The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to businesses worldwide, particularly for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in South Africa. With limited resources and the constraints of lockdown regulations, SMEs have increasingly turned to social media platforms to sustain their operations. This blog post delves into the motivations behind this shift, the challenges posed by data privacy concerns, and the broader implications for online marketing strategies in SMEs. This analysis is based on the research by Stevens Mamorobela, published in the Proceedings of the 10th European Conference on Social Media (ECSM 2023).


Stevens Mamorobela’s study investigates the key motivations for South African SMEs to adopt social media despite the prevalent data privacy concerns. The central hypothesis is that SMEs are driven to utilize social media primarily due to its cost-effectiveness, extensive reach, and the ability to enhance business performance, even though data privacy remains a significant issue.


Research Questions


The research aimed to address two primary questions:

  1. What are the determinants of using social media to sustain SME businesses?
  2. How do SMEs address the data privacy issues of social media?


To explore these questions, qualitative interviews were conducted with 13 SME entrepreneurs in South Africa. The participants were selected based on their knowledge and experience with social media in their businesses. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed using thematic analysis to identify key themes and insights.


The study identified two primary themes: the determinants of social media use and data privacy concerns.

  1. Determinants of Social Media Use:
  • Market Reach: SMEs found social media to be a powerful tool for reaching a broader audience, which was crucial during the pandemic when physical interactions were limited.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: Social media platforms offer a low-cost alternative to traditional marketing methods, making them accessible for resource-constrained SMEs.
  • Interactivity and Connectivity: The ability to interact with customers in real-time and maintain relationships was highlighted as a significant benefit.
  • Compatibility with Business Processes: Many SMEs found social media platforms compatible with their existing business operations, facilitating seamless integration.

2. Data Privacy Concerns:

  • Skepticism Among Older Entrepreneurs: Older SME owners were more skeptical about using social media due to concerns about data privacy and the security of sensitive business information.
  • Perceived Ineffectiveness of Data Privacy Measures: Despite various data privacy mechanisms proposed in the literature, there was a prevalent belief that social media platforms are not entirely secure.


Mamorobela concluded that while social media platforms are indispensable for SMEs in South Africa due to their reach and cost-effectiveness, data privacy concerns remain a significant barrier to their widespread adoption. Younger entrepreneurs are more inclined to embrace social media, whereas older ones are cautious, highlighting a generational divide in attitudes toward these digital tools.

Implications for Online Marketing Strategy

The findings of this study have several implications for the online marketing strategies of SMEs:

  1. Tailored Social Media Strategies: SMEs should develop social media strategies that align with their business goals while addressing data privacy concerns. This includes choosing platforms that offer robust security features and educating staff about best practices in data management.
  2. Targeted Marketing: Understanding the demographic and psychographic profiles of their audience can help SMEs craft targeted marketing campaigns that resonate with their customers and build trust.
  3. Leveraging Data Privacy as a Selling Point: SMEs that prioritize data privacy can use it as a competitive advantage, assuring customers that their information is secure, which can enhance brand loyalty and trust.
  4. Continuous Learning and Adaptation: Given the dynamic nature of social media and data privacy regulations, SMEs must stay updated on the latest trends and best practices to adapt their strategies accordingly.


In summary, Stevens Mamorobela’s research highlights the critical role of social media in sustaining South African SMEs during challenging times while underscoring the persistent concerns regarding data privacy. By addressing these concerns and strategically leveraging social media, SMEs can enhance their market presence and performance in the digital age.

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