How Your Small Business Social Media Can Compete

2017 Small Business Social Media Research

Small business social media research findingsWant your small business social media to stand out and yield measurable results?

You still can although it may take longer to achieve your objectives.

The reality is social media still works for small businesses if you consistently publish, curate and engage with your followers on topics core to your offering.

Don’t take my word for it—check Social Media Examiner’s 2017 social media research. (BTW–Here’s 2016 Social Media Examiner Research results analyzed.)

61% of Social Media Examiner respondents have 10 or less employees, the definition of small business. Specifically 22% of respondents are solopreneurs and 39% of respondents have 2 to 10 employees. These small businesses are active on a variety of social media platforms. (Here’s how the Inc 500 use social media in 2017.)

Let’s look at the research results to see how you can apply them to your small business without breaking the bank.

2017 Top Social Media PlatformsSmall business social media research findings

Social media usage by platform has remained relatively stable based on 2017 Social Media Examiner Research. Instagram usage continues to grow largely attributable to its focus on photos and video.

  • 94% of respondents use Facebook
  • 68% of respondents use Twitter
  • 56% of respondents use LinkedIn
  • 54% of respondents use Instagram (usage jumped 10 percentage points since 2016)
  • 45% of respondents use YouTube
  • 30% of respondents use Pinterest (usage dropped 10 percentage points since 2016)
  • 7% of respondents use Snapchat

Most commonly used social media platforms by small businesses – 2017-Chart

As marketers gain social media experience, they expand the number of platforms they use and the amount of time they spend per network.

Note: Social Media Examiner doesn’t consider blogs as a social media platform in its research. I disagree with this classification.

Facebook Remains Social Media’s 800 Pound Gorilla


62% of respondents consider Facebook to be their most important social media platform.

This isn’t a surprise. Facebook reached top media status with ad agencies at the end of 2016.

Based on its reach and user numbers, businesses of any size need to be on Facebook.

Yet Facebook marketing remains a mystery to many respondents:

  • 42% of respondents believe their Facebook marketing is effective.
  • 40% of respondents don’t know if their Facebook marketing is effective.

Facebook Effectiveness For Small Businesses – Chart

Facebook News Feed Exposure


While officially Facebook has stated they’ve decreased newsfeed visibility, roughly 2 out of 5 respondents were unsure of their newsfeed exposure.

  • 53% of respondents saw Facebook newsfeed visibility decline.
  • 42% of respondents were unsure of their Facebook newsfeed visibility.

Facebook Newsfeed Exposure as reported by small businesses -Chart

Despite Facebook newsfeed decline, marketers are posting the same or more on the platform. This is consistent with other research, namely Buffer.

Want to learn more about Facebook? (Of course you do—just admit it!)

  • Follow Mari Smith, Jon Loomer, Amy Porterfield and Andrea Vahl.

As a point of comparison, here’s Inbound Marketing Research results stacked up.


Top 5 Small Business Social Media Pain Points Based on 2017 Social Media Examiner Research


To understand what it takes to get your small business recognized on social media, understand these 5 challenges.

1. Top 5 social media questions

Respondents’ top 5 social media questions were:

  1. What social tactics are most effective?
  2. What’s the best way to engage with my audience?
  3. How do I measure return on social media marketing?
  4. What’s the best way to use paid social?
  5. How do I find my audience on social?

These small business folks want to act. They’re not thinking about their long-term strategy or integrating social media into a larger plan.

The reality is most small businesses don’t have the time or resources to create a marketing strategy integrating content, social media and other forms.

While not a full-fledged strategy, these 3 questions will get you on track quickly:

  1. Why are you in business? How can we help our customers in ways that no one else can? Define what will you do for your customer that’s different from my other choices or close substitutes
  2. Who are you doing this for? Define your core audience so you can find them on digital media, offline media and in real life. Create a marketing persona.
  3. What do you want to be known for (Hat tip: Mark Schaefer)? Limit yourself to 3 key topics. Don’t be everything to everyone. What is your defendable niche?

After you’ve answered these questions, determine how you’ll measure success. Joe Pulizzi focuses on email addresses.

2. Social media hours per week

For small businesses, time is their scarcest resource. Therefore time spent on social media is a proxy for budget.

  • 3% of respondents don’t spend any time on social media (Note: While a rounding error, it’s strange there wasn’t a screening question to eliminate non-users.)
  • 56% of respondents spend 10 or less hours on social media
  • 21% of respondents spend 11 to 20 hours on social media
  • 9% of respondents spend 21 to 30 hours on social media
  • 5% of respondents spend 31 to 40 hours on social media
  • 6% of respondents spend over 41 hours on social media (Note: Based on the respondent analysis, these respondents may be social media consultants, etc.)

Time Small Businesses Spend on Social Media -Chart

  • Newbies spend 10 or less hours on social media
  • Those with 5+ years of experience spend 20+ hours per week

For small businesses, social media costs break into 5 key buckets:

  • Employee (or consultant) time
  • Content and communication creation
  • Tools to facilitate content creation and distribution
  • Education to keep up with and stay ahead of the dynamic social media environment
  • Paid social media advertising

If you’re a solopreneur, you’re trading your time versus outsourcing your social media creation and interaction.

3. Social media content

Visual content dominates social media. It’s eye candy that attracts attention, especially graphics and images. Need Instagram help? Check out Sue Zimmerman and Jenn Edwards.

Video continues to be hot, especially live video. Think live events and news. But it’s key to adapt your video to the platform you’re using. Remember YouTube is the second biggest search engine after Google. Need video help? Amy Schautter is your girl.

Blogging keeps on going. While it’s no longer the social media darling, it’s owned media where you can post email registrations and contact information.

Podcasting remains an opportunity even though it’s no longer a new approach. If you decide to add podcasting to your content offering, post your podcasts on your blog for extra distribution.

Content used by small businesses on social media-Chart

4. Social media posting per week

Here’s how respondents engage on each platform.

  • Facebook averages 8 posts per day; 39% of respondents increased Facebook posting in 2017. Despite reduced newsfeed visibility, this trend is consistent with other small business research.
  • Twitter averages 6 posts per day; 55% of respondents increased Twitter posting in 2017.
  • Instagram averages 4 posts per day; 41% of respondents increased Instagram posting in 2017.
  • LinkedIn averages 4 posts per day; 31% of respondents increased LinkedIn posting in 2017.
  • Pinterest averages 3 posts per day; 16% of respondents increased Pinterest posting in 2017.
  • Snapchat averages 1 post per day; 8% of respondents increasing Snapchat posting in 2017.

Note: YouTube postings weren’t stated.

Small businesses should:

  • Use a social media scheduling tool to batch post social media content.
  • Create social media content when you’re doing other content creation to tailor information by platform and minimize costs.
  • Curate quality content relevant to your topics.

5. Paid social media

While paid advertising offerings on social media platforms continue to evolve, for small businesses, Facebook advertising is a must.

  • 93% of respondents use Facebook advertising.

Where small businesses pay to advertise on social media – Chart

With limited time and budget small businesses must focus on creating quality content and communications using tools to streamline social media processes and scheduling. They don’t have the resources to test many advertising options.

Facebook advertising stands out since it allows marketers to use micro-budgets to tap into the platform’s massive data. Cost-effectively use Facebook advertising for:

  • A/B testing content titles and campaigns
  • Finding look-alike audiences
  • Remarketing to visitors


5 Actions any small business can use to break through on social media


1. Define what you want to be known for

Be smart about how you engage on social media.

Determine what 3 categories or words you want to be known for. Remember consistency is key. These 3 words should be associated with your brand and your business. Get bonus points for applying these words to your search strategy.

Check hashtags used by thought leaders and your competitors. BUT remember they may approach your market differently.

  • Use FollowerWonk to find key people on Twitter.
  • Use BuzzSumo to determine key topics.

2. Find your people

Define your audience. Who do you want to attract and why? What sets them apart? Create a marketing persona to know what information they seek and what platforms they use to find it. 

Social media is about being social. Don’t go it alone. Take a page from Ann Handley and find your squad.

Include your prospects, customers, influencers, and others.

On average most people have about 150 connections on social media. This is the Dunbar number.

Small businesses gain from having a squad to get your message out across social media platforms. Tap into a small group of friends to promote each other’s content.

3. Create an editorial calendar to organize content creation

Social media runs on content. With limited resources, use a combination of strategically created content, content curation and interaction (while you don’t need to meet people IRL, you need to engage with them on social networks.)

To minimizing brainstorming, use an editorial calendar to create and find useful content.

Here are 3 easy steps to get you started (here’s a detailed social media editorial calendar):

  • Block out marketing campaigns and major holidays that matter for your business. But don’t use social media to push out sell messages. Promote related content around these themes.
  • Incorporate industry events and themes. Where possible leverage existing events to get noticed. Follow their hashtag on Twitter to get involved. (If you have extremely limited funds, consider volunteering at the event to get in for free. Then maximize your presence there.)
  • Create content on one topic per week. If you’ve got limited resources, maximize the reach of every piece of content by developing related social media shares and pre-populating your feeds.

4. Take time to be present on social media

Just as you schedule time to respond to and send email, do the same for social media. Where appropriate participate in relevant TwitterChats and Facebook Groups to stay visible and build your follower base.

5. Build your email file and measure results

Leverage your social media activity to get people to register for your email list.


The Small Business Social Media Conclusion

The biggest take-away from 2017 Social Media Examiner research is small businesses are using social media to achieve business goals.
You still have an opportunity to achieve your business goals with social media.

But (you knew there was a hitch) social media is getting noisier. As a result, you must look for an opportunity where no one else is or consistently be better than the competition.

You can do this without spending hours per day on social media.

Use what the majority of respondents do to stay abreast of social media activities that have an impact on their business.

The small business social media key: Your social media use must be good enough to support your business and achieve your goals.

Find the tools that work for you and use them to get the most out of your social media use.

Happy Marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.


Photo Credit: Tom Guow via CCZero

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