47 Percent of SMBs Still Not Using Social Media. Oy.

Hiscox, a small business insurance company, recently published a survey of 304 small business leaders to find out more about their social media use. Somewhat shockingly (at least to me), only 12 percent of respondents described social media promotion as a “must” for their businesses, with 47 percent of SMBs admitting that they still don’t use social media at all for business purposes. However, they are still hooked on word of mouth marketing, with 50 percent of SMBs saying they couldn’t live without it.

Hmm, I guess social media, that place where people sign on to talk about your business, doesn’t count as “word of mouth marketing.”

For those who do use social media, 19 percent say Facebook is their platform of choice, 15 percent prefer LinkedIn and just 4 percent are hooked on Twitter.

Buy why aren’t more business owners hopping on the social media bandwagon? When asked how they felt about social media, 24 percent said they simply didn’t have time to participate, while another 14 percent admitted they don’t know enough about it to get started.

That sound you just heard? That was my heart breaking.

While the education component acknowledges a natural learning curve, it is one that small business owners will need to overcome and tackle if they want to compete in the digital age. With more than 100 million users on LinkedIn, 500+ million users on Facebook and 200+ million users on Twitter, your audience is waiting for you to get involved. Your customers are on social media, which means you need to be, as well. And though the tools are new and can be intimidating until you find your legs, the core of social media isn’t much more than just talking to people. More specifically, social media is about talking to your customers. You need to make time to do that

And that really is the most important component – making time.

While speaking at the Hudson Valley 140 conference yesterday, I was asked how it is I have time to tweet and engage in social media, while still finding time to run a business. The answer is both easy and incredibly difficult:

I plan for it and I schedule it in my day.

I asked other small business owners (via Twitter) how they’re able to make it work, and their answers weren’t too different from my own:

  • They schedule it in.
  • They multitask, talking to people on social media while they watch television or perform other tasks.
  • They use tools like Seesmic and Hootsuite to make their social interactions more productive.
  • Bottom line: Social media is now part of everything they do.

Whether you realize it or not, social media is important to your small business. It’s giving you the opportunity to maximize the same word of mouth marketing that SMBs have relied on for years and that 50 percent of respondents said they couldn’t live without. It gives you the opportunity to grow bigger wings by making your brand more accessible, more visible and more authoritative simply by showing up and engaging. For SMBs who are often on a tight budget, the cost-effective tools associated with social media often provide an opportunity they can’t get elsewhere.

But that does take a time investment.

What do you think? Are you surprised that just 12 percent of SMB owners view social media as vital to their business? What social media tools do you most often rely on to do your SMB marketing? Conversely, what’s stopped you from getting involved in social media and what would make you change your mind?


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.

34 Reactions
  1. That is a disappointing statistic but I think it also shows that there is a tremendous opportunity for small businesses to take advantage of social media.

    I work with small businesses in a fairly rural community and most of the time the folks I work with aren’t using any form of social media because they aren’t aware of the benefits associated with building a brand online. It could just be a case of lack of understanding when it comes to your average small business owner, but eventually I think more and more people will start to adopt social media strategies.

  2. Time, time – Social Media is a new channel and you need time to understand it and use it.

    But, we realize that the age of the owner of the small business is a factor of using the Social Media or not.

    We use the same vocabulary, i.e. talking,conversation – but the big difference is the personal charm of the owner, of people and the spontaneity that cannot be replaced by any social media.

  3. Lisa,

    Why is it surprising that 47 percent don’t believe in or use Social Media. Is it because Social Media is just one specific tool in a marketeers tool box?

    Or is it because it is not the wonder drug for driving sales, customer service or any other business aspect. Sure, for some businesses it is vital, but so is the brochure my sales person leaves behind.

    Your premise (akin that if you weren’t on MySpace you missed the boat, and we all know where that boat went) is you can’t do business unless you use Social Media.

    I think your wrong. I think all the pundits are wrong. I think the house of cards will fall again. Do I feel you can’t do business without an e-mail account or a web page, yes I do.

    It is the same twenty years ago when the fax machine came out. It took years for the machines to come down in price and make in-roads into the business parlance; at the cost of the Telex machine (I’m sure most of the readers don’t remember those).

    The main problem with your premise is that most small businesses don’t sell to the world, they sell locally. Social Media doesn’t work well within geographical boundaries.

    I have followers to my Twitter account from all corners of the globe, and since it’s free, who cares, but if I were paying for those people I’d be really upset.

    Let’s not forget that 140 characters does not make a marketing campaign, sure a slogan that can definitely catch on, but where do most Tweets point you too? A website with content, oh that was the brochure I mentioned previously, but it’s electronic now, that I used to put in the mail or fax, that was previously Telexed (at least some info) to my customer or vendor.

    So, should you use Social Media, the answer is yes, no and maybe, but eventually yes, how much though requires testing of the waters.

    But will Social Media ever be the end-all be-all of marketing, absolutely not!

    Wayne Spivak
    SBA * Consulting LTD

  4. The only problem I have with statical tests like this, is variable data. Small businesses… in what sectors? What was the average size of the companies employee’s? Anyone who has been to college should instantly ignore any test like this, without additional confirmation. To me, the entire news article, I won’t read past the 1st sentence, due to the inaccuracy of the test, lack of variables.

    Social testing strifes so far from A/B testing in the scientific community, it’s ridiculous. Personally, anyone who does these tests, should spend the extra time to show the data, that is, if the test was done at all. Without data and more graphs, not only I, but everyone should assume this data is irrelevant. Without credibility for the data, it is more then likely this data is falsified, if not entirely composed.

  5. Lisa,

    I see a word appearing…wait a minute…it’s coming into focus.



    Who can help all of these small businesses get it togetha?

    Could be a good business.

    The Franchise King®

  6. I agree with Dave. I also am in a more rural area and I do not think the cultural aspects of social media have fully caught on in these areas. However, I think it is moving that direction and those small businesses that adopt good social media habits now will have a tactical advantage in the future.

  7. @Wayne – I don’t think Lisa is equating social media to a silver bullet and I believe social media does work in a geographically limited area. It just takes a little different tuning.

    As to the concern about how to squeeze in social media, how about your smart phone? Blackberry built their company on allowing people to fit email into any little window of time during their day, thus increasing efficiency. With a Twitter app on your smartphone you can do the same thing. Consistency is the key.

  8. I guess the comment that could be made is that 53% do use social media. In many ways it’s still early days, so the fact that more than half have done something could be considered a good thing.

  9. Wayne: There’s a lot to comment on there. I’ll do my best.

    Respectfully, you’re not correct about social media not working well on a local level. Social media KILLS on the local level. Things like Advanced Twitter searches which allow you to eavsedrop on conversations happening 25 miles away from your storefront or Facebook’s targeting features which allow you to send a message to particular interest group in your neighborhood are what social media marketing is based on. If you think word of mouth marketing is effective, than social media allows you to perform word of mouth marketing on steroids.

    If you’re building followers from “around the globe”, you’re building useless followers. You should be focusing on connecting with people in your area. The fact that you aren’t is not the fault of social media, it’s with how you choose to use it. I’d encourage you to switch whatever strategy you’re using.

    I’d also encourage you to create a Web site, if you don’t have one, one that is NOT simply an electronic brochure. Your Web site. There have been numerous studies (the ones from 15Miles come to mind) that have found that more and more users are researching online before buying offline. If you’re not there when someone is doing a search for you, you do not exist.

    I’m not claiming that social media is the end-all/be-all or that your entire marketing campaign should fit inside 140 characters. I’m saying that if customers are important to your business, then social media, the act of REACHING them, should also be important to your business.

    Because if it’s not important to yours, it will certainly be important to your competitors.

  10. Oy is right. Great response Lisa, social media is SO important on the local level. Heck, I check Twitter for my weather report now! There are so many simply services that can get a small biz online quickly – this one is just $5 a month and you can email your updates (vs. having to learn how to use the social media sites well.) http://www.bizydeal.com/?did=8087

  11. @ Wayne,

    “The main problem with your premise is that most small businesses don’t sell to the world, they sell locally. Social Media doesn’t work well within geographical boundaries.” – one word…baloney.

    Social Media works the best within geographical regions. As an SEO, I personally have many local contacts who follow me on Twitter and I follow them back. You’d be surprised how many opportunities arise from keeping your ear to the “local” ground.

    @ Lisa: “The fact that you aren’t is not the fault of social media, it’s with how you choose to use it.” – you nailed it.

    And “I’m saying that if customers are important to your business, then social media, the act of REACHING them, should also be important to your business.Because if it’s not important to yours, it will certainly be important to your competitors.” – coffin’s bolted firmly shut – couldn’t agree more.

    One of the best “Why-SME’s-MUST-Make-Time-For-Social-Media” articles I’ve read, plus the follow up responses. Thanks Lisa.

  12. Hi Lisa, thanks for responding.


  13. Joel,

    That is my view. It is a great opportunity for me as a social network strategist and educator at a social media agency! 🙂 It is not rocket science, but it takes time to learn the trade. I have been blogging since 2002 and I have plenty of experience that I can share to interested parties!

  14. We’ve been studying social media use by small businesses for years and I’m not at all surprised that only 12% say it’s a must for their business.

    The reality is many small businesses simply do not see a positive ROI from their investment in social media.

    Poor social media execution is a problem for some, but our research shows more often the problems are customers aren’t interested in having a social media relationship with the small business and/or the customers of the small business aren’t active social media users.

    Social media is a great marketing tool for many businesses. But the hype around social media is leading many to waste time and resources. Our advice is to set up clear social media program objectives and metrics and test the program prior to making a major investment in time or money.

  15. Amelia @ International Business

    Oh yea, that’s a big oy. But I wouldn’t be surprised either. I’ve come across small business owners who claim “they’re not technology savvy,” or their traditional methods are still working. You know, why fix it when it ain’t broken? I think for these businesses to start embracing social media, they have be corrected of their misconceptions.

  16. One word, outsourcing. Small business owners hire people to make great websites for them, why shouldn’t they hire someone who knows how to set up and administer a great social media campaign for them?

    Sure you might not need a presence on every social media platform that pops up, but if you don’t have a presence on the major platforms you run the risk of losing business to your competitors that do! Getting you set up on the major platforms is a one time cost that can generate revenues for years to come.

    Hiring someone to manage your campaigns if your not sure how to do it effectively also makes sense. There are plenty of tracking statistics available for the business owner to monitor to ensure the ROI is giving a proper return. Which is more than you can say for ads you run in the local paper, which are probably going to cost you about the same.

    Do you have to participate in social media to succeed? Probably not. If executed properly can good social media campaigns add to your bottom line? Most certainly.

    If you are not sure how to participate or don’t have time to do it effectively, hire someone who does. It is good for you and good for the economy!

  17. It is pretty ironic that 50% of SMB say they can’t live without word of mouth marketing, yet they don’t use social media. There definitely is some type of disconnect with their logic. And for the 14% that don’t know enough to get started, I think that’s just a sad excuse. I think if you ask any small business owner if they really knew enough about running a SMB before getting started, they would say No. And in fact I’m sure that they found out they actually knew less than they thought. But that didn’t keep them from starting a SMB. You just have to do it, if you fail you fail, but you learn from your failures and keep going.

  18. Lisa: Thanks for posting this. I recently wrote a blog about how businesses who aren’t using social media is akin to sticking to a typewriter. Even though people may think social media is on the way out, I believe it will continue to evolve, and those who don’t get social in their businesses will find it difficult to catch up. Great insight and facts!

  19. I love that “oy” is in the headline.

  20. @Joe Brooks….”Outsourcing”…and @Joel Libava “opportunity”. To both of you I reply EXACTLY. I can attest this.

  21. Social media should be apart of any business strategy. Many potential contacts are within reach by properly social networking. 800 million users on Facebook is enough to take time out and learn how to connect to the people with engaging content regarding your business and how your business translate to value for a customer. When I say value, it is not only monetary value but how a customer life is made easier.

    There are many companies that will be able to help so search and find them it is worth it.

  22. PayPoint.net - Online Payments

    Social media is crucial to our business and to many SME’s we work with so it is a bit of a shock to find out that many entrepreneurs still view such activity as a waste of time. Hopefully this will change quickly, as more and more businesses begin to realise the benefits social media can bring.

  23. My heart breaks too! One of my clients eliminated the Marketing and Advertising department altogether because they wanted to save their budget and go back to “word of mouth” marketing. This is a sports bar/restaurant. What is more “social” than that? We built a Facebook page with over 3,600 fans in a few months, but they didn’t see the value in that. OY! is right!

  24. What a shame when social media marketing will outpace traditional marketing by 2016 and it is so darn inexpensive by comparison!