by Christine Wong
Time for a social media reality check, kids.
The myth: All companies are happily, constantly tweeting, posting and linking up a storm on social media, to their hearts’ delight and their bottom lines’ benefit.
The truth: … not so much.
The reality, based on a few new studies and a roomful of collective gaspers (I’ll get to them later), is that many SMBseither still haven’t jumped wholeheartedly onto the social media train – or the ones that have are struggling with how to use, manage and afford it.
Exhibit A: a surprising 49 per cent – yes, that’s half – of SMBs who responded to our ITB/Dell State of the Canadian SMB survey last year said they weren’t even using social media at all in their businesses. When we asked them why in this year’s survey, the top reason (cited by 35 per cent) was lack of time and resources. Another 16 per cent say they figure it’s just not worth investing in.
Exhibit B: “One in four small businesses hates social media!” screams the headline on a news release that crossed my screen this week from iContact, an email and social media marketing firm based in North Carolina. A quarter of SMBs surveyed by iContact say they hate (that’s iContact’s wording, not mine) using the likes of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Groupon, the sites included in the study.
Twitter was the biggest target of vitriol among SMBs, with 46 per cent in the iContact survey expressing actual hate (again, their words, not mine) for the microblogging site. Negative survey comments on social networking overall ranged from “It seems like an enormous time commitment” to “It has nothing to do with the merit of the business, but who can manipulate the system.” Ouch.
Where, as the Supremes asked, did our love go? Just a few years ago, so many SMBs rushed to embrace these sparkling new tools for reaching out to customers, tuning in to their feedback, and pushing out marketing and sales messages to the masses. And all in real time, baby.
Which brings us to Exhibit C: A room full of people at a recent Intuit SMB panel here in Toronto’s hipster chic Liberty Village let out a collective sigh of relief and recognition when the topic of social media pitfalls bubbled up.
“You can’t tweet when you’re driving your car!” panelist Ali McEwen confessed to the crowd with a knowing glance, prompting laughs – but also fuelling a lengthy, fascinating dialogue with the rest of the panel about the pros (and mostly cons) of social media.
McEwen, CEO of Toronto maternity wear firm Baby On Board Apparel, was lamenting the fact that the real time nature of social media makes it a hugely challenging beast for her to constantly feed and monitor, especially on top of all the regular daily demands of running her business. It was as if someone had finally spoken up about a frustration so many in the audience had also experienced but not yet expressed.
A fellow panelist said he just can’t afford to hire someone to manage his SMB’s social media strategy because at only a year old, his retail furniture business just doesn’t have room in its budget. He also conceded he’s a tad wary of social media since just “one mistake made in front of a large (online) audience can wipe you out.”
Another panelist bemoaned the fact that too many SMBs end up delegating their social media strategy to “the lowest person on the totem pole” (there’s a shout out to all you lowly interns). It saves SMBs money, she said, but often compromises the accuracy or tone of their company’s social media profile.
Even SMBs with enough dough to hire a full-time social media guru (on staff or contracted out) face the dilemma of what gets lost in translation when you stop managing your company’s online profile directly yourself.
“I will never have someone tweet on my behalf from my personal Twitter account,” McEwen declared at the SMB forum. “My business is a part of me. It’s my life. We are one.”
A pretty powerful statement. And judging by all the heads in that room vigorously nodding in agreement, as well as some of the latest survey stats, social media is a technology most SMBs really do want to use. They’re still figuring out the most effective, efficient, affordable way to do so.