Small businesses, long considered the backbone of the U.S. economy, were already struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic began. In the year since lockdowns, quarantines, and social distancing began, they have shifted from struggling to survival mode, with many shrinking their staffs (or shuttering completely) in the wake of the financial crisis triggered by the pandemic.
In response, many small firms have turned to social media as an opportunity to promote their business. Brick-and-mortar businesses particularly have seen a major shift to digital avenues, leaning on social media to help promote themselves and navigate the "new normal." By some expert opinions, social media marketing is no longer optional for small businesses where their following may represent the foundation of their brands and their ability to weather this storm.
So where are small businesses seeing success on social media? Are business owners building their own social media campaigns or are they turning to outside agencies to help them instead? To find out, we surveyed over 400 entrepreneurs about the success and failures they've experienced on social media. Read on as we explore who entrepreneurs and business owners are relying on for their social media presence; which platforms they're turning to; which platforms they feel they need to utilize in the future; and the promotional tactics they're employing to expand their reach.
For small businesses, social media marketing may present a learning curve, but many are relying on their in-house resources (including themselves) and the process of trial and error in order to get it right.
Making the shift to social media can be complicated for small businesses, and poorly executed social campaigns can create negative customer experiences and build harmful reputations for brands that aren't well-versed with the platforms they're trying to utilize.
Eighty-nine percent of entrepreneurs said they rely on themselves for social media support, in addition to turning to their family (25%), other employees (25%), business partners (23%), and friends (23%). Just 18% of entrepreneurs reported utilizing professional assistance for their social media presence. A vast majority of solo entrepreneurs (98%) reported relying on managing their social media presence themselves, compared to 83% of those with employees. Just 44% of solo entrepreneurs used any help at all with their social media marketing or presence.
Seventy percent of entrepreneurs said they learned social media marketing themselves through trial and error, followed by those who copied other brands (42%), improvised in their social media presence (41%), used free online tutorials (39%), or leaned on friends and family for guidance (38%).
A majority of entrepreneurs admitted Facebook was their primary business platform, and many reported a higher ROI there than on other sites, but TikTok was the platform most business owners wanted to crack into.
Social media marketing isn't a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and business owners have to decide which platforms they want to pursue and which to ignore. More than any other platform, entrepreneurs expressed using Facebook (78%) for their business, followed by Instagram (64%), Twitter (41%), and Pinterest (11%). Perhaps one of the more difficult platforms to navigate successfully, just 7% of entrepreneurs indicated using TikTok for their business. Compared to just 7% of entrepreneurs managing social media themselves or with amateur support, 16% of those with professional contributors reported engaging with TikTok.
More than half of entrepreneurs (54%) acknowledged using Facebook as their primary social media platform for business, while 27% opted for Instagram and 16% for Twitter. Facebook as a primary platform was nearly as common among entrepreneurs managing social media themselves (54%) as it was with professional social media support (51%). Sixty-six percent of entrepreneurs marketing on Facebook said they were satisfied with the platform, compared to 68% marketing on Instagram, and 61% marketing on Twitter. Sixty-three percent of entrepreneurs marketing on Facebook also reported a higher ROI than through any other platform. And while it was one of the least utilized platforms for business purposes, 23% of entrepreneurs admitted they should be using TikTok.
While 49% of entrepreneurs said they were marketing to men and women equally, 18% said they were primarily targeting mostly women, and 9% said they were targeting more women than men as their primary audience. The mostly commonly targeted age demographics were between the ages of 25 and 34, and between the ages of 35 and 44 (58% each).
More common among younger social media managers (between the ages of 18 and 31), the most common tactics for gaining traction on social media typically involved highlighting holidays, paid promotions, and taking advantage of hashtag trends.
With so many entrepreneurs managing their social media in house (or by themselves entirely) and with trial and error being the most used learning technique, we wanted to understand which marketing tactics business owners are turning to. Tied as the most popular marketing tactics, 36% of entrepreneurs reported using their social accounts to celebrate major national holidays, create promoted posts and pay-per-click campaigns, and participate in hashtag trends. Among businesses with professional social media contributors, we found hashtag trends were the most common marketing tactic (35%). Another 29% of entrepreneurs with professional social support reported participating in meme culture or trends on social media and using guest posts as a marketing tactic.
Nearly 60% of entrepreneurs said they were spending money on social media marketing, averaging $305 a month. The most common expenses were graphics and visuals (42%), social media strategy (31%), and content production (27%). Just 11% of entrepreneurs said they were paying for full-service social media management for their business.
Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of social media marketing can help small businesses attract a following and customers they might not otherwise capture in the shift to digital services and retail. And as important as social media may be for entrepreneurs, we found many are managing their accounts either themselves or with the support of the staff they already have on hand.
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We surveyed 402 entrepreneurs operating businesses in a variety of verticals and of varying size. 188 respondents were female, 211 respondents were male, and three respondents identified as nonbinary. Our respondents ranged in age from 18 to 66 with an average age of approximately 37.
In order to help gather accurate responses, all respondents were required to correctly respond to a decoyed attention-check question. Questions and answers have been paraphrased or rephrased in some cases for clarity or brevity. These data rely on self-reporting, and potential issues with self-reported data include telescoping, selective memory, and attribution errors.
Social media presence matters, and most business owners are learning as they go. We encourage you to share the results of this survey with your readers for any noncommercial use with the inclusion of a link back to this page so they have access to our full findings and methodology.