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.

March 2, 2010

Relevance of Marketing Tools/Media in Customer Acquisition

The topic of lead generation and the role of various media solutions in the lead generation process draw significant conversation. From a survey of small businesses done in the summer of 2009 and detailed in my blog, GoToMeeting‘ from CitrixOnline or ‘Intuit Website’ from Intuit. This form of media effectively cultivates and nurtures demand. ‘Small Businesses interest in Social Media Increasing ‘ and with regards to tools used by small businesses to promote their business (not generate sales leads), 77% of small businesses are using or plan to use social media tools. Why has the use of social media seen such a dramatic increase? This is primarily driven by several factors:   

  • Change in the personal communication environment and habits of consumers and business workers  
  • Low barriers to entry: the cost of participating in the social media communications are very low and some—tools like Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and LinkedIn—are even free 
  • Social media solutions are a one-to-many form of real-time communications
  • Social media is much more than a digital form of viral marketing – it is an effective and inexpensive way to convert contacts into a referral network  

   

Traditional Media tools. On one end of the spectrum, marketing is responsible for Demand Generation by driving awareness. Traditional media tools such as radio, television, newspapers and business journals (in their print form), provide broadcast opportunities and are good for creating broad awareness to develop interest among consumers and businesses – otherwise known as Outbound Marketing. Successful examples include the TV commercials like ‘GoToMeeting’ from CitrixOnline or ‘Intuit Website’ from Intuit. This form of media effectively cultivates and nurtures demand.

New Media/Digital Media include Social Networking tools (Facebook, Blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), Webinars and Podcasts, and Search Engines. Such ‘inbound marketing’ tools enable businesses with product/service increase awareness already developed to a certain level through traditional tools to further draw in consumers and encourage their further investigation of the company’s product or service.  

An SMB survey from Citibank found that some small businesses saw little reason to hop onto the social-network bandwagon. The majority of them found sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to be of little help in finding new business leads. While social media can certainly provide channels to network and help a growing business flourish, many SMBs do not have the manpower or the time required to take advantage of them—that is, use them to look for business advice or information. It is up to the business to bring in the relevant social media conversations related to crowd-sourced recommendations for their company and solutions into their company website or other discussion forums. Techniques that do this are illustrated very well in the “Inbound Marketing” book by founders of HubSpot

Personal-touch Media tools like company website, e-mail marketing, live webinars, and professional advisors provide the information to convert exploring consumers and business buyers into potential leads. The new media-based inbound marketing solutions drive the explorers to the company website and/or additional personal touch based media and channels. However, SMBs must work to channel their company relevant social media discussions into their website. These social media conversations are similar to word-of-mouth and personal communication methods. Ultimately, these personal-touch media solutions are directly involved with actual lead generation, ongoing lead nurturing and finally conversion to customers as well as cross-selling and up-selling to existing customers continually deepening prospect relationships    

Some of the new marketing automation and lead nurturing solution companies like Marketo, HubSpot and Demandbase are combining some of the key aspects of New Media/communications and Personal-touch Media/communications solutions that provide great value to the SMB and mid-market companies for both outbound and inbound marketing – and most of these solutions can be implemented for a fraction of the cost of a marketing person.    

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:

photoshop-2

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)
     

June 3, 2009

The next generation Contact Center – Social Networking + Traditional Contact Center

The traditional contact centers now support more real-time communications technologies – VoIP, IVR, e-mail, IM. However, the intelligence and information repositories that are leveraged by these contact centers is very much static and internally focused.

With the growing popularity of social networking and community knowledge, where contact center agents can take advantage of consumers/customers helping each other with issues and queries – reducing the number of inquiry interactions the contact center service reps have to make, delivery real cost savings and improving the contact center ROI. The issue is – the lack of a comprehensive easy-to-use solution that integrates blogs, social networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, etc.) and search to easily aggregate the desired knowledge and mesh it with the internal knowledge repository, including the customer information stored in the enterprises CRM systems.

I was at the Salesforce.com CloudForce.com seminar some time ago, where they showcased their service cloud strategy. This Service Cloud showed an elegant and easy-to-use dashboard to present and search the popular social networking sites to the contact center agents – this will help them take advantage of all the community knowledge without spending a lot of time and effort following individual solutions like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress,

Traditional contact center solutions when integrated with an easy-to-use comprehensive community knowledge solution – presents a market disruption elevating this new contact center solution to one that provides significantly higher ROI and customer satisfaction. The Salesforce.com ServiceCloud can be integrated with the traditional contact centers solutions that have primarily relied on static internal information to service the customers, and have been separated from the community knowledge in the cloud from social networking conversations, blogs and Google. The Service Cloud presents an excellent dashboard to bring these two disparate clouds to establish a cloud-based customer service platform and knowledge for contact/call centers – for customer service agents, customer self-service portals and partners. SIP and presence enable this cloud service platform, and it is ready for some very significant communication and collaboration – via VoIP phones (click to call), e-mail, or IM based conversations.

Why is this of value to Customer Contact Center solutions companies? The current leading Contact Center solutions from the leading telecom equipment vendors like Avaya, Cisco, and Nortel are more along the lines of the traditional on-premise solutions and do not present an easy solution to integrate the cloud-based community knowledge, except in some cases they have integrated search solutions by integration with Google. The Salesforce.com Service Cloud platform can be used to provide an integrated internal knowledge base and the community knowledge/social network (enterprises can define the scope, and members of their communities) from Twitter, Facebook, blogs, Google search, etc. In addition, one can include CRM to monitor customer satisfaction, address any questions/concerns, resolve problems quickly, provide product tips and tricks, and send out information in the customers’ preferred way of communication – without long waiting times or endless forwards and escalations. This could present a disruptive service solution which has the capability to significantly improve customer satisfaction and at the same time reduce the cost to provide this service.

This presents a good partnership opportunity for the traditional contact center application vendors to integrate with the social networking/community knowledge cloud-based service platform without the long internal development cycle. Adopting the Salesforce.com Service Cloud platform will provide a 1-2 years time-to-market advantage vs. the vendors that choose to do it themselves.

 


 

Social Networking – The SMB challenge and how the SMBs can gain value from Salesforce.com Cloud Service solution

Social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress are all the range in the B2B and B2C world today. But does the SMB business owners/CEOs or a lone marketing person have the time to devote to track and follow these sites without spending an inordinate amount to time and effort – especially when there is no clearly identifiable direct linkage that this leads to increased sales. How can SMBs participate in and leverage these market trends effectively to address their business and marketing needs?

All these social networking sites present vast amount of unstructured information to the SMBs. In addition, SMBs are also beginning to see a large number of e-mails sent to our e-mail In-boxes from these social sites – leading to information overload, and in many cases turning away the SMB that could benefit from it. What is needed is a solution that aggregates information from all these social networking/community knowledge sites and presents it to the SMBs in a manner that make the information (which at times is very valuable) more easily consumable and easily searchable.

I was at the Salesforce.com CloudForce.com seminar some time ago, where they showcased their social networking integration and service cloud strategy. The Service Cloud shows an elegant and easy-to-use dashboard to present and search the popular social networking sites to the SMB and mid-market enterprises – this will help the SMBs take advantage of all the community knowledge without spending a lot of time and effort following individual solutions like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, etc. CRM platform has the potential to pull together information/community knowledge from the various social networking sites and meaningfully relate it current customers, prospects, and partners to deliver more engaging conversations and communications – providing significantly better ROI compared to an ad-hoc social networking access.

Social networking & community services do have the potential to:

  • Improve customer interactions and relationships
  • Actively engage customers and partners
  • Engage potential customers in technology education and learning
  • Interacting with the channel/VARs for information exchange and support

SMBs are actively exploring how to participate and incorporate all of these social networking sites/feeds to develop a social networking strategy that drives a broader marketing and services strategy.

Blog at WordPress.com.