Can social media benefit rural businesses?

It may seem to some that Twitter and business has reached a point where the latter cannot exist without the former. Everywhere signs demand that you “follow us” or ask: “why not tweet us to tell us what your favourite colour socks are?”

A recent report by the Country Land and Business Association has said that the lack of proper broadband coverage in rural areas of the UK “makes it nearly impossible for rural businesses and communities to communicate.”

The CLA has even launched what it is calling “Social Media Surgeries” to help farmers and rural businesses get into social media and social networking in an effort to help boost the rural economy.

But can social media really benefit rural business that much? And if it can, how best can it be deployed? The answer of course is not clear-cut.

If rural business is to benefit from the social media revolution then the broadband deployed across the countryside must be mobile. Mobile use of Facebook has risen over 100% in the last six months from 30m to 65m users.

The challenges rural businesses need to overcome include the fact that they might only have one or two people near them who actively use social media sites.

Excellent 3G coverage in towns and cities as well as the widespread use of generous mobile data plans has boosted engagement between brands and consumers, building a community around your brand is of course much easier when you have many thousands of followers within a 15 mile radius rather than a few.

Perhaps the biggest way then which social media can help boost rural businesses is that most old-fashioned thing, advertising.

Facebook is a great platform which rural business can take advantage of to help get products seen by many millions of people. The site has 175 million active users each hour, that’s one hell of a billboard location.

Whilst Twitter is an efficient way for users to share snippets of information and links, the real benefit it can provide to companies, particularly small ones in rural locations, isn’t entirely clear.

Facebook pages however, where users of the site can ‘Like’ or ‘Recommend’ the page to some or all of their friends, seem to be a much more efficient method of getting new potential customers to a page full of information or even driving traffic to external websites.

Perhaps though, if the government and mobile networks were to move to put high speed broadband access within easy reach of all rural businesses we’d see an explosion in online social media activity.

Neil Hawkins is a contributing editor for consumer information site Choose (follow @choosenet). He specialises in covering broadband industry debates for the home media section, as well as commentary on market research and consumer rights issues - find more on choose.net.