A recent Reuters release, Small business, social media not mixing caught my eye. The release highlighted a survey of small businesses conducted by Citibank Small Business with the somewhat surprising finding:
Three-quarters of small businesses say they have not found sites such Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn helpful for generating business leads or expanding business in the past year.”
On the face of it, this seems to fly in the face of several studies showing the tremendous impact of social media. Three studies, using online marketing tools used often by small business, come to mind:
1. Paid search
A recent study published by GroupM Search and comScore. showed that consumer’s exposed to a brand’s social media when combined with paid search programs are 2.8 times more likely to search for the brand’s products when compared to users who only saw paid seach.
A HubSpot study of 795 small–to-medium sized businesses that blog found that the average “blogging” small company gets 55% more visitors. Although not addressed in that study, considering that Twitter is micro-blogging, one would expect it to raise a small business’ web traffic as well. And certainly some reports (eg. O'Reilly's “Twitter Drives Traffic, Sales” indicate that it does.
3. Email Marketing
A study by Silverpop, found that combining social networking with email as well can be very powerful. Looking at email marketing reach of emails which included links to Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, the study found
....shared emails evaluated for the study delivered an average increase in reach of 24.3 percent (based on original emails delivered), and this figure is expected to increase exponentially once sharing becomes mainstream.
Small Biz SocialMedia Wunderkin are Outliers?
You don’t have to go very deep into the social bookmarking sites, to find many fine super-list collections of small business case studies describing spectacular results from social media. Some of the better known include:
Or check out Jason’s Fall’s recent roundup of small business case studies .
Are these well-known small business case studies startling exceptions? Are they the cherry-picked, well-trained poster children of the Marketing Elite, selling their Social Media Kool-Aid?
Well - as all technology bubbles are prone to encompass a greater sphere of influence than reality can measure, so too with small businesses and social media.
Why Would a Small Business Not be Benefiting from Social Media?
Why would small businesses report finding little business advantage to using social media, given the remarkably positive results of the above studies?
Certainly, my own experience with small companies is that they often do not have the resources to blog, Twitter or set up multiple presences on social networks. This in itself is no profound or new insight. The HubSpot study mentioned that a considerable number of the small businesses they sampled do NOT blog (nearly half of their total sample, or 736 companies, did not ). But cultivating a blog is a well-known social media tactic for fully using Twitter and other social networks as a distribution mechanism. (Okay- now we are starting to get somewhere in understanding this...)
Many Small Businesses are Actually Living in Web 1.5
Following this line of thought, there are two simple explanations for the disparity: First, in line with the fact that only 50% are blogging, many small businesses have unfortunately, not caught up with even the first generation of Web 2.0 tools to leverage the newer social networks and social media tools.
Many Small Businesses do not understand Social Media integrates with All the Assets within their Current Online Marketing Strategy.
Second, and I believe more important, it may be that many small businesses are not properly integrating their social media use into their other online marketing activities.
If there is anything we are learning about social media tools and social networks, it’s that they are not stand-alone devices. Rather, they are best used when combined in concert with other online marketing tools and , certainly, when integrated into an overall online marketing strategy. As the paid search and Silverpop email studies demonstrated well, the effectiveness of these well-known online tools is magnified by their co-use with social media.
Perhaps, stepping quietly and timidly into these tools, many small businesses are not aware of the synergies inherent to social media use: Social bookmarking, blogging, participation and co-linking across multiple social networks are well-known to exert a compounding effect on a company's brand.
Are small businesses failing at the strategy level, i.e. not setting a social marketing plan in place? Or are they failing at the tactical execution level, i.e. not integrating their online marketing tools properly?
They Can't Listen when They Aren't There
The answer may lie in the other intriguing statistic uncovered by the CitiBank study, namely,
86% [ of small businesses surveyed] said they have not used social networking sites for information or business advice.
Wow! There's part of our answer.
If the small company executives can’t find their way to the experts, surely, they cannot find good guidance to proper use of the technology, including the large cultural shift we are learning is part of the social media experience.
A very self-fulfilling prophesy indeed!
Your thoughts? (I'd especially love to hear from you small businesses that have ventured into social media.)