Social media has become part of every day life for many small business owners. Being on Twitter is almost as common as having a telephone on your desk was twenty years ago. But while it’s become the norm, social media is still a bit of a murky world. There are so many channels, and so much noise, and many people still aren’t sure that they’re doing it right.
With that in mind, we wanted to look a little deeper into how small businesses are using social media today. Which channels are working well? What are the challenges and rewards of devoting time and energy to the task.
Here are the results of our quick snapshot survey.
We posed the questions on our own social media feeds (Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin and Google+), and to our email subscribers. Over the course of two days we got responses from 63 people, 63% women and 37% men. The top three sectors our respondents work in are Media and Creative, Professional Services and Technology, and we also had replies from retailers, travel industry specialists and people running craft businesses. 8% of respondents were 18-29, 43% of respondents 30-44, another 43% 45-59 and 6% aged 60+.
Which social media platform works best?
Twitter was the undisputed champion in this category (46.3%), with Facebook coming in second (31.75%), and Linkedin third. (15.87%). The biggest loser was Google+, which got no votes at all. Interesting, don’t you think?
Additional insights from our respondents included:
- “Twitter seems most serendipitous, and easily far-reaching.”
- “We see less of a return from Facebook and now spread ourselves across Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram.”
- “The majority of our franchise partners’ customers are on Facebook. However, we have had great B2B and B2C interactions on Twitter and Linked and it’s clear that being on Google+ has helped with our SEO.”
- “We have made a deliberate decision not to engage with Facebook for our B2B business development. We encourage a good work life balance so we consider that Facebook is not for work stuff.”
- “Because video content is now huge and will get bigger a YouTube channel is now becoming a necessity for most businesses.”
What do you like most about using social media for your business?
We gave a range of possible answers. Respondents ticked all statements that applied to them, and answers were pretty evenly spread. Business people like social media for variety of reasons:
- ‘It’s an easy way to market my business,’ (54%)
- ‘It helps me make great contacts’ (52%)
- ‘I find lots of useful information’ (37%)
- ‘It works – I win business this way (32%)
- It makes interesting things happen for my business (29%)
- It’s good fun (25%)
Other reasons people liked using social media for their business included:
- “For us it is profile raising amongst potential customers and our peers for referral marketing.”
- “It allows me to demonstrate my true character rather than the tedious ‘sales pitch’.”
- “We use it to research names on LinkedIn with the right job titles in the right companies and then gently promote to them using e-mail. That may not sound very social media, but it works!”
- “It allows me to get my content to a wider audience.”
- “Gradually building a name and a community as a trust agent.”
- “I use FB to post relevant articles about my business, so I look like an expert/trusted source.”
- “It rarely starts the sales process… but significantly helps to support it.”
Why do you use social media for business?
Respondents could choose from a variety of answers: ‘to make people aware of your brand’, ‘to attract new customers’, ‘to develop better relationships with current customers’, ‘because it’s an enjoyable way to network’, ‘to learn more about our market’, ‘to make good contacts’, and lastly, ‘because it’s expected of businesses today’.
43% of the sample ticked all of the above, and the top individual answers were ‘to make people aware of the brand (44%), and ‘to attract new customers’ (40%), and ‘to develop better relationships with current customers’ (37%).
Respondents gave more reasons why small businesses use social media too:
- “To highlight the thoughts and ideas of others, to show we are equally as interested in them as we want them to be in us.”
- “We want to be seen as relevant and up to date. We want to share what our experiences really mean to clients. We have no more ‘cold calling’ staff so rely much more on business contacts in industry to sell our products.”
- “We also see it helps create a great moral amongst staff. We are all friends on Facebook, often enter race events together and share, comment on our photos.”
- “To attract candidates.”
- “Without it, people wonder if you are who you say you are, and your authority is under question.”
- “It also helps us to develop ideas for valuable content and supports our SEO strategy.”
- “Networking with peers at least as important as finding new customers.”
- It’s also important for clients and prospects to see us on social media. We and all businesses have to be seen to be ‘participating’ in the social media game.
- “At the moment it’s a free platform so ideal for a tiny business just starting up with no marketing budget.”
Which aspects of marketing your business via social media do you find hardest?
Measuring results (24%), finding the time to do it (22%) and getting noticed (21%) were the top three.
Other responses included:
- “Not having a social media policy; what can/can’t say, tweet etc”
- “Getting the team behind the social media program.”
- “The fact that Facebook keeps changing the platform.”
Their comments on how businesses use social media
And finally, we asked for any more comments about the way small biz people use social media today.
Here’s a selection of what we got back.
- “Social Media and Digital now comes first, everything else in marketing then follows behind that direction.”
- “It isn’t the be-all and end all. Use it as show and tell but focus on content marketing through your site.”
- “Blogging (from your own site) still a powerful way to establish your expertise.”
- “We need to develop better habits and make time for producing content including video and photos.”
- “More investment into social will mean better content and better material to tell our story and help customers connect with who we are.”
- “I notice that web traffic drops off when I tweet less.”
- “I work at being myself, truly, not just fitting into the group. Also, following Gary Vaynerchuk‘s advice: I work with the intention of the community, not just to sling words for my own reasons.”
- “I sometimes wonder if I’m speaking into a big void, but then a RT goes a bit mad or someone I didn’t think was reading throws back some banter, and it’s a nice surprise. I don’t think it’s any good to just bung stuff out there in status updates – somehow you have to be focused and clear on who you’d like to talk to, and about what. I think that’s what I find difficult about it as I don’t know who to strike up a chat with most of the time. You could spend your whole working life figuring this out!”
What does this mean for your business?
Despite the proliferation of social channels the big three – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – still dominate small business social use. Twitter comes out on top for our small business community. “Twitter seems most serendipitous, and easily far-reaching” one respondent comments, and we feel like that too. We got a few negative comments about Facebook across this survey – even from those outside the B2B community. We’ve heard a lot of this since the beginning of the year.
Google+ is getting very little traction or love, which begs the question ‘why?’ Designer Lizzie here at VC says: “Google+ feels like something I *ought* to be doing, rather than want to, on top of all the others.” Yeah, we’d agree with that sentiment too. We’d welcome your views though – why is Google+ not popular?
It’s important to choose your social platforms carefully, and in our experience, it’s a mix of platforms that works best. (Read our interview with start up firm Wriggle who are seeing results by getting their social media mix just right).
Social media is a popular method of marketing a small business for all sorts of reasons. For one: “it’s free so ideal for a tiny business just starting up with no marketing budget.” It’s an accessible, enjoyable way to promote your firm.
As this survey proves, it’s not just about attracting new customers. Social media builds awareness and helps you make good contacts; it gets you closer to current customers, and gives you better knowledge and understanding of your market. It can help attract new recruits and even creates greater moral amongst staff. Clients and customers increasingly expect you to be here. Many, many good reasons to get involved.
This research paints a very positive view of the social media landscape for small businesses but big challenges still abound. Finding the time, getting noticed and most of all how you measure results are the key stumbling blocks.
Our view is that the businesses that are winning are the ones that approach social media with a valuable mindset.
Help, don’t sell. Show, don’t tell. Talk, don’t yell.
The businesses that recognise social media as a great way to develop relationships and build communities are the ones that are most positive about it. And our advice as far as measurement? Being crystal clear what you metrics you want to measure makes it more manageable. Sign ups to your newsletter? Attendees at your latest event?
But we also think you shouldn’t try and measure the magic out of social media. A couple of people mentioned the serendipity of channels like Twitter which make things happen for you or your business, and that echoes the way we feel too. Sometimes it just makes things happen, and we love that.