Only 24% of small businesses have a social media strategy

Nearly half don’t use social media at all, a survey has found. One big reason: Owners are needlessly intimidated, experts say.

For social media enthusiasts, it might be a little disheartening to know that only 24 percent of small businesses have a strategy for their social media presences.

But there is hope, according to a survey compiled by Small Business Trends. Though nearly half of small businesses don’t use social media at all, many small-business owners either have plans to start within the next year (22 percent) or currently use social media in an ad hoc fashion (29 percent).

The barriers to entry on social media are fairly low, so why don’t more businesses use it, and doing so with some degree of strategy? Social media experts and small-business consultants weighed in.

The roadblocks

Suzi Sherman, owner of Delphic Growth Academy, says she sees three major obstacles that keep small-business owners from going all-in on social media. Marketing is hard as it is, she says. When you don’t know what to say to the audience you’ll find, it’s hard to get started. Plus, technology is daunting and fast-moving.

Then there’s the big one: the cost, in terms of both money and time.

“Most small-business owners are running their business,” Sherman says. “It’s so much to do and probably something to do every day. So when the average business owner, who is savvy at their product or service, has to take on those three big issues, many opt out of the process completely.”

Social media strategist Jonathan Rick says business owners often build the complexity of social media up in their minds to the point that it becomes intimidating.

“Many people think that in order to do social media, they need to be an expert on Google Hangouts or up to date about the latest Instagram privacy policy,” he says. “This is a fallacy.”

Training needs

Susan Payton, president of Egg Marketing and Communications, says education is what will get business owners on track.

“Understanding why you’re on a given platform and what you hope to achieve by being there is necessary, otherwise you’re churning your wheels,” she says. “I think small businesses need to see other business’ social media strategies to understand what they should look like.”

Sherman adds that business owners need to see what the payoff to using social media is, and why it’s worth the risk.

“On the Internet, you can say the wrong thing really loudly, and nobody wants that,” she says.

Holland says small-business owners have resources available to them to obtain that sort of training.

“Chambers of commerce, small-business associations, and other groups offer training in how to use social media most effectively, including the tools that are available to use social media efficiently,” he offers.

Holland adds that hiring someone to handle social media on behalf of a business is worth the expense, because being on social media but not being involved regularly is a waste of time and whatever effort one does put into it.

Attitude changes

Rick contends that all small-business owners really need to become enthused about social media is to change their perception of it. It’s about being socially savvy, he says, not media- or technology-savvy.

“Knowing how to communicate, how to connect with people and speak intimately to their concerns, is a better predictor of success than knowing the difference between a Facebook page and a Facebook group,” he says.

Social media isn’t all that different from what small-business owners do every day in real life when they deal with customers, Rick says.

He adds that small-business owners should approach social media from a strategic approach rather than a feeling of obligation. Ask “why” and “how,” Rick says.

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