Small businesses flocked to social media in 2009, with their adoption of the technology doubling from 12 percent to 24 percent, says a new University of Maryland/Network Solutions study.
The Small Business Success Index, as it's called, is the third in a series of surveys the pair have done over the past year. The social media findings are based on a December 2009 telephone survey of 500 small businesses, compared to one done in December 2008.
Nearly one in five small business owners are mashing social media into the daily (and hourly) lives of their companies, with the most popular sites being Facebook and LinkedIn. Of the business owners using social media, 75 percent have company pages on the two sites, and 69 percent use status updates on the same two. Just 16 percent use Twitter.
Small business owners' biggest hopes (and current use) for social media is for lead generation. Three out of five respondents use it to identify and attract new customers.
Said Connie Steele, director of Network Solutions: "Social media can be the best friend for small business owners who constantly seek new ways to attract new customers and retain the ones they have at a relatively low cost."
Half of small business social media users complain that the platforms take more time than they'd thought, but almost the same number believe it's time well-spent -- that their social media initiatives will pay off financially in a year or less . One small business cited – Shady Grove Eye and Vision Care in the Washington DC metro area – said social media had helped reduce the marketing budget by 80 percent.
"In order to meet the growing challenge of a tough market last year, I was forced to consider alternative options to keep my business viable," said Dr. Alan Glazier, the company's founder and CEO. "With a very small investment in social media marketing, I was able to generate new business opportunities." One key success: His blog, which has been picked up by news sources, which in turn generates calls from the media and then his company name being mentioned in articles (which is pretty much how it's turned up in this one.) For help with your own blog, click here.
Social media ranks third in technology investments small businesses plan to make in the next two years. The top two: Jazzing up (or first building) company web sites and ramping up the showcasing of company products and services online.
Just six percent of those surveyed think the medium has hurt their business more than it has helped it, with 17 percent expressing concern that it gives people a chance to criticize the company publicly.