Originally posted in Clutch, but “Access Denied” when trying to post it on Facebook:

facebook warning access denied

…was attempting to post this for my friend Josh Dirks, Chief Scientist of Project Bionic.


Clutch’s article/post:

Are you overwhelmed by social media marketing? Is all the talk of clicks, tweets, and engagement making you want to scream?

For small businesses, social media increasingly is a vital endeavor. Yet, wading through all the headlines and how-to guides can seem like an insurmountable task.

Instead, Clutch is here with data-driven findings and tips to help small- to medium-sized businesses increase their social media prowess.

We conducted a survey of 350 small business owners/managers across the United States to determine digital marketing habits and goals for 2017. The survey’s respondents included 40% of companies with 10 or fewer employees, 27% with 11-50 employees, 25% with 51-250 employees, and 8% with 251-500 employees.

Our Findings

  • 24% of small businesses have not used social media for their business
  • Over 90% of small businesses using social media are on Facebook
  • Over 50% plan to increase investment in Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube in 2017
  • 41% share content, engage with followers multiple times a day
  • Audience growth and clicks to website are most popular metrics for small businesses
  • Over 50% rely on in-house staff for social media marketing

While concepts like “conversion funnels” and “geo-targeting” can help you further down the road, the following data points clarify five questions that are key to gaining a first foothold on social media.

  • Is social media important for my business?  
  • Which social channels should I be on?  
  • How often should I share content?  
  • Which metrics should I track?  
  • What are the best resources for social media marketing help?  

Use the downward pointing arrows to navigate to a particular question from the list above.

 

Most, But Not All Small Businesses Use Social Media

What’s the most basic piece of advice regarding social media marketing? It’s to actually be on social media.

We found that almost one-quarter of small businesses surveyed do not yet use social media for their business, and 8% are unlikely to ever use it in the future.

Graph of Small- to Medium-Sized Businesses' Social Media Usage

3 Reasons Why Small Businesses Should Do Social Media

There are three key reasons why small businesses need social media: its cost effectiveness, growing popularity, and ability to target customers.

First, while every business’s marketing needs differ, an active social media presence has the potential to drastically improve your marketing abilities at a much lower cost than traditional media, according to Joshua Dirks, co-founder and CEO of Project Bionic(link is external), a Seattle-based creative marketing agency.

“I’m finding cost in social to be a fraction of what we’d normally see in the traditional marketing space,” Dirks said.

Second, social media is quickly replacing traditional media’s presence(link is external) across many channels. Gaining traction now will only help your business as marketing inevitably shifts further and further toward social.

“Many [small business owners] read the headlines from five to six years ago about ‘likes’ not mattering and bought into that,” said Dirks. “They are missing out because of their own viewpoint on the topic, [made] from believing five- to six-year-old headlines and not recapturing the maturation of the space.”

Third, social media is particularly important if your business targets social media users – as most do, to some degree.

“If the target customer is on social media, the business should be too,” said Alex Oesterle, owner of Blue Bear Creative(link is external), a Denver-based social media agency. “It can give a brand emerging opportunities to become a part of customers’ daily lives. With media consumption shifting from TV to mobile devices, it’s almost a necessity.”

Social media provides valuable feedback about your customers, which can be used to improve the effectiveness of your marketing endeavors.

“Social is one of the few forms that allows you to look at the data,” said Keith Kakadia, Founder and CEO of Sociallyin(link is external), a Mississippi-based social media agency. “It allows you to determine whether there’s a return on investment (ROI) for the money spent. When you have a small budget, every single dollar needs to be spent on what works.”

Facebook Is the Most Popular Social Media Channel

Facebook is in a league of its own when it comes to social media. Over 90% of small businesses that have a social media presence use Facebook.

Graph of Small- to Medium-Sized Businesses' Most Used Social Media Channels

Do you only have the time or resources for one channel? Your best option is likely Facebook.

“In general, Facebook is a beast. Its reach is incredibly vast, with almost 2 billion users,” said Oesterle. “No matter what a business does, its customers are likely on Facebook, at least in part.”

Facebook’s advertising platform is incredibly powerful. It has the ability to target customers and provide feedback on a level not touched by most other marketing tools.

“You’re able to measure ROI directly,” said Kakadia. “If you’re an e-commerce business, you’re literally able to see the dollars spent and how much you’re making off that dollar. For small businesses, they’re able to see how many people are actually coming in.”

The Growing Popularity of Twitter, Instagram & YouTube

Over 50% of small businesses want to increase investment in Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube in 2017.

Graph of social media channels that small- to medium-sized businesses want to increase investment in

With these investment priorities in mind – Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube – how can a small business choose, especially if they don’t have time for all three?

Consider the Pros & Cons of Each Channel Before Investing

1. Twitter’s Future Is Uncertain

Given the uncertainty of Twitter’s future, it may not be beneficial for a small business to invest in it right now. Twitter recently shut down their micro-video sharing service, Vine(link is external) and reported poor growth in 2016(link is external). “Twitter is having an identity crisis at the moment, but it’s useful for brands that communicate with influencers and reporters,” said Dirks.

“Twitter is a wildcard in general,” said Oesterle. “It still has a huge active audience, but their recent shutdown of Vine is a bit of a red flag for me. I wouldn’t recommend having a big investment in it; although it’s still a great platform.”

2. Instagram’s Audience Is Growing Rapidly

As of December 2016, Instagram had over 600 million users(link is external) and is growing rapidly. Instagram is an easy platform to dive into, given its built-in editing features and easy-to-use interface.

If you have the option to expand to a second social media channel, explore Instagram. “For someone looking to reach a younger market, Instagram is a good place to be,” said Dirks.

3. YouTube Is a Powerful Channel but a Large Investment

Lastly, YouTube users include up to a third of the world’s Internet users(link is external).

While YouTube can reap great rewards, it’s also costly and time-intensive to craft well-made videos. If you have the time and money to invest in video, by all means, do so. For a cash- and time-strapped small business, however, it may not be worth it.

Most Small Businesses Share Content Frequently

Your social media channels aren’t helping your business if they remain inactive day after day. Social media is only as good as the effort you put in and the content you put out.

Forty-one percent (41%) of small businesses share content and/or engage followers multiple times per day, while another 23% do so once per day.

However, there isn’t a single universal answer for how often you should be posting. Success differs based on the channel, your goals, and the type of content you publish.

Graph of Small- to Medium-Sized Businesses' Frequency of Sharing Content

Test and Adjust the Frequency of Content Sharing

Oesterle of Blue Bear Creative recommends taking an analytical approach to sharing content on social media. “Our recommendation is to start out by testing posting frequency and gauging the effectiveness of the obtained engagement, as well as the type of response the company is getting from its followers and community,” he said.

Facebook posts can have a lifespan upwards of 24-48 hours, while a tweet’s half-life can be as small as 20 minutes, said Oesterle. Understanding how content lives on its particular channel is an important step toward understanding the channels’ different potentials. You can seek out recommendations on post frequency(link is external), but ultimately, it’s best for you to test what works well for you.

Start with commonly published advice – Oesterle recommends posting 1-2x per day on Facebook and several times per day on Twitter, for example, and then adjust based on results.

Small Businesses Value Audience Growth & Clicks to Website

Now that you’re investing time in social media, it’s important to measure the rewards of your work. Clicks to website and audience growth are the two most popular metrics for small businesses to measure, tying at 25% each.

Graph of Small- to Medium-Sized Businesses' Most Important Social Media Metrics

However, these metrics may not be the best fit for your small business, though they are a good place to start.

Track Social Metrics Based On Business Goals

Choosing which metrics to track is similar to determining how frequently to share content. Determining the best metrics to track ultimately depends on your company’s individual goals. “I think the metric…you should be looking at is based on the objective,” said Kakadia.

Interestingly, when comparing the metrics small businesses track to the number of employees they have, we found that businesses with 51-500 employees place significantly more emphasis on audience growth than businesses with 1-50 employees.

Graph of Small- to Medium-Sized Businesses' Most Important Social Media Metrics (Company Size Comparison)

Audience growth is a demanding metric. “Medium-sized businesses have a little more rope, budget, and security in being able to go through and create larger social audiences,” said Dirks about the difference.

With all metrics though, it’s important to maintain a realistic mindset. “Many businesses jump into social media expecting to see an overnight increase in sales,” said Oesterle. “They are trying to achieve their own goals before providing any value to their followers or building a sense of community, which results in these companies falling flat.”

Instead, Oesterle emphasize the importance of measuring and improving metrics that lead to sales in the mid-to-long term.

Small Businesses Use Various Resources for Social Media

Still feeling overwhelmed by social media? There are numerous resources available to help you. While over 50% of small businesses keep their social media marketing in-house, a significant amount – about one-third – also use freelancers or social media marketing software to help them in their work.

Graph of Resources Used by Small- to Medium-Sized Businesses for Social Media Marketing

Don’t Trust Your Social Media to Interns

Staying in-house can be a good fit for many businesses, as long as they choose well-informed people. “One thing we hate to see is handing social media off to an intern or a freelancer with no knowledge of branding or strategy,” said Oesterle. “It makes for lackluster results and perpetuates the cycle of cutting social media costs.”

Dirks spoke similarly: “If someone is thinking about an internal team, they have to ensure that those people have the ability, know-how, and skills. Just because they’re 25 and have iPhones doesn’t mean that they have the requirements [to run social media].”

As businesses grow, they may come to a point where they need a team of experts to truly take their social media to the next level. This is when they should reach out to an agency.

“It’s important for [the small business] to be at a point where they have a clear picture of their marketing goals and what they’re looking to achieve from an agency. This will make life much easier for both the company and the agency,” said Oesterle.

Our Takeaways

Our survey results show fairly widespread adoption of social media marketing by small businesses, but there’s still room for growth. The future is on social, and it’s important to keep the following recommendations in mind to stay ahead.

  1. Wait, you aren’t using social media yet? That needs to change.
  2. If nothing else, be on Facebook.
  3. Stay engaged on your channels. Communicating frequently is important.
  4. Take time to figure out which metrics best correspond to your company’s overall social media goals.
  5. Don’t be afraid to seek help, such as a freelancer or agency, when you need it.

If you have any questions or feedback regarding these results, please contact Riley Panko at riley@clutch.co.