By Kaylen Auer
PBN Web Editor
By Kaylen Auer
PBN Web Editor
PROVIDENCE – A smaller percentage of Rhode Island small-business owners view social media as an effective tool for customer engagement compared with business owners nationwide, according to the 2014 Cox Business Barometer released Monday.
The blind survey, which polled more than 600 U.S. small-business owners in late April, revealed that 49 percent of respondents in Rhode Island selected social marketing as “very effective” or “somewhat effective,” lower than the 58 percent who favored social media in the U.S. as a whole.
Email remained the top customer engagement tool in the 2014 nationwide survey, with 82 percent of respondents in the country selecting email as an effective tool for engagement. Phone communication (80 percent) and in-person events (78 percent) were also among the most popular tools, which text messaging (40 percent) and direct mail (39 percent) were said to be the least effective.
“For the second consecutive year, our survey has found that business owners are expressing optimism about their own future, which means they are taking the right steps to increase efficiency and service, and engage customers in ways that drive revenue,” said Steve Rowley, senior vice president of Cox Business.
A majority of U.S. small-business owners, 60 percent, said they have taken the time to develop a marketing strategy for 2014, with 56 percent focusing their marketing efforts equally among existing and potential customers
While 53 percent of respondents nationally said they have not asked customers about their preferred communication method – email, phone, social media, etc. – 47 percent said they would give themselves a “B” when it comes to using technology to improve performance and efficiency, in line with the 43 percent who gave themselves that grade in Rhode Island, Cox Business said.
Facebook was the most-used social media channel in the 2014 survey, with 52 percent of small businesses in the U.S. using the social network to notify customers of special promotions. Eighty-three percent of respondents nationally said they had never used Instagram to reach out to customers, while 80 percent had never used Pinterest and 75 percent had never used YouTube.
“As customers become more knowledgeable about what they buy before they even talk to a business, new expectations are being established,” said Jim Blasingame, leading small business expert and author of “The Age of the Customer.” “But small-business owners and managers, in particular, should be excited about the unique opportunity they have to meet these new expectations with the array of online resources available to them in applications and pricing that fits a small enterprise.”
The study also unveiled that while businesses are optimistic about their own future (67 percent said they expected success in the next year), they are also concerned about potential economic uncertainty caused by national issues such as government regulation, energy costs, the Affordable Care Act and immigration reform.
Compared with national respondents, fewer business leaders in Rhode Island are concerned about the Affordable Care Act, Cox said. Nationally, 46 percent of respondents are “very concerned” about the impact of health care reform on their businesses, while in Rhode Island 40 percent expressed that level of concern.
Half of all small-business owners in the United States said they are “very concerned” about the impact of economic uncertainty broadly, and 47 percent are “very concerned” about over-regulation.
The Cox Business Barometer survey results were released to coincide with National Small Business Week, which will be held this year May 12-16. To view the complete survey results, visit www.coxblue.com.