Is Small Business Saying No Thanks to Social Media?

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Small Business to Social Media - No Thanks?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 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.

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Brad's Big Feet Marketing helps people on a limited budget enlarge their online footprint using blogging & social media. His other blog, Marketplace Christianity, examines faith's role in how we earn and spend money.

Brad has written 95 awesome articles for us at Bradley A Harmon

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Paula November 8, 2009 at 4:25 am

Social networking is something that can take up a lot of time and small business owners just don't have that time. It's okay for big business who have big budgets and can afford to pay someone to play around on the net all day. Having to do the work themselves means that first they have to learn what to do, which in itself takes time, and then take the time to regularly sit on the net and network. Unless they see a real benefit in it for them, they just aren't going to bother.


Brad Harmon November 8, 2009 at 5:19 am

I think that you are correct. There are so many social media platforms out there that trying to figure out which one to use, or if you should use any at all, is a time consuming task on its own. Once you get past this, there is still a huge learning curve to effectively utilize the platforms you chose.

There are a few success stories with demonstrative ROI, but nothing guarantees that their methods are repeatable. There is anecdotal evidence that social media platforms drive traffic to your websites, but the reporting necessary to really determine how much of this traffic converts into sales is lacking.

Currently, I see nothing out there that will bring small business owners into social media en masse. I'm not sure that it would even be good for social media or small business.

My hope is that this series of posts on small business social media will alleviate some of the learning curve for small business owners by looking at which social media platforms people are using, the strengths and weaknesses of these platforms, and how people are using these platforms.


noelwiggins November 8, 2009 at 9:46 am

I am a small business that has been doing what I believe to be a successful social media campaign for about 3 months now.

And what I have found is that I can “control” more, by participating in the “conversation” that surrounds my industry, I have since stopped my adwords campaign and have tripled my web traffic and have reduced my bounce rate to a healthy level.

My ony issue that I see, is that the leads I do get from this medium, is so cheap, that its hardly worth the effort, but at this point these cheap projects are better than no project and hope that as the economy grows then the quality of the leads will grow…

Thanks and Regards

Noel for
a graphic design studio


Brad Harmon November 8, 2009 at 12:46 pm


Did you find the learning curve steep when it came to utilizing social media effectively? How many hours were involved? How many hours per week do you spend maintaining your social media strategy?



noelwiggins November 8, 2009 at 1:29 pm

The learning curve wasn't so steep, was pretty easy to get going on the right path, but the time it takes to maintain the strategy is 2 hours a day first thing each morning including weekends, and about 3 sessions during the day to do quick check ins!


Brad Harmon November 10, 2009 at 7:12 am

Wow, that is a real time commitment! I am not sure many small business owners would be able to spend that much time maintaining a social media strategy.

My hope is that as this series progresses I will be able to share a strategy that takes significantly less time to maintain; otherwise, most small business owners will not be able to utilize it.


Extreme John November 14, 2009 at 2:05 pm

As a multiple business owner I can safely say through experience that not being involved in Social Media is a mistake for any business, not just Small Business. However Small Business owners have more to lose if they don't adjust with the times, there is less room for error now than there was before.


Brad Harmon November 14, 2009 at 7:11 pm

When I look at the online landscape, I think it is big business has the most to lose from not using social media and small business has the most to gain. Having said that, I do agree that it's a mistake for small business to sit on the sidelines waiting for big business to figure the social media phenomenon out first.

It may be a bigger mistake for them to jump on the social media bandwagon without first developing a social media strategy that they can actually afford to implement. I just wrote a post on this 5 Ways to Tell if Your Small Business is a Social Media Lemming.


Dana February 10, 2011 at 2:34 am

I think this situation is happened because people tend to be social when access the social media — not to buy something. Therefore, social media should be used as brand image instead to sell.
Dana´s last [type] ..Sony Ericsson W150i Yendo Cell Phone


Brad Harmon February 11, 2011 at 1:18 am

Hey, Dana. One thing’s for sure, the sales methods many are trying are not successful because it’s like someone breaking into a party and screaming at them on a loud speaker. I agree with you that social media is a great tool to use in branding strategies.


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