ACHRNEWS

Small Business and Social Media

March 28, 2011

Consumers are on social media - are you? Social media is an important part of your marketing plan. You can start conversations, answer questions, share testimonials, and deal directly with customer service issues.

A common question among small business owners who are considering the leap to social media is whether the time spent will actually translate into sales. While many surveys have examined how large businesses use social networking, very little has been done to see how smaller businesses utilize it.

To begin to answer the small business social networking question, we conducted a survey last spring. We wanted to understand how small business owners are using social media, and if they are seeing a return on investment for their time spent on social media. The owners we studied represented a wide range of industries, including HVAC, plumbing, and construction, as well as services and consumer products.

This survey was conducted entirely online. Links to the survey were sent via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and e-mail invitation, and 132 responses were received. We note this does bias the survey towards Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook users. While the sample size is not projectionable, it nonetheless provides valuable insight into current social media usage.

WHAT DID WE LEARN?

Sixty-four percent of respondents use social media for more than 30 minutes a day. This bodes well for a sustained and successful social media strategy.

As we work with clients, we typically recommend business owners spend 30-60 minutes daily to make connections; update content; and create a consistent, visible presence.

Most small business owners we surveyed spend at least 30 minutes a day on social media, but is it productive? Our results indicate it is. Seventy-five percent of all the respondents reported social media has generated leads for their business. However, these new tactics are still a relatively small part of their lead-generation process.

Clearly, the results indicate there are opportunities for companies making the leap into social media. However, there are concerns from business leaders in companies of all sizes on how their employees will represent the company online.

While some larger firms are trying to enforce social media lockdowns, banning access to social media sites, others are developing social media policies. This trend does not yet seem to carry over into the small business world. According to our survey, the overwhelming majority of small businesses (fewer than 25 employees) do not have formalized policies. And, even among businesses with 25 or more employees, almost one-half are still without formalized social media policies.

HOT SPOTS

Among the small business owners who use social media, LinkedIn barely edged out Facebook as the most popular network, but Twitter was not far behind. Three-quarters of respondents said they used all three of the top networks. Plaxo and Ning-based social communities both trailed by a wide margin.

Beyond just building profiles, we wanted to understand where business owners were spending their online time. After all, simply having a profile doesn’t mean a person is actively engaged in the community. The majority of respondents indicated Facebook was their primary network. This is not surprising, since the simple user interface makes it easy to transition from business to personal and back again. In contrast, LinkedIn, and to a lesser extent Twitter, are more business focused. In the HVAC industry, Facebook is clearly the most practical place to start, allowing contractors to put a personal face on their company.

More than 70 percent of the business owners surveyed said social media generates 10 percent or less of their total business.

Future surveys will be used to understand what types of strategies they are employing, and which community is most beneficial for lead generation. How are you using social media?

To learn more, contact Roundpeg at 317-569-1396 or lorraine@roundpeg.biz for a copy of the complete social media survey.

Sidebar: Take the Plunge

As contractors consider the leap into social media, there are ways they can start:

1. Create a blog as part of your website. Post company news, product information and customer testimonials.

2. Create a fan page and link to blog posts. Invite friends and clients to become fans. Be patient, it takes a long time to build a fan base.

3. Watch what others do on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin. Copy their lead.

4. Identify someone in your firm to be the lead, but involve everyone.

5. Provide guidelines for your employees (they are on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin anyway).

6. Stay regularly involved. Be interactive, not promotional. Find ways to get your fans engaged so they tell others about you.

Publication date: 03/28/2011