Almost every week a new study comes out gauging the perceptions and sentiments of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Individually these studies provide insight into a particular issue, channel or SMB challenge, but when viewed in a broader context a narrative starts to unfold.
There is compelling evidence that SMBs’ understanding and aptitude for social media is growing. More importantly, it seems that a significant number of SMBs want and may be ready to take the reins of their social media marketing.
SMBs said that the best part of running a small business was freedom (30%), control (29%), making decisions (19%) and putting their stamp on things (12%). (Constant Contact)
This Constant Contact study above showed an SMB appetite for, and pleasure in, trying new things, learning, and being in charge. When it comes to digital marketing, SMBs have a desire to do it themselves. But there’s also a recognition that digital marketing is complex and perhaps too difficult to manage in addition to running a business.
Yet among the various digital marketing channels, social media is a clear front-runner for self-management. Local Search Association (LSA) survey data shows that social media is a top marketing method for SMBs. And social media is a place many SMBs want to “put [their] stamp on things.”
Now that most business owners have had considerable time with social media as end users, particularly Facebook, they increasingly believe they can do it themselves. The familiar “understanding” or educational challenges are less prevalent than with other digital marketing.
Free educational training ranked as most important in the overall marketing investment decision. (G/O Digital)
SMBs like being in control when it comes to investing their marketing dollars. They also want to know they are making well-informed decisions. Free educational resources online help them better understand what they can manage themselves and what they may need help with.
There’s a growing body of “Top 10 Tips” and “how-to” content for nearly every social media outlet all over the internet. Vendors are using social media instruction and tips as content marketing to build awareness and trust, hoping that if (or when) a business owner needs help she will turn to the vendor that offered the best content and insight.
Yet this proliferation of free content also builds the SMB perception that any issues or questions can potentially be answered online.
60% of SMBs said they do not see ROI from investments in social media. (Manta)
This Manta-survey finding underscores ongoing social media ROI challenge. However, there may be something else behind this finding: the rising expectations of the educated and empowered SMB.
SMBs have become more sophisticated through past self-management attempts as well as experiences with third party vendors. Many have learned a variety of social media tactics along the way.
Combined with all the content and educational resources online, these experiences have raised expectations of vendors. In the absence of a clear ROI, many SMBs may feel like they are overpaying vendors and potentially could do it themselves. While that may not be entirely accurate, especially when it comes to social ads, delivering clear value is a growing challenge for vendors.
30% of SMBs plan to decrease social media spending on an outside agency/consultant in 2015. (Clutch)
Not seeing a clear ROI and feeling more confident about self-management, many SMBs are ending or scaling back their investments in third-party social media management. This seems to more explicitly argue we may be entering a new era in the competency of the SMB.
Though it may appear so at first, the Clutch stat isn’t an indictment of social media as a channel. As mentioned, a recent LSA survey of Los Angeles-area SMBs found that social media is their top marketing method (89%). Other studies show different numbers. For example, Clutch put SMB social media adoption closer to 50%. Either way, the decrease in vendor or agency spending by SMBs doesn’t seem to be an indictment of social media itself.
These and other SMB studies taken together argue that business owners are migrating away from spending money on social media management. The data seem to point to a few reasons why: SMBs’ growing confidence, an ample supply of free educational resources, limited value and murky ROI from vendors and, arguably most important of all, because the entrepreneurial spirit is DIY and seeks control.
Almost two years ago, I argued the many advantages that SMBs have over national brands when it comes to social media marketing. Some of those include “local knowledge,” customer knowledge, timeliness, relevance and more. These advantages are still relevant today, and they combined to argue for why SMB social media self-management might make more sense anyway.
Joe Morsello is the Communications Manager at the Local Search Association, a trade organization of print, digital, mobile and social media companies that help local businesses get found. Follow LSA on Twitter @LocalSearchAssn.