12 Social Media Marketing Trends for Small Business.

Curious about how other small businesses are using social media to get more sales?
Wondering which platforms work best for small businesses?
Social Media Examiner’s seventh annual Social Media Marketing Industry Report, a survey of 3,720 marketers, business owners and solopreneurs from the U.S. and overseas, reveals some trends gaining momentum, as well as some surprising stalls.

#1: Social Media Critical for Small Business

First, 96% of survey participants use social media marketing, and 92% of those agree or strongly agree with the phrase, “Social media marketing is important for my business.” Keep in mind that participants self-selected from a pool of over 300,000, and therefore are probably more interested in social media marketing than people who did not respond.

#2: Facebook Dominates Small Business Social Media Marketing

The majority of respondents carry out social media marketing on Facebook. The chart below shows that 93% use Facebook, ahead of Twitter at 79%. In the coming year, 62% of respondents plan to increase their use of Facebook for marketing purposes. Sixty-six percent will increase Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn activity.

Twitter is gaining on Facebook, however, and with its new advertising opportunities, will be an interesting property to watch over the next year or so. It’s much the same story for Instagram and Pinterest, both of which doubled their traffic from 2014 to 2015.
YouTube is more commonly used by larger businesses. Specifically, 71% of businesses with 100+ employees use YouTube, compared to 38% of the self-employed.
#3: B2B Small Businesses Use Social Differently Than B2C

Breaking down Social Media Marketing Industry Report averages is useful. B2B respondents for this survey report that LinkedIn is their number-one choice for social networking.

B2C companies, on the other hand, go to Facebook first and in larger numbers. This makes sense because B2B businesses are looking for the marketing people, facilities managers, buyers and others who rely on LinkedIn for industry connections and news. Facebook is comprised of nearly every consumer on the planet.
Seventy-one percent of B2B marketers want to learn more about LinkedIn this year. This said, just 18% of B2B marketers are using LinkedIn ads. These same marketers are using Facebook ads at a rate of 75%.

#4: Most Small Business Marketers Don’t Know if Facebook Efforts Are Working

Despite the fact that 92% of small businesses agree that social media is important for their business AND that the majority use Facebook for their social media marketing, most also report that they don’t know whether their Facebook outreach is “working.”
“Working” may mean building brand awareness and relationships with customers. It could also mean bringing in more leads and sales. The bottom line is that the majority of small businesses either don’t know if Facebook achieves the goals they’ve set or it does NOT achieve those goals. It could also mean they have no goals or they haven’t bothered to measure their progress toward goals. Shockingly, despite the high numbers using Facebook, just one in three self-employed respondents characterize Facebook efforts as “effective.”

Facebook’s domination of social media marketing despite the fact that most marketers are uncertain of its impact should concern small businesses. Without the benefit of a marketing team creating a strategy complete with goals and measurement, small businesses have a harder time evaluating marketing efforts. They may have simply embraced the notion pushed by marketing agencies and media that Facebook is THE place to be, an inexpensive way to market to a targeted audience. As a relatively new marketing platform with plenty of buzz, Facebook’s hype could be clouding its true potential for small business.
On the other hand, 44% of survey respondents have been using social media for two years or less. That short time frame makes the lack of clarity understandable. Most marketing efforts take a year or more to begin returning results. Small businesses may not be giving their social media efforts a chance.
#5: Small Businesses Plan to Expand Facebook Activities This Year

The Social Media Marketing Industry Report also found that, again, despite the cloudiness surrounding Facebook’s effectiveness, 62% plan to increase activities on it.
Sixty-eight percent of survey participants indicated they want to learn more about using Facebook for marketing. You’ll see below, too, that 53% plan to increase their ad spend on Facebook this year.
Social media beginners shouldn’t be concerned that they’ve missed the chance to get a foothold for their business on Facebook. Although Facebook has existed since 2006, many small businesses are still figuring out how to use all of its features to grow their customer base, engagement and more.
#6: Most Small Businesses Spend 6 Hours or More Weekly on Social Media

Because of the crush of responsibilities they have, small business owners worry about the time it takes to keep an audience engaged on social channels. Tools like Hootsuite and Post Planner cut down on time spent, but social media marketing still requires significant time. These figures give small business owners and marketers a clear idea of the time competitors are investing.
Thirty-three percent of study respondents report that they devote 1 to 5 hours weekly to social media marketing; however, a robust 25% spend 6 to 10 hours each week.

As shown in the chart below, solopreneurs and businesses with 2 to 10 people fall mostly in the 1 to 5 or 6 to 10 hours per week category. Still, 19% of marketers devote more than 20 people-hours weekly to social media.

#7: Small Businesses Identify Increased Exposure as Social’s Top Benefit

Even though “increased exposure” is more difficult to measure than a metric like traffic or bounce rate, marketers and small business owners rank it the number-one benefit of marketing on social media.
Whether through social channel engagement, referral source data from Google Analytics or customers sharing in person or by phone how they found the business on social media, business owners and marketers believe social media gets them in front of more and wider audiences.

#8: Increased Traffic to Website Is Number-Two Benefit of Social Marketing

The chart above indicates that 77% of the survey’s nearly 4,000 respondents have appreciated the traffic that comes to their sites via social referral (clicking from Facebook or LinkedIn to the website for a blog post or landing page offer). Google Analytics and other tools make getting this data possible, even easy.
More exciting, the longer small businesses use social marketing, the more frequently they report increased traffic.

Like any marketing tactic, social media requires time before results emerge. Agreement with the statement that social brought additional traffic to respondents’ websites increased year after year, from 61% of those using it less than 1 year to 82% calling it effective after 5 years.
#9: Social Media Cuts Marketing Expenses for Small Businesses

Early on, social media developed the reputation of reaching audiences at a low price. Before 2014, Facebook was allowing companies to reach their audiences for free. That smart move brought lots of marketers to the channel. The prospect of a free marketing channel with a potential reach of one billion people proved irresistible. The perception that Facebook promoted offers online for little to no money grew.
With lots of companies hooked, however, Facebook started charging for marketing activities in spring 2014. With costs rising, returns cannot be as robust. And yet this year’s Social Media Marketing Industry Report found that 51% of businesses with 10 or fewer employees who also spend 6 hours or more on social media marketing still believe that it reduces overall marketing expenses. Enterprise-level companies with 1,000 employees, on the other hand, tend to hire staff to carry out social media. With additional labor, it’s not surprising that just 59% of large companies did not find cost savings through social media.

#10: Small Business Direct Social Sales Rise Over Time

The goal of all marketing tactics eventually is increased leads and sales. As mentioned above, social media has more challenges than search engine optimization and pay-per-click ads when demonstrating direct sales.
More than half of marketers who have been using social media for more than 2 years report their channels helped them improve sales. Seventy percent of those with a 5-year social media marketing investment report it helps improve sales.

A recent Social Media Examiner research article brings attention to two important studies that may indicate social sales rising overall as well. Internet Retailer’s “2015 Social Media 500” reviewed 500 leading merchants’ use of social media. In 2014 social commerce sales of just those 500 companies rose to $3.3 billion from $2.62 billion in 2013, an increase of 25%.
Leading statistics provider Statista also predicts a leap in worldwide social sales from 2014 to 2015. Where sales originating from social channels amounted to $20 billion in 2014, Statista sees it hitting $30 billion by year-end 2015. This 50% increase will get the attention of marketers and small businesses.
Finally, a January 2015 Shareaholic study of 300,000 websites revealed that as of Q4 2014, 31.24% of all traffic came from social media. These findings are all promising for social selling.

#11: Facebook Dominates Social Media Paid Ads

The low cost associated with social media ads is just one aspect that appeals to small businesses. The ability to target ads to a narrow geographic (down to the zip code) and demographic market provides another.

The success of Facebook’s paid ads has propelled its stock price from $20 per share in 2012 to $80 per share in May 2015. LinkedIn and Twitter ads have met with some success, prompting our survey respondents to consider them seriously in the coming year. Other social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and others have ad opportunities in development. The potential of ads on these latter platforms remains untested, which in large part may be keeping advertisers at bay at this point.
Moreover, 53% of our respondents indicated they would be increasing their use of Facebook ads in the future. Google and Twitter should have a bump as well with 38% and 31% of respondents planning to increase spending on these channels. Other channels have a more difficult road ahead as the vast majority of respondents indicated they have no plans to utilize them for ads in the coming year. Get the report to see just how unpopular LinkedIn ads are compared to Foursquare. It isn’t pretty. The report’s 12 charts indicating how marketers plan on increasing and decreasing advertising activity can help you position your business.
The reluctance to spend on smaller channels could be viewed another way, however. Less ad crowding on a channel at this point could mean less competition for attention to individual ads. In our recent discussion of Pinterest, we shared that Forrester Research predicts Pinterest could surge in 2016, even though the traffic it sends to websites pales in comparison to Facebook’s referrals at this time. That platform has emerged as an online shopping list for consumers, as most use it to save ideas of what they want to buy. While Pinterest’s traffic referral numbers lagged behind Facebook’s by a large margin, users there have high buying intent. They are SHOPPERS.
The lack of interest in smaller channels could also reflect that marketers simply haven’t learned enough about these platforms. Aggressive marketers will undoubtedly experiment with the various channels to determine where the value exists for their brands.

#12: Types of Social Media Content

Once a small business determines which channel drives the most valuable (and intentional) traffic, the next step is to provide the content to engage that traffic.
Blogging and visual assets nearly tied at 70% and 71% respectively. The self-employed depend on blogging, with 79% of that faction reporting they blog. At this time, just 10% of marketers use podcasting, but some speculate that podcasting could be an opportunity. Requiring higher budgets and more technology, video content finishes third.

Despite the easy digestibility of video and visuals, marketers pinpointed blogging as their most important type of content. Consumers now research their purchases thoroughly before buying, and the blog most likely provides more extensive information than the quick image or 1-minute teaser video.

Small businesses must invest every marketing dollar wisely, and yet taking risks on less-crowded platforms can pay off, too. When every step you take is informed by research, your chances for success (and your confidence) rise.