An increasing number of SMEs are now turning to social media platforms in order to market their businesses.
The latest report by marketing specialist, Constant Contact, confirms that an increasing number of businesses have now adopted the medium and see it as one of the more useful ways to interact with their customers. However, the study, The Fall 2011 Attitudes and Outlook Survey, also reported that SMBs are still heavily reliant on in-person interactions and events, and also place considerable emphasis on both email and search engine marketing.
What draws small businesses to the social media?
In the six months since the last survey, it appears that these businesses have realised that social media marketing is not as complex or time-consuming as they believed it to be. Any barriers that might have existed have been brushed aside as the figures prove. When asked why they use social media marketing today, 83% said it is low cost (up from 72% in the spring 2011 study), 67% said it is easy to use (up from 54% in the spring 2011 study), 51 percent said their customers use social media channels (up from 38% in the spring 2011 study) and 45% said it didn’t take a lot of time (up from 31% in the spring 2011).
The survey also found that small businesses are allocating more time to social media marketing to engage and interact with their targets. Incredibly 81% now reported using social media to market their businesses: up from 73% in the spring of 2011. Unsurprisingly, those small businesses who did use social media marketing turned by choice to Facebook. 96% of reported using the channel, although Twitter is quickly gaining ground on its rival: 76% of these businesses now are active participants on Twitter: up from 60% in the spring this year.
When Constant Contact carried out its spring survey, there were some concerns expressed about the effectiveness of the medium: many small businesses seemed to doubt whether social media marketing could actually deliver tangible results. However, some of fears now appear to have been dispelled, particularly for Twitter and LinkedIn. 60% of small businesses who use Twitter for marketing purposes now believe in its effectiveness: that represents an increase of 13% in just 6 months. Similarly LinkedIn has also seen a spike in interest and has gained ground: 55% now claim to find the channel effective – up from 47% in the spring. Of course Facebook is still the top dog, but that rate of growth is slower: up from 82% six months ago to 86% now. However, that’s hardly surprising given that it’s all but saturated the market any way; the last 10% to 15% is always the most difficult to convert. The interesting part is that effectiveness scores remained static for review sites, video-sharing and location-based services, and actually decreased for photo-sharing sites. Understandably MySpace got panned, but that’s another story.
So why are small business now embracing social media channels?
According to Mark Schmulen, general media manager at Constant Contact, it’s the level of interactivity and the ability to communicate directly with customers that makes it so successful. However, small businesses have to take the rough with the smooth if they want to prosper. Customers want to be heard, and if they have a complaint then they want that to be dealt with. Unfortunately not all small businesses have cottoned on to this yet. Social media channels are transparent: customer comments need to be responded to and addressed, whether they’re good or bad. Unfortunately only 60% of SMBs are currently doing this:
“Small businesses are still learning how social media marketing can help them grow their customer relationships. Just six months ago, they were learning the ropes and finding out what social media marketing tools were available. Now, they are beginning to understand more about what social media marketing can do for them.”
“Plain and simple, customers want small businesses to interact with them, whether that’s on email or via their social media platform of choice, be it Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn,” Schmulen said. “The great news for small businesses is that they already know all about providing a great customer experience, and they are showing that they can carry that over to the world of social media. It’s a great example of how small businesses are taking advantage of their smaller scale to make a huge impact with these tools.”