SMEs turn to the next generation to plot the social enterprise future


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We are seeing a growing number of SMEs intent on transforming themselves into social enterprises: organisations that leverage social, mobile and open cloud technologies to put customers at the heart of their business.

A recent study, sponsored by and conducted by OnePoll, into the opinions of senior decision makers in UK SME organisations revealed that nearly half (47%) use social networks and tools to interact with customers and prospects. This figure is set to grow, with 66% saying that social networks and tools are important to the future of their business; rising to 86% among decision-makers aged 18 to 24 years old.

Most SMEs realise that social networks and technologies represent a great opportunity for them to reach out to customers and prospects; to share the passion that they have for their business, build their online reputation and engage with others.

Social networks are also seen as key for improving internal communication - between employer and employee. Another study, conducted by Coleman-Parkes Research, found that in the next twelve months, 75% of CEOs will find it important to use social networks for employee communication while 76 per cent believe that social networks will be an important way to enhance employee engagement.

Increasingly too, these tools are proving crucial in the recruitment process both from the employer and the employee perspective. Three quarters of CEOs in the survey said it is important to their business to use social networks and tools to attract and retain skilled workers

In the shop window

Most SMEs appreciate that achieving competitive edge over their larger enterprise peers is not just down to having high-quality, innovative products, slick customer service or clever marketing campaigns. It is just as much about the ability to attract the right calibre of employee and social networking can be an invaluable tool in doing so.

Twenty years ago at the dawn of the Internet as businesses began to explore the online world, the focus was on populating company websites with all the information that customers and prospective employees could possibly need. The approach worked but technology has moved on. Individuals and the organisations where they work are spending more and more time on social networks and utilising social technologies and SMEs need to address this if they want to remain competitive.

Further evidence of the positive long-term prospects for the social enterprise is endorsed by the willingness of the next generation of SME employees to embrace social networks. It is critical that small businesses embrace this trend to shape their approach to recruitment and ongoing staff engagement.

In the recent OnePoll survey, 66% of SME decision-makers said a graduate's experience in social networks and tools is important to them. And the feeling's mutual, with 76% of graduates surveyed claiming that they would be more attracted to an employer if it was an active user of social networks and tools.

Shifting cultures

For the SME employers themselves the lesson is clear. By 'moving with the times' and embracing the new era of social networking, they make themselves more appealing to the next generation of graduates. Yet, this culture shift has to extend far beyond the recruitment process to be truly effective.

There are now clear signs that it is doing so. The OnePoll survey finds that the enthusiasm for the social enterprise among SMEs is reflected in more liberal and accommodating attitudes towards the use of social networks in the office. A growing number of experienced managers in SME companies (27%) now look to new graduates to educate them about social networks and how best to utilise them to grow business while, just 15% of SMEs ban all use of external social networks and 37%  have no restrictions in place.

Adopting this freer approach is key if SMEs want to attract the best talent in the future - two-fifths (40%) of graduates surveyed said they would be deterred from working for a company that had banned Facebook and Twitter.

A two-way relationship

The two surveys show that to attract and retain tomorrow's talent, SMEs need to understand social networks and tools and use them to engage with customers, prospects, employees and in the recruitment process. Likewise, the surveys confirm that social media skills are extremely important for students. A graduate's experience with social networks and tools is becoming increasingly key both to their chances of winning a job with a SME and to their prospects of future success in that job.

As SMEs begin the process of transitioning into social enterprises and continue to migrate to a more inherently social, collaborative and mobile approach to business computing, they need to wholeheartedly embrace this new way of working. In doing so, their very latest recruits and the upcoming generation of new employees will inevitably have a key role to play.

Woodson Martin, senior vice president, employee success at Salesforce

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