Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Small businesses flocking to social media, but still like to self-promote

According to a new University of Maryland study (via eMarketer), social media adoption among small businesses has doubled, and these companies are satisfied with their results. Here's a graph from eMarketer showing the primary way in which these businesses are using social media:

What struck me about this was notice that the most popular ways for using social media all involve self-promotion. Posting status updates, blogging and tweeting about expertise. But notice what the LAST tactic listed is:

"Use Twitter as a customer service channel."

In many ways this suggests that these businesses are still very new to social media. Because when adopting social media use for the first time, most companies will use it as a marketing tool in the way that they are most familiar with. That means they use social media to broadcast and self-promote.

And notice that when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of its social media usage, 73% of respondents placed "Identify and attract new customers" as the top priority. But only 61% said their efforts met their expectations. This suggests to me that the expectations these companies have for their social media usage is being stifled by HOW they are using the tools. They want engagement, but aren't doing a good job of BEING engaging, it seems.

But my guess/hope is that as companies become more familiar with social media tools and their capabilities, that we'll see 'Posting status updates' moving further down that list, and see actual customer engagement becoming a priority for social media usage. THAT is where the true potential of social media for businesses lies.


mark said...

I think you're misinterpreting the data in a big way.

If 2/3rds of people say they think that there efforts are successful, that's HUGELY successful.

Can it be improved upon? Maybe, but when 2 out of 3 people say something works, it's completely miscategorizing their efforts to say they don't know what they're doing with the tools and are using them incorrectly.

That 75% of the folks are doing status updates is a GOOD thing. They are *communicating* and *engaging* with their customers--that's what a status update is.

You might think of it as a broadcast of a message, but without seeing the status updates, you don't know that--it's an assumption.

Status updates are conversation starters. BOTH sides needs to communicate in order to have a conversation, and a status update is a brand's way of offering conversation.

In the past 2 years, I've seen pundits/rockstars/etc. like yourself go from spreading the message "you've GOT to use social media or you're falling behind!" to "sure, you're using social media, but are you using it CORRECTLY?"

My takeaway from this research is that the core message is correct: more people are using social media for business purposes, it seems to be helping them with their business and it is the most cost-effective form of marketing, especially for small businesses.

I see this research as supporting the notion that using social media works for driving the bottom line, especially for small businesses.

Why can't people report good news without adding some dire prediction or caveat that adds a "yes, but..."?

Mack Collier said...

Mark, I never said that these companies don't know what they are doing. I simply stated that the manner in which they use social media (based on the study's results), implies that they are new to social media. From the companies I deal with that are new to social media, they are often excited about social media's potential to 'get our message out there'. And the study backs this up, with posting status updates being the 2nd most popular usage.

Most companies follow a similar process in their social media usage. First they use social media primarily to broadcast. Then, as they become more familiar with the tools and how they function (and why their customers are using them), then they generally become more interactive. That's when they start to see benefits.

As for us 'pundits' going from claiming that companies need to use social media to criticizing how they are using social media, ummmmm....we are simply following the marketplace. And if you think I only criticize companies for how they are using social media, you obviously haven't read this blog very long. I often have case studies and interviews with companies that ARE using social media successfully, and I do this so that other companies can LEARN from their experiences.

But I do thank you for the opposing viewpoint, that usually does quite a lot to spark interesting conversations ;)

Simon Salt said...

Mack, I think Mark makes an interesting point here. I do think the study has a couple of flaws, firstly, it does need to add context to the "Status updates". If the updates are all "Buy my junk" updates then I agree with you, we want to see those move down if not off the use scale. However, if they are conversation starters then that is a good thing. The second flaw I see is that the organizations were asked to rate their use themselves. If they are new to Social Media use then do they know enough to categorize their use. What they label simply as a Status update could in fact be part of a broader conversation.

Mack Collier said...

Simon good thoughts, and to your second one about rating their own usage, this is why I fear that some of these businesses might be overestimating how successful their efforts are.

And also, the small sample size of 89 is an issue as well. But again, the findings are consistent with what I am hearing from companies that I work with, and that contact me. They want to immediately get their message 'out there'. If that happens, they often view it as a success. But I think there's an education process involved, in that, we need to help these companies understand that unless the message is going to the right people at the right time with the right content, then it's noise.

I think a lot of company's initial social media efforts are noisy. But hey, the only way to learn with social media is via trial and error, so even being noisy is better than being silent, because it implies that learning is taking place.

Kasey S said...

I see nothing wrong with this. Business is about making money. These "feel good" preaches about listening and engaging is making me ill. What good are relationships that don't lead to sales?

Spam & irrelevant content is bad. Self-promotion is fine. It's business, not rocket science.

Mack Collier said...

Kasey you said this:

"Spam & irrelevant content is bad. Self-promotion is fine. It's business, not rocket science."

I will agree with you that self-promotion is fine...unless your target audience views it as spam and irrelevant content.

This is why I think there needs to be some give and take involved. If you are constantly providing me with content that I can use, I don't mind seeing the occasional self-promotion via social media from you. But if ALL I see is self-promotion, I will likely put it in the 'spam/irrelevant content' bucket, and tune out.

I think when it comes to self-promotion it all depends on context and frequency.

An Bui said...

Mack - I LOVE reading your blog... and "hate" it, as I always spend quite a bit of time, thinking about what you and your commenters have shared.

Businesses need to learn to walk before they can run w/ social media, so to those who are broadcasting and enjoying success, kudos. It's getting to the next level of the learning curve where they can see how social media / online conversations can affect product development, customer service, marketing, PR, business development and sales.

Ultimately, the enterprise needs to show $$$ for its efforts. They know how to value the broadcast of a message (think advertising rates) and they're just now learning how to value social CRM.

I actually don't think of broadcasting as inherently bad [ducks and hides]

With some complicated or cutting edge products, what end users or consumers want and need is more material about the product, so they can make an educated decision on what it does, how it works and how to use it before deciding if it's the right product to solve their problem.

If Henry Ford and the other pioneers of the automobile listened to consumers, might we be riding faster horses? ;)

Chris Thilk said...

I can see your point that their behavior is indicative of being new to social media, but that's where the study could have included a bit more data. Specifically what we need to see here is

1) What are the goals of the program they're using social media in support of?
2) What kinds of tactics are they employing to achieve those goals
3) How are they measuring success?

This graph only shows the answer to #2 and so I think that's where any interpretation of the data is going to be somewhat offbase. Again, I agree that this *looks* like what many companies do during the "crawl" phase of social media adoption. But if those companies are using social media tactics to move the needle on sales or promotions and have little interest in conversation then they may be farther along that usage timeline.

Mack Collier said...

An you said this:

"Ultimately, the enterprise needs to show $$$ for its efforts. They know how to value the broadcast of a message (think advertising rates) and they're just now learning how to value social CRM."

The first part is where I fear part of the problem could be. They know that their advertising costs them money to reach people, so some companies could think that since social media lets them reach people for 'free', that anything they do with it could be a successful effort.

And I will agree that broadcasting is ok IF the intended audience is ok with and expects that. Like Dell's Outlet presence on Twitter. If you follow it, you are expecting to hear about new arrivals to the Outlet. In that situation, you want to be broadcasted to.

I think the problems happen when people come to a company with a CS issue, and they get no response.

Hey An, thanks for the comment ;)

Mack Collier said...

Chris you're right, and honestly this morning when I realize the number of respondents was only 89, I wish I hadn't even posted about it.

Live and learn.

Suzanne Vara said...


N=89 is not a great number but it is the number and the data was analyzed and the results are not necessarily shocking.If the rep sample was higher I am not so sure that the results would be different based upon what I hear from clients and see from other companies.

I think that the low customer serv number can also be attributed to the fact that only 54% monitor. I see that as more concerning as so many have the FB, LI, Twitter profiles but only half are monitoring what is being said about them. How are they able to provide customer service if they do not know what is being said positive/negative? Based upon the information here I would also say that they are not executing their plan well. They are updating their profiles which is great but how are they engaging fully if they do not monitor or using SM for customer service.

Again the sample size is not the best but at the same time it does provide insight into how companies are attempting to use SM and where they are not getting full value.

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