Social Media Sites Are a Juggernaut and Too Big to Ignore

Social networking sites a juggernaut we cannot ignoreSocial networking sites are today’s Internet juggernaut — too big a force to ignore.

Millions of people are gravitating to social networking sites such as MySpace, Blogger and Facebook, at a time when other types of media are struggling for big numbers.

According to the Wall Street Journal (citing data), had 142 million visitors during September 2007, while Windows Live Spaces had 119 million, MySpace had 107 million, and Facebook had 73 million.

With those kinds of numbers, marketers are sure to follow.  However, many marketers will tell you –some publicly and others privately — that the jury is still out on whether marketing on social networking sites will pay off.

Some marketers are participating in social media in order to build brand awareness.  Often these are large-company brands.  From their perspective, having the brand be seen and recognizable by certain audiences at those social networking sites is what’s most important.

As small business owners, we’d be out of business if we used mega-corporation marketing campaigns as our model. Branding campaigns typically are a luxury we cannot afford.

Most of us in small businesses invest only in marketing that is likely to yield quantifiable returns in the form of sales.  Return on investment (ROI) is top of mind for us.

So instead of looking at the mega-corporation branding efforts on social networking sites, I looked around for other examples. One model I found is that of online retailers and eCommerce sellers. They tend to expect a direct connection between marketing and dollars in the cash register.

The interesting thing is, they too are participating in social media.  However, in their case, the return on investment to date is unclear — and they know it. Yet they still are participating anyway, as a recent Internet Retailer article notes:

At this point, most are doing so without knowing exactly what they’ll get out of it or how it might eventually track to sales. And that is a departure for some in an Internet environment where retailers have become used to calculating their precise return on any online marketing investment.

“We’re in a nebulous phase of Internet marketing right now,” says Dustin Robertson,’s vice president of marketing. “We’re going from all of those things you did to drive traffic in 2002 — paid search, affiliates, e-mail. They were measurable. You could hone and refine them. But it’s been honed and refined to death. If we want to leapfrog and get another revolution going, we have to keep moving with the Internet.”

So if the ROI is unclear for eCommerce sellers to participate in social media sites, then why are they doing it?


Partly because it’s inexpensive, so the risk is not that great.

And partly it is because of a sense that with things changing, they have to experiment and keep trying to figure out how to best market in today’s changing environment.  Staying the same is not an option.  It’s a brave new world out there on the Internet today.

For those of us who are small business owners, we should be taking a page out of the eCommerce sellers’ book.  We too should be doing low-cost experimentation with social networking — even if the return is not yet clear.

Certainly one social networking technique — setting up a blog — has shown good ROI for quite a few small businesses.  You can tell that from the testimonials you find at every turn about blogs being responsible for new business.

Beyond blogging, the results are not nearly as clear.  Sites like MySpace and Facebook may not drive sales for many businesses.  If you have a Web 2.0 startup or are a musician or have a product that appeals to the youth market, then such sites can be a gold mine.  For the rest of us, social media sites could be just an ugly old strip mine.

The point is, we don’t yet know.

But I do know this: I have seen the pace of change in the online world accelerate over the past 12 months, and the social networking trend continue to grow.  That leads me to believe that we small businesses should be experimenting — in low-cost, low-risk ways  — with social networking sites.

To whatever extent we can spare, say, 15% of a staffer’s time (preferably someone who loves being online and already participates in social networking), or perhaps devote some time of our own in the evenings, or even set aside a small budget for an outside marketing firm, we should be out in the trenches trying to figure out our place in this new online world.  Don’t bet the farm on it, but don’t ignore it either.


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

14 Reactions
  1. Hi Anita,

    I think there are two distinct types of marketing to be done on social media sites. The first one, paying for ad spots on a social networking site, is probably not a good idea for a small business. As you cited, the returns are simply unknown and it is not likely to be affordable for a small business owner.

    The second type, marketing on social media sites by participation, is much more likely to be useful to us little guys. It may take a little time and effort – but its FREE. If a social networking site exists that attracts your target audience, it can be a good place to pick up some free interest.

  2. Anita is right. ROI is controlling. The social networking sites have evolved into the RODEO DRIVE of the internet. Hard bodies coupled with celebrity status is no sutstitute for brain power. Show me how these url’s pay for themselves and then maybe I might get interested.

    T&A works on the bigscreen, but never should be confussed with P&L.

    Get with the program,

  3. Neal that’s an awfully narrow-minded view of social media, don’t you think?

    Rodeo Drive? Hard Bodies? T&A?

    LinkedIn is an excellent example of a social media site that has none of those. Sure it isn’t as popular as MySpace, but it’s still got several hundred million people who could potentially view your product or services.

    What about twitter? If you’re in the business of blogging, chances are you could score some traffic there without spending a dime.

    The fact is, there are hundreds of these sites that have all different types of audiences. There just might be a possibility that one of them attracts your target.

    Plus, as I mentioned earlier, participation in these sites is a form of marketing in itself. And, considering it costs nothing, has a pretty good ROI.

  4. Mason, thanks for your point of view. In my world, narrow-minded is akin to a stiff jab, it keeps the competition at bay. I have no desire to be politically correct, rather, I hit to win.

  5. Neal. Neal. Finally a guy that has my philosophy!!!
    Anita suggested that you and I have a chat, and now I see why.
    Joel Libava
    The Franchise King Blog

  6. Mason, perhaps I was a bit abrupt. Not to many have walked in my sandles and been forced to maintain a cement chin. You raise several very interesting points. I would be very interested in your opinion with respect to return on marketing based on your earlier P.O.V. In addition, at which point do marketing dollars begin to crowd out competing uses?…ie deminishing returns.


  7. Joel, thanks for the compliment..I think. I’m a guy that has always backed my position with my own cash. However, that is not an excuse to be less than a gentleman, which is what I was in my earlier response to Mason.

    I very much look forward to hearing from you.


  8. Hi Anita,

    An interesting article. I don’t usually read that much articles, and moreover if its of the same topic. This has been the 2nd article in three days that I have read, quoting the influence of social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook etc. These sites surely have captured huge numbers in the past 12 months. And the opportunity for e-Commerce is huge especially if one can hit a chord with the visitors. Like Mason mentioned, it is good for FREE interest. The concept of applications in Facebook, for example gives an insight into the developers creativity and thoughts.

    I was thinking on the lines of such networks being used to organize events and parties from A – Z…meaning from invites to booking to payments. It cant be a concept too far from reality, since Facebook already gives one the opportunity to create and event and send invites. So how far is it really…to when we actually create an event through such a networking site and payments are processed through that. No queuing in cinemas, if its a movie event. Forget about online or telephone booking, do it through “applications” once all invitees confirm their attendance! Not to forget, internet browsing through mobile phones is becoming very popular too…so one is not actually missing out an invite when sent.

    What we need is a model that can be tracked and controlled. The growth of such sites have been exponential. And it almost seems like they are the new age celebs of the internet. However we have had Orkut and Hi5 around for quite a while. Has there been any major ROI from these? I especially like the idea of cooking interests on start-ups and maybe a new composition of music, program, documentary etc.

  9. In terms of brand awareness, I think these social networking Web sites are pretty useful. This reminds me of Second Life. This 3-D virtual world also has a number of brands trying to infiltrate it. Evian, for example, is now accessible in Second Life via vending machines. Members or rather Residents of the virtual world can get their Evian bottles and the graphics of their avatars reportedly appear smoother.

  10. Internet marketing is the synthesis of traditional marketing, web 2.0 SEO Technology. It’s one of the most powerful thing of social networks.

  11. You have some great articles here thanks for sharing !

  12. I have been like most of you motivated people been in search of the golden key. Not that one thing is the answer, diversification has always been the best choice. If you get back to the basics of why these social networks have grown in popularity at such an accelerated rate and analyze that with accuracy. You would have something to work with.

    I have spent sometime actually asking the question (what attracts you to this site?) to members. I have a bunch of responses but the most common is I don’t know why I’m here, it’s something to do.

    There are a few main reasons for the lac of drive and caring in society as a whole, especially in the US that I won’t get into here. But I have found that pinpointing an interest besides the feeling of belonging to something is a challenge.

    Of course I don’t have the funds of Big Business behind me to do extensive research. that is why I rely on what all you great people have to share and I truly appreciate that.

    Thank You
    Brad West

  13. Internet marketing businesses have been very successful by using networking sites for a long time. It’s a great way to get the word out for our products and services.