Strategic Social Media Use Among SMBs Stuck in Low Gear

The SMB Group, a market research firm, is sharing new insights into how small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are employing social media. And a few of those new insights look suspiciously like some old ones.

The group surveyed 665 social media decision makers and influencers for its “2012 Small and Medium Social Business Study” and found that SMBs are still grappling with how to incorporate social outreach into their business processes. Laurie McCabe, co-founder and partner of the SMB Group, remarks that despite the explosive popularity of social media services and tools, some small businesses are still largely stuck in their old ways.

Strategically Social

“When you look at the percentage that use [social media] in a planned and strategic way,” observes McCabe, “that number really hasn’t budged much.” Indeed, while social media use among small businesses grew from 44 percent in 2011 to 53 percent in 2012, strategic use remained locked at 24 percent for both years.

What about the rest?

This year, 29 percent of those surveyed admitted that although they’re using social media for their businesses, they’re taking an ad hoc approach. In essence, a large number of small businesses are experimenting with Facebook, Twitter and the like, and seeing what sticks.

Even at this stage in the game, with the wealth of solutions, services and media attention surrounding calibrated social media messaging, “it’s still kind of a throwing-spaghetti-against-the-wall phenomenon” for many small businesses, says McCabe.

A full quarter, or 25 percent, of the survey respondents said that although they do not use social media now, they have plans to adopt in within the next 12 months. The SMB Group also encountered a sizable number of “anti-social” media die-hards.

Twenty-five percent not only admitted to not using social media, but also said that they also had no plans to do so. They are a dying breed, however. Their numbers have dropped 6 percent from the 31 percent that expressed such views in 2011.

Bullish on Social Media

Injecting a little strategy into social media plans is paying off for some small businesses. According to McCabe, “companies that use social media, especially those that use it in a strategic way, are the ones that are most bullish about their growth.”

These small companies not only feel positive about their futures, their current prospects look brighter, too. In general, strategic social users reported higher satisfaction rates in areas like improving procurement processes and generating more Web traffic than ad hoc social users.

Among small businesses that use social media in general, many are enjoying some business-boosting benefits. Forty-two percent reported increased traffic and leads to their websites, while 40 percent reported increased brand awareness. Nearly a third, 31 percent, are employing social media to build customer- and fan-driven communities, and 23 percent sought to reduce marketing costs.

Yet, every silver lining has its cloud. The top challenges facing small businesses in the social media era is time, or more precisely, a lack of it.

A whopping 62 percent of respondents said that there’s simply not enough time to engage in social media activities. Some question social media’s ROI, and 41 percent admitted that they are unable to accurately measure its value.

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

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