Who do SMEs listen to?

A new study finds SMEs’ most trusted information source is the radio, but they are wary of social media

Advice is like snow - the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind. Samuel Coleridge

The very nature of SME business is its loneliness. Owner operators don’t have a team of experts to pick up tips, help with problems or pass on news or scuttlebutt.

So if most SMEs are turning to their neighbour who is “good with computers” or their father-in-law who is an ex-accountant, it can be hard for suppliers to find a way in if they want to sell their products and services.

Our latest Listening Project research asked SME owners who they trust for advice. In particular, which media sources they turn to to get their information.

And the answer: The number one source is the radio.

Yes Yes, really. The SMEs involved in the Listening Project told us that the radio was the media that they trusted most. Many listen to the radio on the way to work, in the office and at home, so it is a constant companion and a source of both general business news and specific information on topics of interest.

It seems to fulfil an inspirational role, as well as being a source of information, for a group who are largely isolated and often working alone of or in a very small group.

Next on the list was the internet, especially blogs and other relevant content. Not the ads, but the interesting articles, reports and advice from people in a similar industry or another type of small business. Digital content is really valued by SMEs. Google and Yahoo operate like internal information departments to SMEs.

Another source of influence is the myriad of trade newsletters and publications that come their way. SMEs trust them because the source of authority is from their own industry.

Clearly there is an opportunity for suppliers to contribute to these publications and benefit from the halo effect of their authority. But take care, as suppliers risk being seen as cashing in or trying too hard to align themselves.

Tread softly, like the Coleridge quote suggests, and you may be invited into their trusted adviser group.

So how do suppliers ensure SMEs are listening to their messages:

1. Think content as much as advertising – SMEs are keen to learn and feel starved of the knowledge eco system that exists in larger companies.

2. Consider radio – it’s their preferred and most trusted media. Content is king here too, a well argued discussion is what will embed your message in their daily contemplations.

3. Online content and blogs, groups and discussion forums are worth investing time and effort in making useful contributions.

4. Get involved in social media with care – SMEs themselves are treading carefully in this area and suspicion levels are high.

5. Look at trade publications but again look at making useful contributions to discussion and advice pieces.