Small Biz Ambivalent About Social Media

Owners of small businesses are lukewarm about social media, even as they recognize its potential for connecting with existing customers and reaching new ones, according to a survey of 304 U.S. small business owners and managers by Hiscox. The findings suggest how far social media still has to go in proving its utility, especially in the area of measuring and demonstrating ROI.

Overall, 47% of small business owners and managers surveyed by Hiscox said they don't use social media for business purposes at all. Though that number sounds discouraging, looked at in glass-half-full mode, it means that roughly 50% are indeed using social media.

The more troubling findings came when Hiscox took a closer look at the attitudes of owners and managers who are using social media: just 12% described social media as a "must" for their marketing and promotional strategies, compared to 50% for word-of-mouth recommendations. Notwithstanding the obvious potential for overlap between social media and WOM, the social media number is low enough that, at least for this survey group, it still looks like a largely experimental exercise -- something which they could just as easily do without. 24% said they do it "when they have the time," and 14% said they just don't know enough about social media. Clearly, these numbers still leave a large proportion of small business owners who are just not impressed with social media so far.

Among those who are using social media, 19% use Facebook, 15% use LinkedIn, and 4% use Twitter. 28% said they considered their company's Facebook page the most important social media channel, compared to 18% for a company page on LinkedIn, and 8% for a company blog. 10% said they use social media for research purposes.

Some of these figures differ from those in other surveys I have covered recently. In May, for example, I reported on a survey by Webs which found that 69% of small businesses were using social media. The Webs survey did turn up similar ambivalence about its effectiveness: of the small business owners surveyed by Webs, 59% said social media has "not met" or only "slightly met" their expectations as a marketing tool, and 43% said they currently allocate 10% or less of their marketing budgets to social media.

3 comments about "Small Biz Ambivalent About Social Media ".
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  1. Josh Mendelsohn from Salsify, July 15, 2011 at 4:05 p.m.

    I am not sure ambivalent is the right word, more like apprehensive. We see tons of small businesses who have gotten started and are looking for more. We also see lots who aren't sure that they have the skills they need to be successful. These numbers are low and contrast with some that seem abnormally high. Either way, small businesses need help. That's why we created a great free and pretty comprehensive resource for small businesses who need help getting social success across networks at

    It's a pretty cool site and it is no strings attached! Hopefully we'll see a rise in social success among small businesses soon.

  2. Jerry Johnson from Brodeur, July 16, 2011 at 8:26 p.m.

    I agree with John that small businesses need help, but Erik I think your label of 'ambivlance' is correct. Constant Contact's resources are great. But there is no more hard-nosed, no 'bullshit' audience than a small business person.

  3. Juliette Cowall from Godwin Plumbing & Hardware, July 18, 2011 at 9:19 a.m.

    As the marketing director for a small business, I'm not at all "ambivalent" about social media. I just don't have the resources - whether it's time to learn/do it myself or funds to hire an outsider.

    Josh, I'm sure your resource is great, but do I have time for 80 chapters/videos? And there are countless other resources available to small businesses. How do we decide which resource is worth the time?

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