuten & Solomon 2013).
Social media marketing – An approach of marketing that involves the use of social media and social networking websites. They assist organizations in the increment of brand awareness, enhance consumer service, implement promotion campaigns, and increase sales (Tuten & Solomon 2013).
Introduction to Literature Review
The aim of the literature review is to identify and critique relevant theories related to the research questions. It also identifies concepts and themes that arise to form a conceptual framework (Quinton & Smallbone 2006). The framework creates a benchmark from which the results of the study are compared and evaluated (Kent 2007). Every business requires marketing to survive and succeed. Modern-day businesses have greater marketing opportunities compared to their predecessors (Bresciani & Eppler 2010). Most SMEs depend on word-of-mouth to market their products. They acquire new clients through positive feedback from current customers (Stokes & Lomax 2002). Connections and technology favor SMEs in the contemporary economy. The use of social media has enabled such enterprises to develop networks with their clients to create relationships and attain an improved understanding of the needs of the customers. The aim of every business is to have a message that reaches the largest number of people possible. Increasing the number of individuals that a business can reach means having a presence wherever the prospective customers are situated (Walsh & Lipinski 2009). Unlike in earlier days when this could mean a physical location, businesses today need to have an online presence.
The number of persons using the social media has increased significantly in recent years (Tuten & Solomon 2013). Social media offer numerous opportunities for small businesses to market their brands to existing and prospective customers, increase their profits, and develop close relationships. However, at times they struggle to reach these clients. The literature that is available on SMEs includes businesses with up to five hundred employees. However, this research focuses on the businesses with two hundred and forty-nine employees or less. The literature review will first define small and medium enterprises, and discuss the importance of these SMEs to the UK economy. Second, it will offer insight on the opportunities available and the challenges that the SMEs face as they engage with the customers. Third, it examines the combined marketing communications used by the SMEs in an attempt to overcome the challenges. It also discusses the social media, its significance, benefits, and uses, so as to engage the clients. Finally, it will examine the promotion campaigns for the SMEs through online platforms, its effect, approach, procedure, uses, and experiential studies.
Definition of Small and Medium Enterprises
There is not a single universally agreed definition of a small business (SME). Diverse approaches, such as sales, assets’ value, and the number of workers, are used in an effort to identify small businesses and medium enterprises. However, most of the literature has adopted the definition given by the European Commission, in which the business has less than 250 employees, and its balance sheet total does not exceed forty-three million euro, or its revenue per annum does not exceed fifty million euros (European Commission 2005). However, the United States uses a different criteria, with SMEs constituting those that have less than five hundred employees. The literature reviewed in the study uses both of the definitions, and at times refer to SMEs as small businesses. Small and medium enterprises are an essential part of the UK economy. They represent 99.9% of UK’s private sector and employ more than 14.4 million people, or 59.3% of all the employees of the private sector, and it has about 48.1% of the private sector’s turnover (FSB 2013). At the same time, small businesses account for 47% of all employment in the private sector, and 33.1% turnover (FSB 2013).
From a small and medium enterprises perspective, marketing is an approach used to create awareness about a firm and its products and services to existing and prospective clients. It is also an approach used for developing and sustaining the relationships that a business has with its customers (Reijonen 2010). There are numerous marketing opportunities available to the SMEs today, with the resources that are available.
Marketing Opportunities for SMEs
Aside from the mainstream media and main marketing avenues used by large firms, SMEs can use the word-of-mouth and networking as marketing tools. They depend on effective interactions between the owner, managers, and employees as well as the customers. These individuals communicate with other people what they know regarding the business, its products or services, and explain why others should use its products (Walsh & Lipinski 2009). Therefore, networking is at the core of marketing strategies of the SMEs, and it is essential during their foundation, expansion and progression. The traditional structures of the economy favor large enterprises, but the modern economy has various characteristics that can also favor SMEs, namely through information and networking (Walsh & Lipinski 2009). The heavy reliance on networking and word-of-mouth has developed due to technological advancements. Electronic word-of-mouth can result in helpful or potentially damaging statements made by a prospective, current or former client regarding the product, service or a firm via the internet (Lee & Youn 2009).
Challenges Facing SMEs during Marketing
A form of marketing that SMEs practice differs from that of large organizations. Their approach to marketing is casual, extemporaneous, amorphous, and reactive (Reijonen 2010). Stokes (2000) states that SMEs use marketing for their instant needs; hence, it lacks strategizing and planning. Their main focus is on sales. Other than product promotion, all matters relating to an enterprise, such as satisfaction of the clients, customer service and assistance, and sales function have a great influence (Harris, Rae & Grewal 2008). The majority of the problems facing SMEs are related to the marketing of their products. This is largely a result of their inability to outsource the function, or employ a professional marketer. The marketing challenge can also emanate from the owner-manager, who has the final word on all activities in the enterprise (Bethon, Ewing & Napoli 2008). Walsh & Lipinski (2009) state that SMEs do not have a well-developed marketing system that is common at large enterprises. Large firms often have marketing departments, which permits the demarcation of activities and functions. SMEs are limited by their small spaces, scarce resources and limited knowledge on marketing (Reijonen 2010). Reijonen (2010) also adds that the owner-managers of small businesses have a narrow perspective relating to marketing. In addition, their marketers fail to differentiate between marketing and selling.
Utilizing social media is the best solution for overcoming the challenges affecting the marketing of SMEs. Social media include websites and Internet-based applications founded on the technological and ideological facets of Web 2.0. They make it possible for users to develop information and share it (Tuten & Solomon 2013). The Web 2.0 technology allows for two-way conversations, which enables firms to listen and respond to their customers (Fournier & Avery 2011). More customers and firms are using the Internet to deliberate, share and work together (Jones 2010). Social media offer numerous services through the Internet. It creates a complication for firms to understand the best options, and how they can be used. Types of social media include social networks, such as Facebook and Friend Feed, micro-blogs such as Twitter, reviews and ratings sites such as Yelp and Trip Advisor, and video content sites such as Vimeo and YouTube, among others (Kaplan & Haenlein 2010). Through social media, customers can generate content that promotes or assists a business or a brand. In addition, loyal customers can use electronic word-of-mouth, which is beneficial to the SMEs. When an enterprise interacts with the clients on the social media, it markets itself to a larger number of people (Tuten & Solomon 2013). However, most of these small and medium enterprises find it difficult to interact with the clients on social media.
Marketing on Social Media
Organizations have changed their approach to marketing with the emergence of social media. It has promoted communication between the firms and their customers (Mangold & Faulds 2009). Social media have created a combination of traditional tools and highly magnified word-of-mouth. As a result, the marketing managers lack control over the content and incidence of the information. It is important for companies to monitor and respond to these posts, whether they are positive or negative (Mangold & Faulds 2009). Marketing through social media will enable the SMEs to understand their customers in a better way by developing and sustaining effective relationships (Reyneke, Pitt, & Berthon 2011).
Methodological issues often make it difficult to determine particular knowledge, skills and major characteristics that are essential for accomplishing responsible work that predetermines performing creative tasks. As a result, the practical implications of competence approaches to management and development efforts are limited. The methodology that will be used in the study will attempt to identify the public’s perception on the SMEs’ use of social media as a tool of marketing.
Several techniques will be applied during this research to assist in generating several weaknesses, recommendations, solutions and application methods that explain how SMEs apply social media in marketing. The proposed approach is related to the certain principles indicated below:
The research philosophy applied in the study relates to the values that exist in the natural environment. It is the realism philosophy, which relies on the actual situation in the marketing of the SMEs and technological advancement in social media. Human beings are highly responsive to changes in the environment or behavior. As a result, the study will focus on the reality.
The analysis that will be used in this study is a cross-sectional study, which means that the research will comprise of a collection of data from a chosen population that is well chosen within the population space at a given time. The approach implies that the data that the research will collect is reliable enough to represent the entire population. Data will be collected once from all of the sources, which means that different people within organizations, and customers who are on social media willl participate.
Data Collection Method
The study will depend on both primary and secondary data, but it will be collected through different approaches to ensure it covers a wide scope. The primary data constitutes of data that has been collected for the following research aim and questions. It will involve the use of interviews and unobtrusive methods. The research targets the identification of the approaches used by the SMEs to relate with their clients. The aim of the interview will be to learn how the management uses social media to interact with clients. It involved the kind of messages sent, challenges, investment efforts, and experience. It used a focused interview, due to time limitation using an open-ended interview. However, there were also predetermined questions. The topics mentioned in the literature review shall form the structure of the interview. Unobtrusive methods entail approaches to data collection that do not interfere with the flow of daily events (Marshall & Rossman 2010). They will complement the interviews, and will involve studying the social media profiles of the enterprises, which are available to the public.
The participants of the study will be managers of the SMEs focused on the development in the UK. They are the companies that show the need to develop and climb the ladder in the economy. The managers will be willing to share their information as a way of marketing and publicizing their firms. They will be asked questions in order to acquire empirical data, which shall be recorded to be analyzed later.
The interviews will involve the use of a Dictaphone for recompilation at a later stage. In addition, there will be a recording of the responses in a notebook in point form. It is a vital technique of make certain that the information gathered is first-hand.
It is expected that from the research, it will be possible to develop a comprehensive framework relating to the findings, which will include the approaches used by different SMEs to market through social media. The findings will also provide answers to the research questions; hence attaining the objectives of the research. The study is also expected to bridge the gap in the literature between the actual practices and theory.
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