Crunched for time, short on cash flow, and often understaffed, small business owners in the past have largely ignored social media channels as a way to market their business and engage customers. In fact, in August of last year, eMarketer polled 304 small business decision-makers, and 64 percent of them said social media was either unnecessary or something about which they didn't have an opinion.
Now faced with rising advertising costs and aware of the steady increase in consumers turning to social media channels to engage with companies, small business owners are now thinking about social media in a different light.
An August report from the SMB Group, showed the overall use of social media has risen year-over-year to 53 percent from 44 percent among small businesses (with 1 to 99 employees), and the gap is widening among SMBs that are using social media in an informal, ad hoc manner and those taking a more planned, strategic approach.
American Express hopes that this weekend's Small Business Saturday, now in its third year, will help to shatter even more fears and misconceptions that small business owners have with social media. Initial findings look promising. According to the inaugural Small Business Saturday Insights Survey, released last week by the National Federation of Independent Businesses and American Express, 79 percent of small business owners plan to use social media, 93 percent plan to grow their business over the next six months, and 77 have a positive outlook on the economy.
Mary Ann Fitzmaurice, senior vice president at American Express, said the company is pleased to see small businesses moving away from solely providing discounts to leveraging social to engage customers. She said the roadblocks to social media usage are being removed and are limited now to marketing dollars. "They don't have the power that large retail chains have," she said.
Her advice to small business owners to overcome the financial challenges? Take advantage of the free tools American Express has made available on www.ShopSmall.com. That includes geo-targeted online advertising, customizable marketing materials, and actionable tips from entrepreneurs on their marketing efforts last year to make the day a success. Fitzmaurice said, "They have to do something to make Small Business Saturday about taking ownership of the day, making it their own, and moving to social media usage."
If American Express could just find a way to clone these small business owners, we'd see a dramatic breakthrough in social media usage.