Small Businesses Head Online in Droves to Network

By Pedro Hernandez | Posted September 12, 2012

An overwhelming percentage of small businesses are taking to the Internet to network, promote their businesses and scope out new prospects, according to a new survey of 614 American small business owners conducted by Manta.

According to the small business community site, 90 percent of small business owners spend time online to network. Another strong majority, 74 percent, said that networking online is as valuable as, or more valuable, than pressing the flesh.

For small businesses, the writing's on the wall, says Manta CEO, Pamela Springer.

"Small businesses understand they need to go where their audience is," says Springer in a company statement. "Participating, networking and being found online is extremely important today in growing their business, so it's not surprising that they are embracing the channel."

Increasingly, the way to attract new customers is to engage them online. Among those small business owners polled, close to 50 percent said that targeting and gaining new customers is the most valuable benefit of online networking. Seventy-eight percent reported attracting at least a quarter of their new customers via the Web or social media this year.

SMBs Still Struggle with Social Media

While it may seem that nowadays every company has a Facebook page, 58 percent said that they're having a tough time finding the value in using the popular social networking site and haven't set up a page yet. The news is worse for Pinterest and Groupon, with small business owners reporting response rates of one percent for the popular "pinning" site and less than one percent in Groupon's case.

Manta's data is yet more evidence that when it comes to social media, SMBs are stuck in low gear.

In its "2012 Small and Medium Social Business Study," The SMB Group revealed that although social media use is edging ever upward among the small businesses, strategic use of the medium remains stubbornly low.

This year, social media use among small businesses grew to 53 percent, an 11 percent increase from 2011. Despite the bump, strategic use stayed put at 24 percent for both years, indicating that small businesses are grappling with finding revenue-boosting ways of leveraging social media.

Hope is not lost, says Manta.

Small business owners that struggle with social media, particularly those short on time, may want to start carving out some time for their websites to drive online awareness. Twenty-five percent of those surveyed said that their websites were the primary source of business for their companies.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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