It’s hard to get a clear picture of how far small businesses have gone down the social media road. Frank Reed has a great post on this topic on Marketing Pilgrim that really started me thinking about this (I posted some of this as a comment on his blog).
It really depends what survey you believe:
- According to new survey commissioned by Citibank, three-quarters of U.S. small businesses say they have not found sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn helpful for generating business leads or expanding business in the past year. Eighty-six percent said they have not used social networking sites for information or business advice. Just ten percent said they have sought business advice and information on expert blogs.
- According to the survey from Internet2Go, 45 percent of those surveyed use social media (including Facebook and Twitter) to promote their business. Seventy-five percent said they monitor online reviews of their business.
Two very different pictures of small business adoption. Frank does a great job of breaking down the data on the Internet2Go survey on his post, suggesting that "meaningful" social media adoption – e.g. making it a sustained, rewarding part of their business – remains relatively low among SMBs. This is the view I hold, based on years of consulting with companies selling to, and reviewing research on, the messy, heterogenous small business U.S. market.
I don’t have data to support this, but these are what I feel are the four big reasons that hold back SMB social media adoption:
- They have little or no existing marketing behaviors. A surprisingly small number of small businesses have any level of marketing practices in place. They get customers because they have a storefront, or through pure, undirected word-of-mouth. Saying they don’t have a marketing strategy doesn’t get at their reality: they don’t even have an awareness of marketing as something they need to be doing. It makes sense that to understand the value of social media approaches, you first have to have an existing set of marketing practices that you can plug them into.
- They find technology hard to understand. This is getting better as social media goes so mainstream… but the vast majority of SMBs are not at all tech-forward, and in fact strongly tech-averse. I’ve worked with Microsoft to launch small-business focused products; time and again, I’m always struck by their research showing the huge portion of the market running completely obselete applications and operating systems. Most small businesses still don’t have on-premise Internet access, many don’t have a dedicated business PC, and relatively few have a positive attitude towards technology.
- They don’t have the time or the skills for social media. Social media means creating content – which means steady, diligent focus on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc. That takes rigorous application of time and also requires the ability to communicate and tell your story in an interesting, distinctive way, that fits your customers and the SM platform that you’ve chosen. Both resources are not broadly available in the small business population.
- They are in a business type that is not ideally suited for social media. I know that many think that *every* business can be made better with social media; I don’t disagree. But some products and services can more easily be translated into the type of customer passion that leads to ongoing relationships. Would I follow the blog of my quirky, knowledgeable local cheese shop, or the pet store where I get my dog stuff? I probably would. Would I follow the Twitter feed of the guys that change the oil on my car? Or my drycleaner? Probably not. If they created really great content, then obviously, but my baseline level of interest in that product type is just lower.
Where I see a small businesses doing well with social media, it’s usually because they have a charismatic, passionate owner or manager who is great at connecting with customers. Social media didn’t make them this way. All the social media platform does is give them the way to express it and scale it in a way that lets them reach and touch more people. Customers are attracted to them and excited by their product, and they learn enough about the technology to make social media work for their business.
A great example is our favorite grocery store, Sigona’s, just down the road in Redwood City, CA. Although technically very basic, their blog attracts large numbers of customers who love their organic vegetables, grass-fed meats, and attentive customer service. Try making it all the way through their store without someone on their team starting a conversation with you. I like them, I love food, and I like the discounts they offer only on their site and blog; so I follow them. Most businesses, even those with much more polished approaches to social media, don’t have those elements; so I don’t.
What do you think? What is the right recipe for small businesses with social media?