Sanjeev Aggarwal's Blog

September 27, 2009

Interest in Social Media among Small Businesses Correlates to Number of Years they have been in Business

 

Related insight to my recent blog Small Businesses interest in Social Media increasing rapidly , related to the Number of Years a small business has been in existence. See figure below:

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Adoption and use of social media is correlated to ‘Number of years in business’ and indirectly to the age of the owners. As the figure above shows, longer the small businesses have been in existence (indirectly correlated to the age of the small business owner), the usage of social media declines. Small businesses that are in existence for 10 years or less, most likely will have Gen X or Gen Y business owners who have grown-up in the internet age and are well tuned to and more likely to use online communication and collaboration – are much more likely to adopt social media. In their personal lives, they have extensive experience in using web-based tools like MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and real-time communications tools like chat and text-messaging – for one-to-many and one-to-one communications. They are more likely to be influenced by online communities and collective ratings of products.

Small businesses that have been in existence for more than 10 years would have Baby Boomers as their owners. Boomers interact with others in their communities around shared interests and common issues, but they prefer to use more traditional communications tools like e-mail and voice communications. Boomers participate heavily in word-of-mouth and value personal recommendations and expert opinions, but they have not embraced social networking in any significant manner. It is difficult for people to change habits quickly. However, if the owners of these long established businesses find that their customers and prospects are increasingly communicating on the social media sites, then it would be prudent to hire a Gen X/Y person who is very familiar with these social media tools to help you develop a social media strategy to cater to your audience based on the social media tools they use.

Even though small business use of social media tools is increasing, not all small businesses need to invest in social media – this needs to be decided based on the nature of your business, your business location and your audience (customers, prospects and partners). Some small businesses that serve local communities in rural areas may continue to do business in the traditional manner, until their audience is ready to communicate with them using these new tools and their revenues and customer satisfaction is impacted by it.

Small Businesses interest in Social Media increasing rapidly

In a recent very small business (businesses with 10 employees or less), Social Media ranked at the top of the list among the tools used by small businesses to market/promote their business (see Figure 1). The use of all ‘Digital Media’ tools by SMB has seen a dramatic increase in the past 2 years at the at the expense of ‘traditional media’ tools. Many businesses are finding that marketing campaigns using traditional media tools are seeing reduced effectiveness in reaching their target audience. Consumers and businesses are placing less trust on information provided through traditional marketing vehicles, as those are mainly static tools supporting one-way conversations – other than word-of-mouth. The new digital media is changing the rules of marketing and even small businesses need to proactively participate in this change.

Figure 1photoshop-1

Why has social media seen this dramatic increase? This is primarily driven by 3 factors:

  • Change in the consumer and business workers personal communication environment and habits
  • Low barrier to start participating in the social media communications – tools like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress are free. Social media is much more than traditional forms of viral marketing – it is an effective and inexpensive way to convert contacts into a referral network
  • Much more real-time communication support to start conversations with existing customers and prospects

As the data shows, most small businesses are already participating in social media to varying degrees. Most of the social media adoption by small businesses is happening in an adhoc and sporadic manner. Majority of it is being driven by their use of of these social networking sites for personal communications. This use of social media in business today is more experimental, some to get a feel of the type of small businesses that are starting to participate in such communications and others to experiment with the type of conversations that are taking place and the type of communications they could have using this medium. As small businesses get more comfortable with these communications media over time, their importance in the marketing communications mix will increase. However, there are several issues that need to be resolved before they become mainstream communication tools for the small businesses. Some of them are:

  • Efficient and productive ways to monitor and participate in social media – small business do not have the time to individually monitor the various social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogs, etc. They need tools that can integrate with their existing business solutions to pull-in conversations that could have relevance to them. Some new solutions from vendors like Salesforce.com will help small businesses harness the power of social media through solutions like Service Cloud, Salesforce Answers and Salesforce for Twitter and Ideas. New vendors that provide some solutions in this area include Lithium, Helpstream and Elgg.
  • Finding areas where social media can add value and provide business benefit – potential areas include product marketing and customer service
  • Integrating Social Media solutions with current marketing tools – Now that we know small businesses are interested in social media, it would be a good (for ISVs) to integrate social media interaction with your current marketing solutions like CRM, e-mail marketing, marketing automation, etc.
  • Customer sentiment monitoring – This is area small businesses can monitor conversations that are taking place about their products, brands and competition. Although this area today is primarily leveraged by larger consumer focused companies, over time this information can be leveraged by small businesses also.

To make this communication and collaboration effective and supportive of key business objectives, small businesses need to craft a social media strategy as part of a marketing plan to positively reinforce brand awareness and improve customer relationships.

Key elements to this plan should include:

  • Integrate social media into your current marketing plan, don’t abandon what is working to get on the social media band wagon
  • Find out where your target audience (existing customers and prospects) gathers online and learn how they are engaged. Start by asking your current customers where they are and then join in.
  • Match your audience to the social media tools they use – some people like Twitter other prefer Facebook or LinkedIn. Focus on relationship building.
  • Don’t limit yourself to most immediate “universe” of your target. Find people who touch your universe and engage them too.
  • Listen to what people are saying about you in the social media world
  • Use social media to drive traffic to your website
  • Develop plan to measure the success of your social media efforts (topic for another blog)
     

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