In today’s Wall Street Journal Small Business section, a survey conducted by the Wall Street Journal and Vistage International points to the growing use of social media by small businesses. The article reports that 60% of small business owners say they believe social media tools are valuable to the company’s growth. The survey found that 30% were using LinkedIn on a regular basis. this compares to 22% using Facebook and 14% using Twitter. Moreover, the same survey of small business owners pegged the potential of each of these three social media tools at 41%, 14% and 3%, respectively.
What’s interesting about this data is that while small business owners indicate they are using LinkedIn and believe in its potential, LinkedIn’s audience would be characterized as considerably more “business to business” vs. “business to consumer”. Alternatively, Facebook and Twitter would more likely be characterized as “business to consumer”. So what is the disconnect here. In our minds, small business owners using LinkedIn are more likely to be professionals seeking to use the great power of the LinkedIn networking rather than the broader consumer and promotional centric power of Facebook and Twitter.
We looked into the data generated by SMB DigitalScape – vSplash’s proprietary data analysis tool and found altogether a different story. According to the SMB DigitalScape data, as of January 2013, just 5% of the SMBs had a presence on LinkedIn. This compares to the self-reported 30% in the WSJ/Vistage report. Moreover, just 9% of SMBs have a Facebook “like” button on the first page of their website while 17% have a Twitter link on their homepage.
So what’s the deal you ask? Having run SMB research for years while at BIA/Kelsey, I have come to learn that many respondents to surveys – consumers or business – often over represent what they are actually doing. For instance, we used to ask SMBs if they tracked how new customers found them and invariably 50% of the SMBs said they did. Greg Sterling and I would look at these results and know in real life, they – the small business owner – just didn’t have the time or capacity to track their customers. But small business owners believe they are doing all the right things and hence are likely to answer in the affirmative rather than acknowledge that they have no idea from where they source their customers.
Asking a small business today if they’re leveraging the power of social media falls into a similar category. Would a small business owner readily acknowledge they’re not leveraging the potential of these huge platforms – not likely. Certainly, many small businesses are trying to figure out the best way to leverage these platforms, but for them to make the kind of assessments about the potential of these platforms seems like a reach to us. And at the end of the day, there is a great opportunity for the channels who sell marketing solutions to educate the SMB fully on the pros and cons of each platform and how best to leverage the power of social media.