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

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.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

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.

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