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Pinning down social media

Posted 2/25/13

Small-business owners are continuing to try social media as a marketing channel. But with so many options – and limited time and resources to use them – which ones are working best?

As with so many other things in business, the answer is: “It depends.” One thing is clear: Small businesses are moving headlong into online networking via social media, with 90 percent saying they’ve jumped in, according to a survey by the online small-business community Manta. Among small businesses using social media, 78 percent report that at least 25 percent of their customers are now finding them via social channels.

And in a recent survey conducted by Vistage International (a peer advisory firm for business executives) and The Wall Street Journal, 60 percent of the 835 small-business owners surveyed said they’ve had success growing their businesses with social media.

But the tools and platforms they use vary greatly, and “success” depends on the type of business they have and how they use the social media tools and platforms.

Surprisingly, 41 percent of the owners in this particular group named LinkedIn as the most effective for them – more than any other social media platform. I’ve written before about the importance of small businesses having a company page on LinkedIn, but a relatively small portion of businesses have done so, making this survey’s finding a bit of a stunner. The online video service YouTube was named most effective by 16 percent of the businesses, while Facebook was considered most beneficial by just 14 percent.

A mish-mash of other social media platforms (including Pinterest and Google+) account for the remainder of the “most effective” votes, with Twitter being named by just 3 percent of business owners as their top social media outlet for helping them grow. In part that’s because just 14 percent of business owners report using Twitter at all, and Twitter is just now getting around to promoting its services as a tool for business.

In many respects, it comes down to this: If your customers and prospects are online and in social media (and they are), you must be too. “As 97 percent of consumers use the Internet to research products or services in their local area, and those searches regularly include company name, product or service, or business owner, it’s critical small businesses build awareness of themselves and their company online,” said Jed Williams, program director at the leading research and consulting firm BIA/Kelsey. •

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