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Are 87 Percent of Small Businesses Using Social Media Wrong?

Vocus teamed up with Duct Tape Marketing to survey 400 decision makers at small- and medium-sized businesses to learn about their struggles and successes using social media.

Specifically, the survey sought to discover the social sites most used by small businesses (SMBs), how they were managing their efforts, challenges they were facing, and the metrics they were using to judge success. While the results were strong in affirming the power of social media for SMBs, they also made me wonder whether or not many business owners were looking at social media correctly.

First, the findings.

As Vocus notes in its post about the survey [1], there was a lot of good news revealed here.

Time and time again in the survey we’re shown that SMBs are using social media, they’re engaging with their customers, and that most feel social media has helped their organizations. Interestingly, even those that said social media was not helpful also admitted they had invested little effort.

But how are SMBs using social media sites? To me, the findings in this section were particularly interesting.

According to the results:

Essentially, SMBs continue to use social media as another push method for selling to their customers. It’s a broadcast medium the same way direct mailings and email newsletters have been in years prior. Just 46 percent of SMBs said they use social media to handle customer service issues. To me, that may represent a missed opportunity if business owners aren’t using social channels to reach out to customers in a more pro-active way. It also represents a chance for SMBs to see even more of a benefit should they start using social media as a vehicle for customer service, and not just promotional efforts.

Another area of the survey I found especially interesting looked at the metrics SMBs are using to gauge their efforts. Basically, how are SMBs judging “success” and what does “success” look like to them.

Seventy six percent of SMBs see success as increased foot traffic, 70 percent see it as customers hearing about them via social media, 67 percent view success in terms of likes and follows.

Again, while these metrics make for good baseline numbers, they’re not what is most important when it comes to judging whether or not your social media activities are successful. It’s concerning that it’s not until the very bottom of that graph that we see 42 percent of SMBs using social media are tracking conversions. Some quick math tells me that 58 percent of SMBs are not.

As a SMB, you always want to be tying your actions down to conversion metrics. Likes and follows are great, but if that’s not resulting in more people converting from your website, you’re missing the larger goal.

While it’s certainly encouraging that 87 percent of small business owners believe that social media has helped their business in some way, I can’t help but wonder if that number would be higher if SMBs were using social media for considerably more than just another push medium or if they were focusing their efforts on metrics related to conversions rather than generic likes and follows.

Sure, we all use social media to promote our brands and daily activities, but the opportunity in social media to right perceived wrongs, to better customer service, and to learn more about the people that we’re serving should be a top priority.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Or is a maturation process for SMBs and social media on its way?