Advertisers and marketers are obsessed with social media, but large parts of the U.S. business world remain hesitant or uncertain about using sites like Facebook and Twitter, according to a survey by RatePoint, which found that just 36% of small business owners are using social media to reach consumers. That's about half the rate among larger businesses: earlier this year a survey by KingFishMedia of 457 marketing executives found 72% of respondents said their company had a social media strategy, and the majority of the rest said they will have one in place by next year.
The RatePoint findings were especially interesting because they frankly seemed to suggest that a fair number of small business owners are out of touch with current trends in American society -- namely, the wide popularity and explosive growth of social media. 20% of small business owners said they didn't think that their customers spend time on sites like Facebook or Twitter, and 27% said they weren't sure.
This is almost certainly not true, considering that there are currently 139 million U.S. Facebook users, representing 62% of the U.S. adult population of 225 million. I can also imagine some skeptic pointing to the example of mom-and-pop stores serving geriatric neighborhoods, but the fact is social media now reaches into all demographics: according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, social network use among Internet users ages 50+ increased from 22% in April 2009 to 42% in May 2010, while the proportion of Americans ages 70-75 who were online in general increased from 26% in 2005 to 45% in 2009.
Among small business owners who are using social media, one of the key selling points seems to be its low cost, with fully 70% of the utilizing cohort saying they engaged with social media because it is inexpensive. At first blush, this makes sense for a small business with a small budget. But if a start-up has aspirations to become a national brand, taking a casual, low-cost approach to social media risks a bad user experience, or even blowback, if the brand should suddenly become broadly popular (or, heaven forbid, unpopular) but lacks that personnel to manage it social media presence.