SMB Owners Still Not Sure About Social Media

While your eyes were on Thanksgiving, eMarketer reported on a RatePoint survey from August 2010 that shared two pretty disheartening statistics about small business owners and their views on social media. Curious what they were? According to RatePoint:

  • 47 percent of SMB owners either aren’t sure or don’t think their customers spend time on social media sites.
  • 24 percent of SMB owners don’t think their customers do research online before finding them.


If you’re a small business owner and you don’t think your customers are spending time on social media, I’d really encourage you to get out of your storefront and have a look around–because there’s an entire world passing you by. Earlier this year, Nielsen reported that the world now spends more than 100 billion minutes on social networks and blog sites, equating to 22 percent of all time online, or one in every four and a half minutes.

Where are those users hanging out? Well, Facebook crossed the 500 million member mark back in July, and Twitter has more than 100 million registered users, with 30,000 new people signing up every day. People are using these networks, and your customers are guaranteed to be among them. If you’re not there, it means you’re ignoring customers (and potential customers).

Still not convinced?

Local search company 15miles partnered with comScore to measure consumers’ search behaviors and how they were interacting online in the Local Search Usage Study. What they found was that that the ROBO effect (Research Online, Buy Offline) was very much still in place. According to their data, consumers in all age ranges prefer to go online first when looking for local business information.

More than that, establishing a presence in social media helps to establish credibility for a small business. Sixty-nine percent of consumers say they’re more likely to interact with and use a local business if they can find it on a social networking site. As an SMB, being present on these sites is a huge differentiation and trust source. People like doing business with companies on social media because they know that if they encounter a problem, there will be someone there to help them. It means the company is easily accessible. More than just being on social media, consumers want an SMB to establish a real presence there.

For example:

  • 81 percent say it’s important for businesses to respond to a post.
  • 78 percent want to see promotions.
  • 74 percent want regular posts.
  • 66 percent want to see pictures.

It’s surprising to me that at the end of 2010, nearly half of SMBs still aren’t sure their customers are using social sites to interact with brands and get trusted information. A few months ago, Danny Sullivan wrote about the “anyone know?” search, where consumers are routinely using sites like Twitter to get product-based recommendations. For example, you’ve probably seen tweets like, “Anyone know where to get a good slice of pizza?” or “Anyone know a good mechanic?” These are big opportunities for small business owners to convert new leads and build awareness.

Whether or not you think your customers are using social media, they are. The ability SMB owners have to reach out to consumers where they’re naturally hanging out is substantial, and it’s something you have to pay attention to. The Web is only going to get more social, not less.


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

15 Reactions
  1. To SMBs that don’t yet believe that social media is something they should do:

    -Update your local listings (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) with a web-exclusive coupon where they have to print something or mention the online listing. Record results.

    -Send an email to your best customers asking them to rate your business on Yelp, Google, Amazon, etc. Keep track of how many new reviews you get.

    -Do a search on Twitter for people within 50 miles mentioning your brand or mentioning a prominent keyword.

    Hopefully this little experiment will help you realize the opportunity that Lisa is talking about here.

  2. I’m not surprised many small business owners still aren’t sure about social media usage by their customers.

    My small business is an advanced user of social media, our customers are advanced users of social media, and a big part of what we do is studying how consumers and businesses use social media.

    Yet I’m not sure how strong a role our social media efforts play in the purchase decision cycle of our clients.

    Social media usage numbers are impressive and continuing to grow. But just because a lot people are using social media doesn’t mean it’s part of the purchase decision cycle for all products.

    In our research we are seeing a growing backlash against the use of social media by small businesses. The reason is a lot of small businesses are failing to see a return on their social media investment.

    Yes, execution is an issue. But for many social media simply wasn’t a ROI effective marketing channel (at least not yet).

    I think small businesses should treat social media like any other marketing mix tool. Test, measure, evaluate and use when the ROI justifies it.

  3. As far as social media participation goes this is surprising indeed. I think that it should be a common goal for SMBs to measure traffic, engagement, and sentiment on social channels and tie that all back to their bottom line marketing efforts. Since the majority of this can be done for free, with regards to time and effort, I would like to think that everyone with a product or service to sell would be engaging in the Social Media world. This is even more important for SMBs as they can now level the playing field with the competition.

  4. Although we’re quite happy when our social media efforts generate immediate sales, it is not our prime focus.

    Taking a long range view, we use most of channels for customer engagement and relationship building. Keeping customers involved with our brand creates sales when they have a need for our custom embroidered or digitally printed logo products.

    Of course, that doesn’t preclude us from occasionally running special values for our followers but, for the most part, we try to keep the social in social media.

    If you’re not holding a conversation with your customers and potential customers, you’re doing it wrong.

  5. Lisa, I saw the RatePoint study and was not surprised, but disheartened like you. In the past weeks, on this hyperlocal project I’ve mentioned before, I’m amazed at the conversations with biz owners. Many get it, many do not. Social, that is.

    As I read Steve’s comment, I’m thinking, pondering how to take social back into the physical realm. Just like email marketing (which is hugely powerful when done right) builds a relationship, social media marketing should do that, right? But, despite all the advice — we’re using it to sell. What do we really mean when we say, “Build relationships.”?

    I would argue that we say that — it is a pat, easy answer. Build relationships. Define that for your company and yourself. Build relationships to me, for my small co, means that I send out more than a custom salutation (mail merge) with your name in it. It means I go through my database, one by one, and send an email occasionally to just you. Now, if I have millions in my dbase that isn’t possible, but if i have hundreds, it is. If I have thousands, it is still possible to do with a small team of savvy marketing people.

    The same with social. Do you, do I, do we, respond one on one to people on Twitter, on Facebook, on LinkedIn? Sure. Could we do that with a handful of prospects each week and make a difference in our own businesses? Absolutely.

    Early 2011 New Years Resolution: Connect with people one on one and really build a relationship. Use social media time wisely.

  6. Many of these small business owners will realize that a big portion of their business will be missing if they don’t have an online presence, especially socially. Once someone finds out you have a website, usually they’ll look to see if you’re on Facebook and Twitter. They shouldn’t see it as additional maintenance, rather, an additional customer service method.

  7. This is frightening. If these SMB’s don’t get on board, they’ll soon be out of business. Either they don’t spend time on SOME themselves so they assume their customers/prospects don’t, or they don’t have a clue how to implement a SOME strategy, so they just do nothing.

    So the question is, how do SOME trainers find SMB owners who don’t use or believe in SOME? If those SMB owners can be reached and educated, this trend could reverse.

    Sharon Hiebing
    Follow Your Dream Compass

  8. So, >70% of SMB are still in the “dark” and haven’t seen the “light” yet?! 😉 That is a great challenge for us! 🙂

  9. Lisa,

    Sometimes, I wonder about the social media effect, myself. For those of us that ARE online 10 hours a day or more, it’s easy to think that “everybody” is online a lot, too.

    It’s also easy to assume that others (besides ourselves) are using Twitter for research, or are using their favorite search engines to gather information before making a purchase, etc.

    The data you shared suggests that we don’t have to convince ourselves too much.

    Thank goodness.

    The Franchise King

  10. I agree with Steve, maybe my online marketing strategy stinks but majority of my revenue comes from vending at local events rather than online. So, yes I have twitter, facebook and a website but they are all online pamphlets so to speak.
    I would rather focus my energies on where my main source of revenue is generated from than spend hours on twitter with little return.

  11. I work for a small web development firm where we are constantly attempting to get our clients to use social media. The main problems are that they believe social media is a waste of time, or like Steve mentioned, they are not informed enough, or experienced on what social media can do for you.

    When we take over a website that did not have any seo techniques implemented, or are not using any kind of social media, we try to gather their statistics the best we can, and then we implement our seo techniques, and then start pushing social media. When we do, their business most generally grows.

    One of the sites we recently rebuilt was in bad shape, and now they are getting orders almost daily, and some weeks it is daily. I have seen the effects of social media, so I know how useful it is, but trying to explain that to a client who barely knows how to use a computer, let alone a social network, which is a lot of our clients is hard to say the least.

  12. Very interesting article. I am a small business owner myself, and I have sort been doing my own testing with social media for the past few months; I try to update my FB business page on a daily basis, I maintain a twitter acct, now I started a YouTube channel, I keep my Google local ad listing up to date with everything they ask for (i.e. photos, videos, logo, description, offers etc etc). Unfortunately the returns has been zero so far.

    I have gotten more business from Craigslist then any of these other methods combined. I am not saying they don’t work, because in my opinion there are many ‘factors’ that contribute to the success of all or any of these; for example, you have to have a good landing page (clean design, easy navigation menu, easy to read, catchy etc), your site has to load fast, some seo work, a nice portfolio etc etc.

    Twitter for example is really hard to weight; if everyone has 2,000 followers, how is your “tweet” going to get viewed??? most of my targeted market has more followers/following than that… so any post that I make on twitter (“effort”), is completely missed by 99.9% of them… it’ sort of impossible to keep up. I know, because I tried it myself. I follow just 300+ people and everytime I look at my twitter, it’s one tweet after the other making impossible to really follow any one tweet in any organized way…

    Well, I’m still going to keep at it, because I don’t have the capital to invest in big time marketing as a small business owner, so any new information that I find, I will try to come back here and post it!!! I hope some of this makes sense and sorry for making it this long…! Kind regards