Social Media and SMBs: Conflicting Data

Last week I took some heat from several people in response to a press release put out about a SMB survey done through MerchantCircle. The release showed a large percentage of survey respondents adopting social media for marketing purposes.

The release and the related post were clear that the survey population was ahead of the curve (“active” MerchantCircle users) and these respondents were not the typical SMBs — though in a way there’s no “typical” SMB. What we said was they were potentially representative of the future and where the market may be headed:

This group of respondents in my view represent a leading indicator of where a big chunk of the SMB market may be headed. These are scrappy SMBs, trying to find ways to promote themselves on a shoestring (44% spend less than $1K annually on marketing).

People who didn’t read the release or the remarks on the post carefully accused the survey of being biased or having an “agenda.”

In an effort to promote their upcoming conference, the Kelsey Group released some of its own data from its regular survey of SMBs (n=302). The headline says “9% of SMBs Currently Use Twitter to Market Their Businesses.” The release goes on to say:

32 percent of SMBs indicated they plan to include social media in their marketing mix in the next 12 months by using a page on a social site such as Facebook, LinkedIn or MySpace.

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Here’s what the earlier Citibank (n=500) telephone SMB survey said:

76 percent have not found social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to be helpful in generating business leads or for expanding their business during the last year

This means by implication that 24% said they had used social media sites to market themselves or as a source of leads.

Here are the Opus/MerchantCircle data:

Picture 91

Picture 92

Compare the numbers:

  • Opus/MerchantCircle (active SMBs): 46% say they have a Twitter account, with 32% saying they have one for their business
  • Citibank: 24% (by negative inference) have used social networks to promote their business
  • Kelsey: 9% have used Twitter, with 32% saying they’re going use social media in the future

So who’s “right”?

Every SMB survey is a snapshot and cannot be generalized to the market as a whole. There is no “representative” SMB survey sample. I will acknowledge that the Citi and Kelsey numbers are probably closer to the broader market in terms of social media penetration. Yet the Opus/MerchantCircle numbers (n=2,403) show that among somewhat savvier and more active SMBs, a large number are already using social media to promote themselves.

If generalized to the broader market, however, the way in which the Citibank or Kelsey data may distract or confuse is in contributing to the perception that SMBs aren’t using social media or aren’t really interested (although the Kelsey data indicate future interest). However, there are already millions of SMBs on Facebook and to a somewhat lesser extent on Twitter. Again, there is no unified SMB “market.” There are market segments: headcount, industry, revenues, years in business. Each segment will share features with the others but be distinct in the way that auto dealers or realtors are distinct from lawyers and general contractors.

All of these surveys, including ours, are just data points for the broader trends discussion.

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6 Responses to “Social Media and SMBs: Conflicting Data”

  1. Dave Hucker Says:

    It was only for having read your previous post that I noticed the disparity in both surveys.

  2. Greg Sterling Says:

    Exactly! :)

  3. Dave Hucker Says:

    LOL! Good luck in London. Take pictures!

  4. Sanjeev Aggarwal Says:

    I have done a somewhat similar survey of the small businesses. You can read the findings at:

    http://sanjeevaggarwal.wordpress.com/2009/09/27/small-businesses-interest-in-social-media-increasing-rapidly/

    and

    http://sanjeevaggarwal.wordpress.com/2009/09/27/interest-in-social-media-among-small-businesses-correlates-to-number-of-years-they-have-been-in-business/

    These results are indicative of the more sophisticated SMB is metro regions.

    Sanjeev Aggarwal

  5. Greg Sterling Says:

    SanJeev:

    How many SMBs were in the survey?

  6. Facebook Story Consistent with Study « Screenwerk Says:

    [...] The story provides anecdotal evidence of the trend we tried to suggest with the study (“engaged SMBs”) that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. [...]

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