More than thirty percent of small businesses should quit using social media

Vertical Response published a recent infographic about small business social media usage based upon a recent phone survey that they conducted (see below).  Though the results aren’t a reliable benchmark, there are some lessons that many small businesses can take away from their findings.

“1/3 of small business owners want to spend less time on social media”

This isn’t a surprising statistic to me.  Many businesses start a Facebook or Twitter page because conventional wisdom says they need one.  They don’t.  My solution to that statistic is that 1/3 of business owners should quit using social media.

I don’t mean that callously, but imagine that a third of your salespeople hated selling.  It takes a special sort of resolve to fake enthusiasm and it’s nearly impossible to do it consistently.  These people aren’t enthusiastic about social media, so what are the odds that the people receiving their messages are thrilled to hear from them?  I’d guess low.  Social media is a waste of time for businesses that find it onerous.  Either someone else needs to do it or it needs to disappear – what good is it doing otherwise?

“21% of small business owners post multiple times per day on Twitter”

The picture that these responses paint are of businesses without a clear strategy for social media.  The Twitter statistic stands out, because it’s a tool where the barrier to entry is as low as anything out there.  You sign up and can direct your tweets to anyone on the platform.  On anyone’s first day using Twitter they can tweet the President of the United States and Betty White.  With tools like SocialBro you can filter users to fit a very specific criteria (be it geography, gender, et cetera) and Twitter allots you 1000 tweets per day.  So it’s hard for me to believe that a business has a deliberate social media plan when they tweet so little.

The fact that small businesses are focusing so much time on Facebook, when Facebook is trying everything in their power to get brands to advertise to augment their brand page also seems to substantiate a strategic dissonance.  That most brands sampled pay for third party tools primarily to post to Facebook furthers that point (Hubspot discovered a 66% decrease in Facebook engagement for posts published via a third party tool).

What this shows

The results of this survey (however unscientific) reinforce in my mind that some businesses justify their use of social media quite irrationally.  On no platform is this more evident than on Facebook where their stock concerns have put a myopic focus on advertising product, diminishing the reach and power of brand pages.

Business should step back and determine what they want to accomplish.  A good litmus test (in my mind) would be Robin Wallace’s Thrifty Vintage Chic page on Facebook.  You can see how Robin puts a lot of effort into her organic Facebook presence and engagement, and I think any business should be able to look at that community and determine whether they can commit the resources to build their own or if their time is better spent elsewhere.

Businesses should also raise the barrier to entry for social platforms.   Rather than viewing them as free with a small time commitment – assigning a portion of their budget to digital marketing could help to focus their efforts.  Would that money and resource be better spent collecting fans for a occasionally updated brand page on Facebook or managing an AdWords campaign?  The recent Forrester study about the effectiveness of search and email when compared to social media suggests AdWords might be worth considering.  It also suggests that rather than spending hours on social media, it might be worthwhile to spend more time on AWeber, MailChimp or (ahem) Vertical Response.

Tell me what you think – how do you interpret these responses?  Is social abdication a reasonable strategy?  How do small businesses get right with social?



Photo Credit

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • robertoblake

    The problem is that most businesses, business owners and even their employees don’t understand Social Media and what it can and can’t accomplish, the means of doing that and how to even properly manage their success and what reasonable expectations they should have.

    Most of them don’t even have a strategy. If you asked them, what their strategy was to guarantee at least a 5% growth in their followers across all of their current Social Media channels, the odds are you won’t get a very clear or practical solution or a way to measure it.

    A similar problem exist with SEO. Everyone thinks they can be in the top 10 for the keyword of their choice, and has no idea what the reality is in getting there or whether that is a reasonable goal to begin with.

    The fallacy exist that, “I’m the boss, its what I want, its your job to figure out how to do it and not questions whether we should.”

    With all do respect, that mentality is outdated and is rotting companies from the inside out and causing top talent to leave.

    Social Media begins and ends with a pen and paper and an Excel document. You need practical goals, a metric for success, a means of measuring and tracking that success or failure, and practical strategies that are likely to contribute to success.

    It also will take time, and consistency, effort and research. If the room doesn’t exist to make these things a priority, your company should bother focusing on Social Media and should merely acquire their Social URL’s for brand equity and put up basic information, update once a month and leave it at that.

    • jimdougherty

      Amen. Couldn’t state the case for thoughtful marketing any better. Thanks for the great comment!

    • Cendrine Marrouat

      Really well put!

  • Barrett Rossie

    It seems to me you have a healthy amount of skepticism about social media for business — and when I say healthy, I mean it’s good medicine for social media and for the businesses that use it. Great stuff.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks Barrett – I really love social media but I find a lot of the promises that pundits make about it rather disingenuous. It seems to me that a lot of the hype around social media marketing benchmarks large companies, highlights outlying examples that oftentimes are misleading, or are just hypothetical nonsense. I’m still looking for the research that is going to prove that social media is as effective as people perceive it to be – I’ll write about it (and implement it) when I find it! Cheers!

  • HeatherTJPalmer

    You present some accurate points, however I disagree that small businesses should give up on social media all together. First, social media should work cohesively with all other marketing efforts; they all must enhance each other. I agree with Robertoblake that a good majority of businesses have misconceptions about what social media can achieve. Furthermore, there is a distinct level of impatience, and often companies give up on Facebook or Twitter before they even have a proper chance to grow. Why not instead hire a pro that has the passion and expertise?

    • HeatherTJPalmer

      *I meant a social media pro that could provide
      consistent expertise, passion, and attention needed.

      • jimdougherty

        We don’t disagree at all, Heather. The title was provocative but I intended only to say that if a business is wasting time doing social half-heartedly and begrudgingly they probably shouldn’t. Great insight!

  • Gary Stockton

    Excellent post Jim. I keep telling my wife that she should do more on social media. She works for a small business with less than 20 employees, and she is just too busy to devote any time at all to social media other than periodic status updates on the linked in company page. I think Hubspot can help many of these small businesses plan out their activities, but if it is a sole proprietor, they often have a difficult time setting that time aside, it takes discipline. I think if they could track their social media accounts and see evidence that it is driving traffic and leads, then it would probably get more of that 21% focused. My wife just shared with me today that the ad she spent a fortune on in an industry directory only delivered 10 clicks to their web site and no leads. I recommended she place a targeted ad on Linked In aimed at property managers in their area and to monitor how it converts.Thanks for the infographic, I will share it with her.

    • jimdougherty

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Gary. You make a really strong point. I feel as if there is a lot of misinformation about the power of social media to convert customers. Have her take a look at that Forrester study ( – if I were running a small business and considering where to allocate resources I would try to work in those channels before investing heavily in social. Cheers!

  • Manumatiasmatos

    Hi. I think that many small business must lower big expectations about social media. As long as they take SM as new channels to better develop awareness and reputation inside each local community, they don´t need the drama and maybe they can have a bit of fun. The effort doesn’t convert proportionally into sales and in my humble opinion never will. But hey, this is Portugal and here we better think small sometimes. Thank’s for sharing!