Sanjeev Aggarwal's Blog

August 6, 2012

Today’s SMB Social Media Market Creates Opportunities for Tomorrow

SMB businesses are increasing their adoption of social media solutions year over year–rising from 44% to 53% in small business (1-99 employees) and 52% to 63% in medium business (100-999 employees). But what business functions are SMBs using social media for, and what social media tools are they using in different areas?

Just released results from the SMB Group’s 2012 Small and Medium Social Business Study paints a comprehensive picture of the functions that SMBs are using and planning to use social media for in their businesses. The study, which is the second annual survey we’ve completed on this topic, queried 665 U.S. executives in detail on this topic. As we look at trends from 2011 to 2012, we see several data points that reveal interesting opportunities for vendors to better serve this market.

Data Highlights

We found that similarly to our 2011 study results, SMBs in 2012 are adopting social media mainly to help them achieve their sales and marketing goals. Only a small percentage are using social media for non-sales and marketing functions, such as human resources, customer service and product development. However, use of social media in several of these areas is rising. For instance, social media use is up year-over-year:

  • From 47.5% in 2011 to 60% in 2012 for “Generate more web site traffic”
  • From 45% in 2011 to 59% in 2012 for “Connect with people who aren’t customers”
  • From 45% in 2011 to 47.5% in 2012 for “Service/support and customer retention”
  • From 23.5% in 2011 to 28% in 2012 for “Input for product development”

SMBs are using different social media tools for particular types of business functions, as indicated in the heat map below (Figure 1), which shows which social media tools SMBs are using to accomplish different business functions. For instance, LinkedIn is a the most widely used social media tool for  “new employee recruitment” while “geo location tools” are least used in this areas. Note that the tools above the blue line on the heat map are most frequently used for each business function, while the tools below the blue line show only marginal use. LinkedIn forums, Facebook, YouTube and Blogs are most frequently used social media tools to accomplish various business functions.

Source: 2012 Small and Medium Social Business Study, SMB Group

LinkedIn has been breaking out of the employee recruitment mold as SMBs extend its use into different areas. Although everyone knows about Facebook (and may have used Facebook for personal collaboration) and some small and medium size businesses have created a business page, many are still challenged by how to utilize Facebook’s potential to increase awareness of company brand, increase leads/traffic of website and drive revenues higher–and are testing out other social media tools.

As shown in Figure 2, although Facebook continues to remain ahead of the pack, adoption is tapering off. Meanwhile, other tools, including Twitter, YouTube, company blogs and Pinterest, have seen the strongest growth over the past year.

Figure 2: Social Media Tool adoption timeline
Q. How long have you been using social media for these functions?

Source: 2012 Small and Medium Social Business Study, SMB Group

To a large extent, SMBs are still experimenting to see how social media can help them, and which tools are best suited to helping them accomplish different business goals. Relative newcomers–such as Pinterest–can have a big effect in a short time if they hit the mark for specific business needs.

Because its relatively easy and low cost to test out different tools, SMBs will remain loyal only as long as they believe that they are getting beneficial business results. Since only 7% of small and 17% of medium businesses currently measure return-on-investment from social media, this is still a decision made by and large on anecdotal evidence and gut instinct.

This means that social media vendors must not only provide tools, but also training, services and metrics to help SMBs maximize and measure the value the get from these tools. For instance, a vendor could provide tools to help SMBs perform A/B testing–similar to what’s available for landing pages today– to hone their social media efforts.

As the market matures, pressure will also increase for SMBs to more accurately measure the results they’re getting across social media platforms. They will need better, easier to use analytics than are available today–ala Google Analytics for social. Vendors that provide these next-generation social media analytics solutions can capitalize on a big and growing market opportunity to bring today’s fuzzy picture into sharper focus. In addition, if they can harness these metrics across a broad base, they have the potential to build some very interesting data aggregation services akin to Nielson ratings for television and radio.

The bottom line is that there is still a lot of play in the nascent social media market–and unbounded opportunities for vendor innovation.

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