Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

Social Media in Small Business is Anything But Small

In celebration of National Small Business Week

For entrepreneurs, business owners, investors, and consultants, one of the most exciting prospects of social media, lies in the ability to dramatically amplify your visibility and value proposition among existing and potential stakeholders. Social Media finally places small, local and emerging businesses in the spotlight in ways that up until this point, were largely unattainable.

New Media is rapidly shifting the landscape of how people find and share information and much of it isn’t just moving online, it’s connecting people in ways that weave a dedicated network of prospects and advocates within networks that invite your value-added participation. As a result, once scattered customer-bases are now unifying online as concentrated contextual markets, enabling the establishment of bridges and highways between businesses and prospects and ultimately creating new opportunities in the process.

Small Business is Anything But Small

When combined, small business and social media marketing is anything but small. As eMarketer recently noted, small business is doubling adoption of social networks and there’s very good reason for that. Need proof?

The University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business along with Network Solutions recently published its third wave of the Small Business Success Index (SBSI), a study that reveals the extent to which small businesses are embracing social media. The results are staggering and serve as a harbinger of new business dynamics.

Social media adoption among U.S. small businesses doubled in the past year from 12% to 24%. And that’s just the beginning.

61% of small business owners use social media to identify and attract new customers.

75% surveyed have a company page on a social networking site.

45% expect social media to be profitable in the next 12 months.

As part of the study, 500 small business owners shared their experience and expectations of social media. As we can see, creating a presence in social networks ranks at the top of the list, but that’s only the surface. We reveal more insight with each layer we peel back. Of those, 69% are posting updates within their network of choice, with just over half of all business owners focusing on the development of dedicated online communities and also listening to customer feedback.

– 75% reported having a company page on a social network, including LinkedIn or Facebook

– 69% actively post updates on social networks

– 57% are proactively building networks within sites such as LinkedIn or Facebook

-54% monitor customer feedback within social networks

– 39% host a blog to demonstrate expertise

– 26% Tweet about areas of expertise

– 16% use Twitter as a customer service channel

Source: Mashable

Social Media serves as a platform to identify, learn, and connect with customers and prospects along with those who influence their decisions. As in anything, you get out of it what you put into it. The study also examined how small business owners rated the performance of social media tactics against expectations.

At the top of the list, 73% of business owners anticipated that social networks would improve the ability to identify and attract new customers with 61% realizing success today. Of course, visibility is instrumental in earning a position within any cycle of evaluation and decision making and as such, 56% expected to increase awareness within target markets with 52% stating that their objective was met. Engagement is the key to everything and thus, I was surprised to see the numbers for both expectation and accomplishments at only 46% for customer engagement within social networks.

Identify and attract new customers
Expectations: 73%
Accomplishments: 61%

Develop a higher awareness of your organization within your target market
Expectations: 56%
Accomplishments: 52%

Stay engaged with current customers
Expectations: 46%
Accomplishments: 46%

Collaborate more effective externally, such as with suppliers, partners, and colleagues
Expectations: 34%
Accomplishments: 35%

Collaborate more effectively internally
Expectations: 26%
Accomplishments: 21%

Expectations: 12%
Accomplishments: 9%

Monetization of social media is of course, at the top of the list for all business owners. They want to know that their efforts will pay off, sometimes trumping patience and strategy. Nearly 1/2 believe that social media will make money within the next 12 months and another 53% suggest that their investment in social is already breaking even.  Surprisingly, only 9% stated that social will lose money, but 22% reported that their engagement within social networks is already paying off.

Overall, 58% believe that social media has met their expectations. And, herein lies the true opportunity. As we all think about what we know in terms of social networks, we realize that possibilities and success are practically infinite and that learning and experience are practically equalized for everyone. Those who experiment and practice become the veterans in a new medium abundant with students and starved of teachers. That’s why this is such an incredible time.

This is your time to engage and become the expert you seek. By answering our own questions, we can participate in social networks in ways that boost visibility, attract customers, and empower a team of advocates to create new business opportunities, improved customer service, and also a more valuable service offering as tuned by our stakeholders.

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189 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Social Media in Small Business is Anything But Small”

  1. juliacassidy says:

    Great post. The content and numbers shown are very descriptive. As a matter of fact, and in my opinion, I think that even when it is clear that social media is good for both small and big businesses, that doesn't mean we can compare the effects and social media strategies used by the different businesses. Just like any other busines activity, the main features will depend on the nature of the business and also on its size.

  2. Nancy Murphy says:

    Thanks, Brian, for the statistics on small business social media usage. It's great to see the comparison between expectations & achievements.

  3. Darkseer says:

    Often it's impossible for a small business to compete with the big boys, so they have to fill the gaps and the best way to do that is to specialise. A small business will never sell as many fitflops for example as the bigger business, but by becoming a specialist, it will be able to shift stock and grow more effectively by embracing a niche or perhaps even a niche within a niche. If they can produce better content than anyone else, they'll get the links and the love from the social networks.

  4. Wynne says:

    What's interesting to me is the rate of uptake of social media practices by small businesses. They've caught on quick and it sure is working for them.

  5. The big problem with Social Media for Small Business is that there needs to be a way to “keep it simple” because the business owner has so many irons in the fire that they cannot afford the time to learn and implement numerous strategies. Once they see a solution that can be easily implemented, the light bulb goes off!

    Mike Saunders, MBA
    Author of: “The PRISM Salvation-a 3-Step Solution to Social Media Domination for Busy Business Owners”
    Available on Amazon!
    Get the 1st Chapter here:

  6. Those number don't line up with what I'm told at small business seminar and meet ups. They have a profile, but tell me they don't have much clue what to do.

    Encouraged to see them report they are trying.

    • briansolis says:

      In any business, I find that the sample sets and the corresponding data varies wildly. I'm presenting to a group of small businesses in NY this Thursday on behalf of Citibank. Will report back…

  7. Brian, thank you for the article. It's great to see these numbers. Though, I would like to see small companies embrace blogs more. That alone could help set them apart from their competition. One of the key hurdles for small businesses, and start-ups evolving into small businesses is brand recognition. In some markets and B2B for example, if a prospect has never heard of the company, the sales team many times cannot get through to even begin a conversation. And when you are small you may not have the funds to do a lot of advertising, conferences, etc. There is a huge opportunity for social media to erode this barrier; the small company can show its knowledge while raising brand awareness. The plus for small businesses is that they can be more agile in trying new strategies and tactics in social media.

    • briansolis says:

      Angela, I couldn't agree with you more. The ability to demonstrate expertise and offer useful and practical advice, guidance, direction, etc., goes beyond check-ins and Tweets.

    • I agree with you. I wish small businesses would embrace blogs more. Blogs can be a hub of engagement. They have so much knowledge they can share because they are often very passionate about what they do.

  8. Rachel Vincent says:

    Brian, you said you were surprised to see the numbers for both expectation and accomplishments at only 46% for customer engagement within social networks. I don't actually think this is too surprising. As a small business owner looking to launch our website soon, one of our biggest concerns with social media is making sure our strategy is scalable until we start earning enough to bring on more people. In other words, we don't want to create a strategy that requires an enormous amount of time on lots of back and forth engagement for fear that we won't have the time to keep the engagement up while juggling all the other balls of launching a website for the first time.

    I wonder if companies believe they don't have the resources as a small business to keep up a high level of engagement, and instead purposefully plan strategies that have limited engagement that wouldn't require a relatively small number of hours to keep up (no wanting to start something they realistically can't keep up at first). I know there were a few fun plans we had that we temporarily put to the side until we have the resources to really do it well.

    My questions: 1. Do you think this could be a factor?, and 2. What suggestions do you have to help companies find that balance of engagement and limited resources?

    • Eplanettravel2 says:

      I wonder that it beliven you have taken

      companies believe they have the resources as a small business to
      maintain a high level of commitment, and instead deliberately plan
      strategies that have a limited engagement that do not require a
      relatively small number of hours to keep (not wishing to set up
      something realistic!

  9. Very much agree with Warren's comments below. The 'n' of the Mashable article is laughably low and not in the ballpark of what would be statistically relevant. Most people need 100 level content at best and are generally curious but afraid of making mistakes in social media. It is particularly obvious as you travel outside the major tech centers (coasts, austin, boulder, etc.)


  10. Megan Zuniga says:

    Thanks for the information and numbers. I've got friends who started small businesses who market their products through Facebook and I have to say they've become very successful so far. Social media has enabled them to expand their consumer base and they do continue to grow. And I agree with some of the people here, it's not just good for small businesses and for big businesses as well.
    Also, I have to add that it's also good for consumers. Because now, they are provided with more options and more information about certain products/services they wish to purchase.
    PS…Found more tips online about e-commerce and social media:

  11. Thanks for this data. I work with SME's over here in the UK and am constantly being asked for stats to back up my claims that SM will work well for them. This is just what I need.

  12. blankets says:

    good ,i like it

  13. carlabobka says:

    Thanks for pointing to the Small Business Success Index. Businesses continue to be curious about social media and what opportunities it can open for them. Many of those businesses fall into the small biz category. In my experience their curiosity leads them to experiment or seek guidance and expertise. Either can bring about results. Once they see results for themselves the time becomes available to dive deeper. Results = Value. Then it's amazing to see them realize how it changes the playing field for them.

  14. raduprisacaru says:

    I always enjoy reading intelligent articles by an author who is definitely knowledgeable on their chosen subject. I'll be following this thread with much interest. Keep up the great work, till next time

  15. James says:

    Its good to know we're not alone in trying to get the best out of social media. The opportunity has always been there, but ROI has been the missing factor. But that is changing.

  16. When the advertising budget isn't always too robust, the emphasis has to be on Social Media. Some small businesses do great work with their Social Media presence, and it's always inspiring to see, but others still haven't found that push/pull equation. They're just pushing.

  17. Phil says:

    This is infact started and i felt that each small business ask me to have their own niche blogs when they contact me……………..two reasons…..i think for it….one may be google contents or other they want to share their niche business experience with their possible clients

  18. kellybriefworld says:

    I am thrilled with the use of social media in the workplace. I have been following the debate closely. The balance of productivity and working like employees live is a tricky one with social media. Blog, blog, blog or block, block, block??? I thought this whitepaper had some real teeth – – and they are doing a follow up webinar that I just registered for –

  19. Thanks for the post, it is useful to do with Social Meida for small business.

  20. antique ring says:

    Hi, Brian! thanks for this post. I agree that blogs do really share a related knowledge.

  21. Malaice9 says:

    Very inspiring! i must say thanks for this great stuff.

  22. Been a regular at my gym for 5 years and nobody ever offers to spot

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