With the phenomenal growth of social networks over the past two years, one has to wonder if this is not another example of the chicken versus the egg. Has social media become so popular because of the tremendous press coverage, or has the coverage led to the growth?
Honestly, I don’t know. To quote Rhett Butler, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a …” The fact is that it is here, and it is dominating web traffic. The question we should be asking is, “What are we, as small business entrepreneurs, going to do with it?”
According to a recent survey by Citibank/GfK Roper, the answer for many small business owners appears to be nothing at all. In a press release last month, they dealt a blow to social media advocates with some pretty stunning, and somewhat unexpected, findings.
Citibank/GfK Roper Survey Results
The telephone survey was part of a larger survey on small businesses and the economy. The survey, conducted in late August, was of 500 small business executives with fewer than 100 employees.
Here’s what they found …
- 78% did not find social media sites effective in generating leads.
- 86% have not used social media sites to get business information or advice.
- 61% rely on search engines or sites like WSJ.com to gather business information.
- 10% sought information or advice from blogs.
Maria Veltre, Executive Vice President of Citi’s Small Business Segment said,
Our survey suggests that small business owners are still feeling their way into social media, particularly when it comes to using these tools to grow their businesses. We were very surprised we did not see more use of some of the social media outlets, even if just for advice.
Are Small Business Owners Abandoning the Internet?
Small business entrepreneurs are not forsaking the internet though. It just seems that sites like FaceBook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are not seen as essential to them according to the survey. Ms. Veltre went on to say,
What this survey indicates to us is small businesses are very, very focused on running their business and on generating sales and managing their cash flow and doing the things that are really important, especially in these economic times … I don’t think quite yet the social media piece of it has proven to be as significant.
So what are these “really important” online activities? The survey found that …
- 42% have made greater use of their website to generated leads and sales.
- It grew to 57% among those with 20 to 99 employees
- 28% used email marketing to generate leads and sales.
- 25% advertise online to generate leads and sales.
Is Social Media a Waste of Time for Small Business?
Critics of social media point out that we have been down this road before. They point to the lack of value, or clear return on investment (ROI), as justification for small businesses to stay away from social media. Their sentiments may be best summed up by a comment made in response to Largest Social Media Study to Date Released – What Does it Mean for Small Business?, my first post in this series. You can read the comment here.
Ms Veltre offers this possible explanation,
While social media can provide additional channels to network and help grow a business, many small businesses may not have the manpower or the time required take advantage of them.
Both certainly have valid concerns. Employing an effective social media strategy requires either a lot of time to get over the learning curve or money to pay for someone else to implement our strategy. It would be nice if we had a clear ROI history for social media, but I am not expecting to see reliable across-the-board reporting like that any time soon. It’s just too early in the game and social media networks are still evolving.
What Does this Mean for Small Business?
I think it is hard to just ignore social media as a small business owner. It is certainly not going to be the panacea for small business owners that some are claiming, but at the same time, I think it deserves a place in your advertising and customer relations strategy.
As I pointed out in Is Your Small Business Taking Googlebot by the Hand?, never count out Google. As this survey showed, it is still search engines that small business owners are turning to on the internet. Where are your customers turning though?
Now that Microsoft’s Bing has announced they will start indexing Twitter and Facebook what will it mean for the online landscape? Again, I must say that I honestly don’t know.
My advice is to stick with Google using the best search engine optimization (SEO) techniques for your website, blog, and social media accounts. Treat social media as a never-ending networking event where you make those first contacts and build relationships.