Small-business social media adoption lags, and that's a shame

Small-business social media adoption lags, and that's a shame

Summary: if at least one-quarter of your customer prospects are spending their time using social media or social networks, SMBs owe it to themselves to be experimenting with these platforms.

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Something like three years ago, I was asked to speak about social media best practices with a group of very tech-savvy small-business owners. The good news is that most of them clearly understood the role that social networks and social media sites could play in the world of marketing. The bad news is that very few of them actually had any formal marketing plans that used social media services.

Fast forward three years later, and I'm sorry to say that this group isn't exactly alone. Two different studies point up the fact that few small businesses are making active use of technology platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or even the LinkedIn social business network to promote their products and services.

The first set of concrete evidence can be found in research from Hiscox, which is an online insurance company. Its survey found that only 12 percent of small businesses believe that social media promotion is a "must" for their marketing program. Almost half of them don't have any presence whatsoever, at least for business purposes. Of the ones that do use social media, here's how things break down:

  • 19% use Facebook
  • 15% use LinkedIn
  • 4% use Twitter

Of those small businesses that DO use social media, close to 30 percent rank a Facebook company page as their most important social media channel.
Back to the tech crowd.
A different study conducted by CompTIA, a technology trade association that includes many IT solution providers and services firms in its membership, found that roughly 35 percent of the small and midsize businesses that it survey about technology adoption are using social media. Another 30 percent said that they plan to begin using it in the next 12 months.
So, the technology industry continues to be on the leading edge of early adoption, which isn't all that surprising.
Here are the most common uses for social media among the roughly 208 U.S-based small and midsize businesses using social media within CompTIA's survey:

  • Communicate special offers (68%)
  • Build brand awareness (62%)
  • Respond to customer questions (57%)
  • Respond to customer complaints (52%)
  • Solicit customer input (34%)
  • Understand market dynamics (24%)

The fact is that small businesses using the Internet for marketing activity should be paying very close attention to social media trends. Just this week, Nielsen released its new Social Media Report, which showed that the time that Americans spend on social networks and blogs now represents approximately one-quarter of the total time spent on the Internet. The growth is coming most quickly from mobile Internet users over the age of 55.
There aren't any hard and fast rules with what succeeds -- or fails -- in terms of social media best practices. So perhaps that is one reason why some small businesses are staying away in droves. Or perhaps it is simply because many small and midsize businesses don't have well developed or well resourced marketing programs. Either way, the tendency to overlook social media technologies as a cost-effective way to drive sales, promote brand reputation and spread the word is a shame.

Topics: SMBs, Social Enterprise

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7 comments
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  • RE: Small-business social media adoption lags, and that's a shame

    As the owner of a small software development company that has been running for over 20 years, I've tried all forms of marketing and in the end, Google and Bing are the best bang for the buck. At least people using these tools are searching for related product. Any other form of marketing, usually just attacts more people wanting to place your ads in their exotic magazines, videos, radio, newspapers etc.

    Social media advertising is exactly the same hit and miss as dead tree or broadcast publishing. I don't see any need for it, nor do I see any proof it actually works.

    Groucho Marx said it best

    I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members ;-)
    tonymcs@...
  • Customer base...

    It all depends on your customer base.

    We are an IT company, but most of our customers come to use, because they have little or no automation (many have old DOS computers running in a corner, which are no longer supported and they now need a more modern solution, which meets the new legal requirements of their industry).

    That means that for 98% of our customers, social networking is not something they've even heard of.
    wright_is
  • RE: Small-business social media adoption lags, and that's a shame

    The worst thing for small business people to do is be somewhere in the social media space because some blogger or study tells them to. Small business owners need to talk to their customers and see what their customers want. Fans on FB are often willing to share information with their network, which makes sense for some businesses. Google and Bing, like Ms. Clancy describes, is great for businesses where potential customers want a good idea of all the potential choices they have. More in our new book, "Small Business Smarts": http://www.amazon.com/Small-Business-Smarts-Building-Social/dp/0313394091
    kbshee@...
  • I don't buy it!

    As a small business owner who is tech saavy, I've built many websites, used all of the social media gadgets and know html,css/java, the social media hype is nothing but hype.

    The main traffic generators continue to be the search engines only if you have great content on your site. There is no return on your investment for social media. If you don't believe me--go out and create your own facebook fan page, twitter, linked in and throw in a hootsuite or only wire feed aggregator and tell us what happens! My two cents.
    gpia
  • You have it exactly right!

    All true, Heather. Small businesses are lagging when it comes to social, and mobile. Part of the problem is clutter. There are too many choices, and figuring out what works is not easy. One thing that does work cost-effectively is mobile search on Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. At mTrax (http://mtrax.com), we're seeing good results for our small business clients like plumbers and towing services, who simply must have mobile search listings now.
    DevBhatia
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