3 Reasons Why SMBs Have Not Flipped For Web 2.0





Anyone reading this likely knows what blogging is about.  And how you can’t go a day without hearing about Facebook or the hottest YouTube video, like Marie Osmond fainting on Dancing With The Washed-Up Stars. OK I added the washed-up part but don’t tell me you hadn’t already thought that.

So it seems like the whole world is caught up in the Web 2.0 phenomena.  But apparently there is a group of folks not all that impressed with what’s going on.

A recent study by Bredin Business Information found that SMBs (small and mid-sized businesses) have not jumped on the Web 2.0 bandwagon just yet.  The BBI study found only 14% of the 300 people surveyed believe blogs are and will be important, while wikis, social networks and webcasts faired slightly better.  Compare this to the 49% who think e-newsletters will remain important for the next five years, and you see how little love SMBs have for “the new stuff.”  This comes as no real surprise.

Although many of us small biz types do blog and wiki and twitter, the vast majority of non-techie, traditional entrepreneur types aren’t drinking the kool-aid just yet.  Given the typical “fear of change” and “lack of time” arguments, here are a few reasons why.

Silly Names

Blogs … Wikis … Podcast … Twitter ….  Is it any surprise that many mainstream small business people can’t get with this stuff?  I mean when I first heard the word blog I thought the guy I was talking to had some sort of speech impediment. And when compared to terms like email, e-newsletter and voicemail they do sound pretty whacked out. But what did you expect when most of this stuff was named by people not old enough to drink (legally).  But now, truth be told, I really do like the creativity being used.  It’s a lot catchier than regular words with an “e” or “i” stuck in front.

Silly Kid Stuff

And with the above names, is there any surprise that mainstreamers still believe this stuff isn’t for them, but for the prepubescent set?  After all, kids were the ones who made this stuff popular.  They showed us how to use the Web to communicate in a lot of new ways, with a lot of new tools.

But does that really have to mean people old enough to know who Bill Buckner and Mookie Wilson are can’t find great uses for this stuff?  If the old folks at Microsoft can shell out $240 million to those Facebook kids, it probably is safe to say Web 2.0 is definitely coming of age and is no passing fancy.

Silly Role Models

The first two reasons are just excuses.  This one is really important, because when it comes to technology, many in the SMB world take their cues from the big companies that provide their tools.  So they look to see if the big guys are using social media, social networks, blogging and other things. And they look for how they are using it.  So it really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise why SMBs are perched comfortably atop the fence.

Until recently many big time tech companies really didn’t get Web 2.0.  Some have been slow to use it themselves while others misused these tools to deliver traditional marketing messages.  Why use tools meant for collaborating and community building to deliver the same old tired one-way messaging?  Web 2.0 is about conversations, exchanges and creating an atmosphere where people can freely express their opinion.  Not to deliver marketing schlock.

So the big guys have really got to get their acts together and use these tools to foster a dialogue, not a monologue where they speak and we listen. Those days are gone.

So I challenge them to be good Web 2.0 role models and lead by example.  Join other heavyweights like Intuit, Webex, HP, Microsoft and a few others in using Web 2.0 tools to create great online communities for their customers.  And last but not least, let the SMB mainstreamers know that the tools with the silly names are here to stay, and can help them compete, thrive and survive.

19 Comments ▼

Brent Leary


Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.

19 Reactions

  1. Great article Brent. I am always surprised when a business still does not have a website or any web presence. The fact is, a lot of people are still clueless as to how the web can benefit their business. Whether small or big, online content can really help promote and grow your business. When I talk about web terms, my husband always looks at me weird. He makes fun of the terms and thinks I make stuff up. I’m sure he’s not the only one out there clueless!

  2. You hit it on the head, Brent. The big guys are slow to adopt to this transformation of customer expectations – that’s what the social media engenders – and it hurts them. They would rather hang on to the old relationships and cultures that went with their prior success – because they retained control of the relationship between them and the customer. What the social media tools and networks provide is control by the customer over the relationship between the company and the customer- and that’s disturbing to companies. The companies that are giving it up to the customer are highly successful from larger companies – e.g. the Proctor & Gambles to the smaller – e.g. Threadless or Karmaloops.

    Which brings me to another point. Small businesses are slow to adopt but the reality is much of the web 2.0 success is being driven by small businesses who 5 years ago we heard were more “nimble” than the larger businesses. These are small businesses driven by Gen X and Y and even on occasion a younger bunch. But they still fit the profile of small businesses. For example, the aforementioned Karmaloops uses sharing of user generated content to build a community that they engage for purchases and for sellling – they have a program for registered members of their user community that is for helping them sell Karmaloops related clothing lines. One percent of the community (8000 people) drives 15% of all Karmaloops sales – a very clear ROI for the Web 2.0 types of business models out there and the Web 2.0 tools being used on behalf of these business models.

    So while I think the survey certainly is valid, we shouldn’t forget that an actually disproportionate amount of successful Web 2.0-driven businesses comes from the SMB world.

  3. Interesting thoughts. The good news in all this is that there is a huge opportunity for SMBs to leverage web 2.0 and “modern marketing” techniqes to build their businesses and outsmart the big companies (the ‘silly role models’ as you say).

  4. Joel Libava

    Funny stuff,Brent!
    Not only did I not know what a blog was 3 years ago, I told myself i would never have one…
    In the not too distant future, Amanda’s comment will look like this:

    “I am always surprised when a business still does not have a BLOG.”
    Business changes so fast nowadays…

    Joel Libava
    The Franchise King Blog
    Cleveland

  5. I guess SMBs you talk about stand for Silly Mindless Buisnesses, right?

  6. I learned about blogging from my team project and here I am blogging!

  7. There is one more important reason (there are 7 more in the link below…):
    SMBs are the most practical creatures you can find in the business world. Unlike consumer, they will not waste work time on unproven tools (I am still waiting to see the first SMB owner super poking his customers on facebook…). Unlike large enterprise they don’t employ IT people that earn money by introducing new technology all the time. As a result, they will always wait for the ultimate proof, and buy only after value was demonstrated.

    http://gadishamia.wordpress.com/2007/10/20/seven-reasons-why-saas-is-not-main-street-in-smb/

  8. Until businesses are shown practical, real ways that these tools can be beneficial and useful to them and increase their profitability, the adaptation process will continue to be slow. As stated above, not only do SMBs not want to consume their time using unproven tools, but I think they are also deterred by the time it might take to learn about them, figure out which will help them the most, and understand how to apply them.

  9. Brent Leary

    There’s a lot of great points being raised here. But Alx I wouldn’t say small and midsize businesses who haven’t embraced web 2.0 are silly. Chances are many of them are not in the Gen Y category and haven’t “grown up” using many of these tools to communicate on the personal side of things. So they may view all of this as unnecessary. Or as Gadi and Joy point out, until they see where it’s worth there while, they probably will continue the “wait and see” approach. That’s why it’s important for the folks they trust (technology vendors and the vendor partner channel) to show them how web 2.0 may be able to help them reach more people, and have more people find them when they are in need of their expertise.

    I recently spoke with the editorial director of Bredin Business Information about the study. The whole interview will air this weekend but for those of you interested I posted the first part of that conversation on my blog. You can use the link below to check it out:

    http://crm2.typepad.com/brents_blog/2007/10/why-small-busin.html

    Thanks for the great discussion!

  10. It frustrates me to no end that I talk and talk on my blog about how great Web and Marketing 2.0 are, yet people are so slow to adapt! Don’t they get how great it is???

    It’s a slow evolution but it’s bound to happen.

  11. Hand up here Amamda. I was your husband a year ago. Happy to say that I have come a long way in a very short time. Brent , you certainly did hit it on the nose. The conversations, exchanges, and atmophere is the way to go to get that business going.

  12. Did BBI happen to mention the ages of the 300 people they surveyed? I sure if they surveyed a group of 23 year old business owners, it would be a good bit different than a group of 45 year old business owners.

  13. I was at a Social Media conference a few weeks ago and all the “big name” companies were there. Yes, they’re slowly getting on the bandwagon, but they’re getting on.

  14. The problem with Web 2.0 is it doesn’t lead the companies through the initial setup very well. It leaves them almost stuck in limbo. There is a need for providers to go the step further and offer a more customiseable and managed solution.

    officetalk Relay goes the extra mile and finally makes the ‘Virtual Office’ a real possibility for all sized companies using the powers of SharePoint Services.

    There website is http://www.office-talk.com
    Have a read also of my blog about ‘Is this the end of the LAN?’ http://isthelocalnetworkdying.blogspot.com/

  15. SMB’s have to realize Web 2.0 is not about pushing your marketing…it is a way to get to know your market and connect. Which will then improve your marketing.

  16. Anita Campbell

    Hi Chris, profound observation you made about Web 2.0. Not many people describe it the way you do … as a way of first getting to know your market and connecting.

    I know myself that I am regularly surprised by what I learn from visitors to this site. I get surprised by what interests other entrepreneurs, i.e., what you aspire to, what concerns you, how you cope with everyday challenges …. And it’s true that conversational sites today are a great way to learn from those who visit the site.

    Anita

  17. Nice Article Brent! I would agree that the “Social Conversation” has been misused and abused by bigger companies more interested in promoting their brand then engaging in a meaningful dialogue with their target audience. However, it is clear that companies are quickly learning the appropriate “rules of engagement” for leveraging the potential of the Social Conversation.

  18. In response to a few of the above comments:

    I believe the slow acceptance by the SMB community to be very predictable. Not because the benefits of Web 2.0 are not proven and not because SMB owners are too old. But rather that a good number of SMB owners spend the majority of their day involved in the “hands on” operation of their business. In general they do not have the personal time, the technical background, the marketing background, or even the staff to devote to web marketing efforts whose benefits are not immediately visible.

    However I have seen SMB’s, perhaps not by chance in the technology field, run by the over 50 crowd successfully delegate their blogging and social media projects to a small staff of younger employees who by virtue of their youth are more well versed in such things.

    So there is hope!

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