Closing the gap between social media use and usefulness

WSJ: Social Media Value

A survey published this week by The Wall Street Journal shows some interesting findings about social networking tools, small businesses and how the owners of those businesses perceive the value of social media.

While the survey was carried out among US businesses, I think the findings have validity for UK businesses too. See what you think.

Headline metrics:

  • 60 percent of small-business owners say they believe social-media tools are valuable to their company’s growth.
  • Professional-networking service LinkedIn topped the survey, with 41 percent of respondents singling it out as potentially beneficial to their company.
  • 16 percent said YouTube has the most potential to help their businesses, and 14 percent chose Facebook.
  • Only 4 percent said Google+ had the most potential, with just 3 percent saying the same about Twitter.

The Journal’s report includes a number of micro case studies showcasing the experiences of some small-business owners and their accounts of how they use social media and social networks.

What I found of much interest about the survey overall was the gap between use and usefulness – what social media tools and channels people said they use, and which ones they said were of most use to their businesses. That gap is perfectly illustrated in this chart:

WSJ: Use vs Usefulness

Such disparity reflects a general lack of clarity in thinking when considering where to be online. Look at the Twitter metric, for instance – 14 percent said they use regularly it yet only 3 percent think it has the most potential to help their businesses.

Closing that gap between where you spend your time (use) and the measurable return you get for your investment in that time (usefulness) must be a priority task for small business owners (and, indeed, any business whose people spend time online). You need to find out where the people are that you want to connect with online, and be there too.

That requires knowing things about the people you’re interested in engaging with or influencing, with some accuracy not by guesswork.

That may seem an easy answer – other factors will undoubtedly be at play, too – but knowing as much as possible about your “target audience” and where they are surely is a foundational item in your business and communication planning, no matter what size of business you are.

Here are two things you can do yourself, right now, to build an accurate picture that will give you a confident pointer to which social media tools may have the most potential for your business:

  1. Listen: Something simple like setting up a Google Alert on key words and phrases of interest to you would give you an idea of who’s talking about those key words and phrases, and where, across the whole social web.
  2. Develop a Clear Plan: Once you know where conversations of interest are taking place, and who’s doing the talking, you can then make your plan for participating in those conversations.

Your starting point is a checklist that will make your planning process easier and quicker:

  • You must have a clear objective.
  • Your objective should be measurable.
  • You must be clear on how your use of social media helps you achieve your objective.

Armed with facts that will give you more confidence, and help you get on track with the next steps in developing a strategic approach to social, you’ll be in a good position to close that gap and make productive use of your (probably scarce) time and resources.

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About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.