Small businesses are conflicted about social media and its uses, says a new study.
Thirty-five percent of small businesses think their customers use the medium, but nearly half (47 percent) aren't sure about social media's popularity, says the report from online reputation management firm RatePoint.
There's even more of a divide about whether to use it to find and approach customers: a third think Facebook, Twitter et al are a good way to reach out, but just a quarter think their customers actually want to hear from them. Another third are sure their customers definitely don't want messages from them on social networks. The last 20 percent were undecided. (In a separate study released last week, seven out of 10 consumers said they were more likely to use a local business if it has information available on a social media site.)
RatePoint surveyed some 150 small businesses (mostly ones with fewer than five employees) in August 2010 for the report.
But small businesses that use social networking are seeing results. Of those surveyed who said they would be using social media as the main way to find new customers in the next year, 70 percent said it was because the platform is the least expensive option.
Nearly 60 percent of all U.S. Internet users, or 127 million people, use a social network at least once a month, says research from eMarketer. (And most return multiple times a day to chat with friends, watch video clips, and play games.) By 2014, that number is expected to jump to two-thirds of all U.S. Internet users. ComScore reports that of the 50 most-visited websites, Facebook ranks fourth – behind search engines Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft.
Think social media is only worth your time if your customers are young? Think again. Forrester Research reported that the most rapid growth occurred in the 35-and-over age group.
"Social media use is no longer limited to one demographic, everyone is adopting," said Neal Creighton, CEO and co-founder of RatePoint, in a statement. "While many small business owners are uncertain, big brands are investing heavily in social media. Social media can be a great equalizer for small businesses to compete alongside larger brands and SMBs are missing out if they are not involved."