If asked whether small businesses currently use social media, most of us would reply ‘of course’ and wonder why I’m even bringing it up. Well, all I seem to read about nowadays is how small businesses are benefiting from social media and using it to expand their businesses. Even my colleague Christos Reid wrote an blog titled ‘Businesses are growing through social media’. However, I know a number of people who have small businesses, admittedly many of whom aren’t in the ‘digital’ industry, that don’t use social media as their main tool for growth. This got me thinking and led to some research to see if this was really the case.
Expelling the myth
One of the most interesting things I found was a survey carried out by Citibank which clearly shows that small businesses are not, in fact, using social media. Out of the 552 small businesses surveyed throughout America, in the last year 37% of small businesses have not used a website to increase business for their company and a huge 84% have not used e-commerce to sell their services or products. What’s more 62% don’t even use basic email as tool for drumming up business. These are quite astounding statistics, in a country were about 76% of the population use the internet regularly, yet such a tiny proportion do not use it to fully benefit their businesses.
Of those who do have a website, 74% say that it has been effective at generating more business. So, why haven’t others picked up on this? This isn’t the only contradictory piece of information found in the survey. 63% said that word of mouth is the most effective marketing tool, yet they hadn’t translated this to the online world. 81% said they haven’t used Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin. Of those who do use social media sites, 47% said they didn’t think they were of any use to their business. 21% thought the sites are most suitable for personal rather than business use, and 18% said they thought they didn’t know how to use the sites well enough to benefit their businesses.
That’s just basic marketing techniques, if we look at slightly more advanced methods like SEO, PPC or banner adverts, over half of the businesses surveyed haven’t used them either.
What on earth is going on?
Now we know that American small businesses are not taking full advantage of social media, but we don’t really know why. I have tried to find statistics for the UK, but there does not seem to be an equivalent survey. It would be interesting to see if UK businesses are also shunning social media or if we are more technologically savvy.
It seems that age does matter, the older the person behind the business, the less likely they are to use social media as a marketing tool. It makes sense, the younger generation or millennial generation as it is known, have grown up with social media sites, they didn’t have pen-pals, they had friends and followers. Whereas the older generation have had to adapt to it. My dad is still slightly miffed by the whole thing, he asks me why I can’t just talk to these people and why I have to spend hours spying on my ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend. If he can’t understand that, then I can’t see him using Facebook as a means to gain extra clients.
The Citibank survey confirmed this, showing that small business executives of 45-years-old and over are less likely to use online tools than younger business executives. A healthy-ish 27% of executives under-45 used social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter as marketing tools in the last 12 months, while only 16% of those who are 45 or over used them.
You can teach an old dog new tricks.
If the case is that the older generation simply don’t fully understand how to use social networking to help their business, then surely this is easy to solve? The Citibank survey shows that those who do use social media for their small business have found it beneficial. Gradually more and more people will start doing the same. Social media is a great marketing tool and anyone who does use it is likely to say the same. People need to see that social networking is not as daunting as it looks, and once you’ve got the hang of it, you will see your business grow.
Some people refuse to use social networking sites because of security fears. So, what you can do is encourage those around you who don’t use social media sites, to start a Facebook page or Twitter account:
- Remind them that now you can have a pretty secure Facebook page, which will only allow those you want to see things.
- If they don’t want people to see certain things, don’t put them up in the first place, it’s as simple as that.
- Update their sites at least twice a day to get the most from it.
- Help them find groups or trends to follow that they will find interesting and relate to them, so they can start getting involved with dialogue.
- You want them to realise that a part of these sites is about self publicity. If you post your blog on Facebook, it generates traffic to your blog. Once the social media shy see this, they will see the power and benefit that these sites offer.
Once they have found their footing with a personal account, it shouldn’t be hard to help them move over to a business account. There are hundreds of videos and blogs that can help. They will soon see that it is more beneficial using Facebook to network with business clients, than just with old friends.
And the future?
The Citibank survey found positive answers for the future. 72 % say they are likely to use a website for marketing or expanding their business in the next 12 months – up 14% from those who do today. 24% are likely use e-commerce to sell their products or services online over the next 12 months – up 50% from those who do today. And 30 % say they intend to use social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin for marketing or expanding their business – up 58% from those who do today.
Whether this is all just wishful thinking, only time will tell. What this has showed us, however, is that bloggers, SEO guys and social media commentators believe that small business are already using online channels to the full, and reaping the benefits. We’ll just have to wait and see if all this hype will turn into money for small businesses.