Online Networking Grows Among Small Businesses

While small businesses are using social networking and the Web to boost their companies, they struggle to find the most effective strategy.

As accessing the Internet becomes ever more ingrained into the daily habits of Americans, small business owners are taking to the Web to capture new customers, expand their businesses and network, according to a survey sponsored by Manta, a Web-based small business promotions and listing site. The vast majority (90 percent) of respondents said they dedicate time to networking online and 74 percent find networking online just as, if not more, valuable than networking in person.

The Manta survey, which tracked small business perspective about their use of online and social channels, polled 614 small business owners across the nation, who are also members of Manta, via an online Silverpop survey in August. According to the results, nearly half of small business owners surveyed say the most valuable benefit of networking online is gaining and targeting prospective customers. Moreover, 78 percent say they gained at least a quarter of their new customers through online or social media channels this year.

"Over time, I've realized that it's very important for me to maintain a consistent presence for both my business and myself online. More and more consumers, who are my prospective customers, are looking online for information about companies who offer remodeling services and architectural plans," Joseph Buczek, president of Indiana and Missouri-based Lighthouse Construction and Restoration, said in a press statement. "My presence on Manta allows me to expand awareness of both my company and myself as a small business owner online."

Despite the rising importance of an online presence and social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter and others, small business owners are still struggling to tap into these resources effectively, the survey suggested. More than half (58 percent) of small businesses surveyed said they have difficulty in finding the value of using Facebook to promote their business, while some don't even have a page in place. While a quarter of respondents said their company Website drives the most business for them, the success of popular consumer-based sites, such as Pinterest or Groupon, doesn't always translate into a business boost.

Along with the survey results, Manta also announced the expansion of its platform to help small businesses migrating online. In addition to a free company page, small business owners can use Manta to create products and services pages to showcase their offerings and member profiles to promote themselves personally as the face of the business. "Small businesses understand they need to go where their audience is. Participating, networking and being found online is extremely important today in growing their business, so it's not surprising that they are embracing the channel", Pamela Springer, CEO of Manta, said in a prepared statement. "We're empowering members of the Manta community to create a comprehensive showcase for their company, products and services, and member profile all in one place."