According to a recent survey conducted by the online payroll company SurePayroll, a majority of small-business owners believe there is substantial business value in popular social networking Web sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Fifty-five percent of small-business owners surveyed said they believe social networking has a place in the business world.
"It's excellent that so many small businesses are starting to recognize the benefits of social networking," SurePayroll's Online Marketing Manager David Rohrer said. "Social networking offers small-business owners an inexpensive and effective way for them to connect with their customers and prospects."
The survey also indicates that one out of every five of the small-business owners polled had actually obtained at least one new customer as a direct result of using social media. SurePayroll President Michael Alter said the online presence of small businesses is becoming more important to remain competitive with large corporations. Social media outlets, he said, have helped leveled the playing field.
Alter said these sites offer huge opportunities to midmarket business owners. If big business can tap into the blogosphere and post their company profile pages in online communities, Alter said SMBs should do the same. He said the online world doesn't require million-dollar marketing budgets and noted that some of the most effective social networking sites are free to business owners. "That's the power of the Internet," he said.
Adding further evidence that online social media outlets are a must for SMBs, a September 2008 study conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for Cone revealed SMB customers would like social media-fostered relationships with their businesses. The survey found 85 percent of social media users think companies should interact with their consumers through sites such as Facebook and Twitter. SurePayroll's survey revealed 85 percent of business owners participating in social media for business are doing so by way of blogging online.
For some businesses, however, doubt remains. While the majority of SurePayroll respondents indicated social media is useful for business purposes, a third said they were unsure of social media's role in the business world. It is important to weigh the risks and rewards, Alter said, but if a commitment is made, be ready to go all-in. "If you just dabble in it, you're better off not doing anything," he said. "Static is dead. The customer wants what's current."
For those SMB owners hesitant to commit to online social networking, the survey also includes some tips as to how SMBs can jump-start their involvement in social media, like figuring out where your business fits into the online community. Different social networking sites offer different advantages to businesses, so determining how LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook (to name a few) can benefit your business will save you time and effort.
Maintaining your commitment to the online community you hope to create is of particular importance. If you create a blog for your company, Alter recommends posting regularly and responding to comments in a positive way. Social media communities are not one-way streets, and participants have a fine ear for corporate-speak, which they find wholly unappealing. By giving your blog a personality and not treating it as a dumping ground for press releases, you'll benefit from a more vibrant and honest audience. "The things you want to do is make sure you're putting information out there in a way that reflects the personality of what your business is," Alter said.
Always keep in mind that many of these sites will come and go, so there's no point trying to dominate every social media venue that pops up. Pick the ones you think connect your business to the customer base in the most beneficial way, and plan a long-term strategy around building a community there. It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a mature vision to raise a community.