Social business in Brockley



Yesterday in the US was Small Business Saturday. President Obama went shopping in a Virginia bookstore and the country was urged to support independent businesses. As chain retailers withdraw from UK high streets, encouraging the growth of independent high street businesses has become a matter of economic necessity, rather than social preference. The Economist reports:

"But not all stores are suffering equally. Independently owned ones, which account for two-thirds of Britain’s high streets, have fared better than chains, growing modestly in number in the past two years—though that rate is slowing. The number of independent bakeries on high streets rose by 17% from August 2011 to July 2012, according to Simply Business, an insurance provider."

There are plenty of possible solutions being experimented with. Brixton's got its alternative pound, Forest Hill tried to persuade people to spend £5 a week more locally through its Totally Locally day and Lewisham Council's Business Awards and Lewisham Life email service are admirable attempts to support local small businesses.

But the best way to help local business is to help them use the powerful tools already at their disposal.

Social media is not only a great leveller for small business - providing them with free, ubiquitous tools to reach customers - it actually gives local companies an advantage over chains.

Firstly, the management cost of social media is lower for local business. Most big businesses struggle to give local managers the degree of freedom necessary to engage their customers. They live in fear of Wonga-like episodes that will damage their brand reputation, or they expect any communication to go through the same sorts of sign-off processes that a press release would. Independent businesses don't have to worry about such bureaucracy.

Secondly, social media is more effective for local business, thanks to the community network effect. People want to show their support for small business and, for example, will be more likely to share news about an independent retailer than a supermarket brand. You don't have to be Brockley Market to command local loyalty and cache, as Jay's Budgens in Crofton Park has shown. Social media also attaches a premium to the unique. Would a photo of a Tesco aisle have generated the same response that this Brockley Rise newsagent did?

In a report called The Case for Universal Digitisation (2012), Booz & Co says:

"Most UK SMEs lag far behind their international peers—in both the front and back office. If these enterprises adopted digital technologies, thereby growing as fast as more digitised SMEs, Booz & Company estimates that they could unlock up to £18.8 billion of annual incremental revenues."

Speaking at a Paley Center event we attended last week, Katherine Oliver of the Commissioner's NYC Mayor's Office said:

"[Our Small Business Services team] is really important, helping small businesses grow in the city of New York. We created a digital toolkit, partnering with Mashable, teaching businesses how to build a website, how to use Twitter to promote their business. These are small mom and pop companies and cultural institutions, that don't have the wherewithal to use social media. We're making it work for New York but it could be adaptable for other places."

Working to get local businesses online seems like the most effective strategy for supporting them. This needs to be the focus, going forward.

Fortunately, this year, seems to be the moment when Brockley businesses began to embrace social. Perhaps inspired by the success of relative newcomers like The Orchard and El's Kitchen, many more established firms like Magi, Mr Lawrence, and most recently, Geddes, have dipped their toes in the Twitter stream. Meze Mangal stormed YouTube with this effort last year too.

BC's mission is to make SE4 the best-connected part of the country. Brockley business needs to socialise. Here's a list of local businesses with a Twitter feed. It's a start. 

16 comments:

The Jack Studio Theatre said...

Great stuff Nick, please add @BrocJackTheatre to the list, we have over 2000 followers on Twitter and over 600 likes on our Facebook page, both of which help us to increase and engage with our audiences.

George Hallam said...

Glad to see you've come round to supporting Lewisham People Before Profit's policy on small business.

Robert said...

Come now George.

There is not a political organisation in the world that does not have policies that support small businesses.

Are we expected to accept that PBP have exclusivity to these ideals?

Party politics can be so tedious sometimes.

Monkeyboy said...

If it wasn't for BC and Twitter I wouldn't have known about half of the little shops round here.

Also add @coopersbake Makers of excellent bread and looking for a premises. Basically they have to locate at Brock X if they are to succeed ;)

Moira said...

And we've just started on Twitter - foraged jams and chutneys and more from Ladywell and Brockley @wildbrockley. We have a stall at the Ladywell Christmas Market on the 15th December

Anonymous said...

A lot of honest local businesses don't have a social media presence - they keep their prices low and let fare speak for itself.

Welcome to 2012 said...

Tell me George, what's your specific policy in relation to social media and small business?

Samantha Chater said...

Hi Nick can you please add me into the list. I'm Brockley based and run classes baby massage, baby yoga and reflexology. Babisticbaby is the twitter name.

Thanks

Samantha Chater

Brockley Nick said...

I will probably set up a separate list for events businesses in due course. This is for high street businesses.

George Hallam said...

Robert said...
"Come now George.

"There is not a political organisation in the world that does not have policies that support small businesses."

Correction: All three establishment parties in the UK say that they support small businesses.

The problem is that the policies they implement support big business.

"Are we expected to accept that PBP have exclusivity to these ideals?"

PBP doesn't have "ideals"; it has a practical approach to solving the problems faced by ordinary people.


Sue Luxton said...

I set up a small garden maintenance business locally at the end of August and I've been keeping track of where my customers hear about me. So far, from a fairly small sample (20 customers) 26% came via Brockley Central, 21% via South East Central, 21% via the Broc Soc Newsletter, 11% via Twitter, 11% from cards left in shops/estate agents and 11% word of mouth. I expect these percentages will change a bit as I get a bit more established (and I think the Broc Soc newsletter is still being delivered), but the all important first customers came via this blog and the forum, so I definitely owe Nick and Jon at least one drink next time I see them! (BC Christmas drinks?!)

Mb said...

Don't forget my apple tree, pencil it in for January.

Mb said...

Publicising a list of independents who have twitter accounts sounds eminently practical. Sounds like then PPP would be all over that eh?

Brockley Nick said...

George, what are your policies on small business? Other than being for them, rather than against them? Because the policies section of your website could do with an update: http://www.peoplebeforeprofit.org.uk/lewisham/policies

As a small-business owner, I didn't need persuading of their merits by PBP, but cheers anyway.

Anonymous said...

pity you didn't set up that small business in Brockley, or at last Lewisham, 'money where your mouth is' etc etc

Facepalm said...

Nasty, irrelevant, ill informed snipe from an idiot. Nick has done more to publicise local businesses than most. He's invested his time, he's put his time where his mouth is. How many local businesses use BC and SEC to promote themselves?

Go away, do us all a favour.

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