How to Use Social Media to Engage Small Business Decision Makers

 
 
By Rob Feinstein  |  Posted 2010-07-19
 
 
 

How to Use Social Media to Engage Small Business Decision Makers


Companies marketing to small businesses would be well-advised to first focus on social media tactics that require little IT investment, according to Engaging Small Business Decision Makers through Social Media, a recent study involving 1,711 small business leaders. Using Webinars and podcasts are just two of the social media tactics suggested by the study. Companies marketing to small businesses should also establish a presence on top social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook before pursuing more IT resource-intensive initiatives (such as creating a company-managed online community). 

The study found that four of the top five most effective social media tactics for engaging small business decision makers do not require significant IT investment or involvement. Company blogs are the exception. Company blogs should be backed by both a strategic content strategy and the resources necessary to create this content on an ongoing basis. This should be done before IT resources are allocated to blog creation or management.

The study examined the social networks and other social media resources that small business owners and managers turn to for business-relevant information. In contrast to the common perception of social media as inherently "social" or interactive, study participants using social media for business were much more likely to use resources which don't require interaction such as Webinars and podcasts (67 percent) or reading product reviews (63 percent) than they were to participate in online discussions (29 percent).

Top Five Social Media Resources


Top five social media resources

The top five social media resources used by small business leaders are:

1. Webinars and podcasts

Small business leaders consider Webinars and podcasts two great resources for professional development, industry research, and learning about potentially relevant products and services. Webinars and podcasts save small business leaders the time and expense of attending in-person training.

2. Ratings and reviews

Ratings and reviews provide useful input into the business buying process, particularly those ratings or reviews provided by other small businesses using the product or service.

3. Company and brand pages on social networking sites

Social network participation is now mainstream for adults in the United States, with 46 percent using sites such as Facebook and 25 percent participating on a weekly basis. Small business leaders are increasingly turning to these sites to find the latest information about important vendors, products and services.

4. Company blogs

Small business leaders praise company blogs-at least those that are "well-written, current and with good thought leadership articles" as great sources of information about business-relevant products and services, as well as the underlying character of a company.

5. Social media search

While some of the business-relevant information on social media sites can be found through general Internet search engines, a great deal cannot. Realizing this, over half of small business leaders use social media search to find business-relevant information directly on sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, SlideShare and many more.

Focus on External Social Media Opportunities


Focus on external social media opportunities

B2B social media marketing initiatives require marketing and IT to work closely together to prioritize projects, allocate resources, manage execution, and maintain new systems and features. One key implication from this study for companies marketing to small businesses is that marketing can and should actively pursue B2B social media initiatives which require little IT investment before taking on more IT resource-intensive projects.

For example, rather than placing a company-managed online community as the core of the emerging social media strategy-a community where, according to the study, it would be very challenging to build participation by small business leaders-instead establish a company presence on one or more social networking sites. Focus your initial community development efforts on those sites.

By focusing first on external, "IT-lite" social media opportunities, companies marketing to small businesses are more likely to reach a far larger portion of their target audience in the short run, begin to develop a following, and learn key lessons that inform what social media features and functionality are actually necessary on the company Website.

Rob Feinstein is Vice President and General Manager at Business.com. Rob oversees all aspects of sales, marketing and product development. Rob joined Business.com in 2005 as vice president of product and was responsible for monetization, user experience and new feature development. Prior to Business.com, Rob was vice president and general manager of MonsterTRAK, the college recruiting specialty division of Monster.com. In that role, Rob oversaw all business functions including new product development and strategic relationships with major universities nationwide. Prior to MonsterTRAK, Rob worked at EarthLink, leading the creation of subscription-based, value-added services ranging from online entertainment services to voice over IP. Rob also held senior management positions at CareerPath and GeoCities. He was also a marketing, planning and sales executive at the Los Angeles Times.

Prior to all of this, Rob was an award-winning journalist. He worked for The Associated Press and newspapers in Dallas and St. Louis. Rob holds a Bachelor's degree in History from Brown University, a Master's degree in Journalism from Columbia University, and an MBA degree from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College. He can be reached at rfeinstein@business.com.

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