If I had a dime for every survey that measured the activity level of small business owners in social media, I'd be a millionaire. Or at the very least, close.
The frustrating part about the survey process is that most come to different conclusions, focus on different small business demographics or have questions that aren't getting at the heart of the issue. Just because a small business is "using" social media doesn't mean they are succeeding with it, it doesn't mean they are making money with it, and it doesn't mean that they are going to elevate it to the primary marketing tactic in the next year plus.
Just this week, there were surveys that indicated small businesses were using social media effectively, and weren't really using it. It all depends on who you believe. According to a survey by eMarketers, 25% of small businesses surveyed said they use social media in a structured way (that's a low percentage), while 20 percent use social media in an informal way. (also a low percentage)
But if you read a survey by done by Manta, an online small business forum, social networking helps small businesses receive immediate referrals, with 42% reporting that some new customers came through social-media sites.
Finally, a survey done by Vocus indicated that 77% of small businesses say that social media accounts for 25% or more of their total marketing effort, while 87% of small businesses say social media has been somewhat helpful or helped a great deal.
So to sum up, nearly every small business is flirting with social media. Much like that relationship that seems inevitable but never really takes off - despite the constant giggling, jokes, innocent looks and conversations in the hall - social media has become a "fun" activity that is fun by not permanent. Most owners have set up a Facebook page, dabbled on Twitter, posted some pictures on Pinterest or connected with people they know via LinkedIn.
Are they consistently leveraging the multiple ways that each of those platforms allows businesses to make money and drive significant customer growth? Not according to any of the surveys I've seen.
The truth is social media takes effort, a LOT of effort, to do it well. If there's one thing that small businesses don't have, it's time. In fact it's the one thing that they would pay an exorbitant amount of money to get more of. Most barely have enough time in the day to build, create, service, or fulfill everything that their clients need, let along dedicate time to marketing. And when you think about the various marketing channels, most take less time and dedication (on a consistent basis) than social media.
So despite the surveys and the different experts opining on where "small business social" will be in the future, let me save you the suspense. It will continue to be that flirty relationship that is always burning under the surface, but never quite blossoms into a full blown marriage.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
Jason Keith has been working for and with small businesses in the New England area for more than 10 years, specifically small, micro businesses. Born and raised in Massachusetts and a former journalist, he provides a unique perspective on the issues facing small businesses locally and nationally.To reach him directly email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here are the author's alone.