Study: How small businesses are using social media

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By U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Ever wonder if or how your small business should be using social media and what your competitors are doing in this realm? The SMB Group’s latest survey, 2012 Small and Medium Social Business Study, examines how and why small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) are using social media today. Below are some highlights:

– Overall use of social media is up from 44% in 2011 to 53% this year among small businesses (1–99 employees) and up from 52% to 63% among medium-size businesses (100–999 employees).
– SMBs’ adoption of social media, as well as the benefits that they think accrue from using it, continues to remain concentrated in marketing areas. Medium-size businesses cite “increasing brand awareness” (49%) as the No. 1 benefit by a wide margin, followed by “increasing Web leads/traffic” (29%). Among small businesses, “increasing Web leads/traffic” (42%) takes top honors, followed closely by “increasing brand awareness” (40%).
– Thirty-five percent of SMBs that use social media have replaced or displaced traditional marketing tools—direct mail; ads in newspapers, business trade journals, magazines, and yellow pages; and email marketing— with social media.
– Only 23% of small businesses and just 17% of medium-size businesses rate “reducing marketing costs” as a top benefit of social media.

Social media, while growing in popularity among SMBs, presents challenges, according to our study. Among small businesses, finding the time for employees to tend to social media is the top challenge (62%), followed by “unable to accurately measure the value of social media (41%).” Among medium-size businesses, “unable to accurately measure value” is the leading challenge at 49%. “Not enough time” slips to the No. 2 spot (36%), followed closely by “difficult to integrate social media with other business activities” (34%).

SMB use of social media will continue to rise because customers demand it. And, unlike the very early going, when simply using social media—however experimentally—was a way to differentiate, the bar is inevitably rising. To gain a market edge, SMBs will increasingly need to use social media in more innovative and personalized ways and be able to adjust their efforts to become more granular, targeted, and proactive. Based on the survey results, it seems, however, that most of them lack the proper tools for the job.

To help overcome these hurdles, SMBs should consider using vendors that offer solutions that take time and labor out of the process, with turnkey services to help you identify, implement, and manage social activities in a more time-effective and cost-efficient way. Some solutions enable you to manage social media from the email or contact management system you use every day. Explore the many free and paid social media monitoring and measurement tools and choose one that’s right for you.