Social Media Holds B2B Promise for Small Businesses

More than 80 percent of small businesses use social media for business, but primarily to market their own company, not to interact with suppliers.

social media and small business

Despite the substantial benefits of collecting and using social media data, less than one-third of marketers targeting small and midsize businesses mine social media to identify new opportunities, and only 4 percent use it to gather highly valuable SMB owner data to create better informed leads, according to a report by CEB Research of 880 SMBs across North America.

More than 80 percent of small business owners use social media for business purposes, but primarily use it to market their own businesses, not to interact with suppliers. When owners do interact with suppliers, the main thing they are looking for is easy-to-access deals and promotional offers, the report found.

"Our main advice for B2B marketers is not to use social media to talk at customers—yet another spam machine--but instead use it to understand customers and ultimately encourage them to be your advocates," Peter Tait, vice president of marketing at Radius, told eWEEK. "SMBs, similar to our enterprise customers who target SMBs, should utilize social media to better understand a customer's business, its market, what's affecting them and how they're growing."

Facebook remains the top social media site used by SMB owners to promote their business, and they use Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter to interact with suppliers.

The survey also found Yelp is the top social media site used by SMB owners in the food and accommodation industries.

The CEB study indicated social media marketing that targets SMBs can be money well spent, and that SMB owners are increasingly more aware of suppliers on social media, growing from 38 percent in 2012 to 50 percent today.

Among SMB owners who have seen social media messages from their supplier, almost 40 percent report feeling more positive about the supplier’s brand.

"One of the stumbling blocks [for small businesses] is adoption," Tait said. "SMBs either don't have the resources or don't see the value in social media. When you compare similar businesses operating in the same city, the one that scales online--from significant Yelp reviews to Facebook likes and Twitter followers--sees dramatic uplift in their numbers."

Content about small business and small business industries are the most popular types of content with SMB owners, the report found, but owners complain that suppliers often over-advertise, and that suppliers advertise items that do not relate to them and that invade their personal social media feeds.

"No one social media platform is suited for any one business--it varies from industry and location to many more factors like type of product, customer and special factors," Tait explained. "Today, the only way to know which social media platform is most influential for your business and your customer is to engage with modern data technology and machine learning that can process all the data across all the platforms and derive insights about a customer's behavior."

He also predicted SMBs would increasingly use social media for B2B purposes as a next logical step in their social media evolution.

"A lot of local business is done by word of mouth and reputation. Social media is great for organically spreading the word--getting folks to advocate for you," Tait said. "Today, a lot of business owners and business-to-business marketers use Facebook and LinkedIn for personal reasons and intuitively understand how it creates a community. The difference with business-to-business marketing is that companies need to mine the customer data they find online to discover better ways to engage with customers."