Survey: Social Media Kicks SEM’s Butt

Social management platform Roost conducted a survey of roughly 200 local businesses using the service. The online instrument asked questions about marketing attitudes and tactics, such as “What is your most effective marketing channel?”

The respondents were predisposed to value social media, since they’re using a social media management tool, but their answers are reflective of the way the market is going:

How important is social marketing?

What’s your most effective marketing channel?

In the chart immediately above, rating the effectiveness of various methods, social marketing (71%) beats paid search marketing (15%) pretty dramatically. Note that organic search/SEO was rated “most effective” by a significant number of respondents (58%).

While I would caution that the sample isn’t representative of the larger market it’s directionally consistent with what we’ve seen in our research and in a great deal of third party data. SMBs are more interested in social than paid-search. They want to rank on Google, etc., but they don’t necessarily want to advertise there.

Social media has its challenges too, for example: the “now what problem.” (After I set up an account, now what?)

Below are some additional data from a Network Solutions small business survey released earlier this year (n=500) about attitudes toward and experiences with social media. There’s a generally positive view but a sizable group who feel that “social media has fallen short of expectations.”

Perceived value and performance of social media:
  • Helps to stay engaged with customers, build higher awareness of company and attract new customers.
  • 63% of SMBs feel it has helped make customers more loyal
  • 56% feel it has taken up more time than they expected
  • 25% of SMBs estimate their investment in social media has made a profit while 15% estimate they have lost money; the remainder (46%) feel they broke even.
  • Often social media has fallen short of expectations (36%) vs. exceeded expectations (9%)

See relatedRoost Creates Local Visibility “Scorecard” for Facebook

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12 Responses to “Survey: Social Media Kicks SEM’s Butt”

  1. David Mihm says at

    Couple comments on this…

    #1 200 is an extremely small sample size.
    #2 Lack of understanding of SEO is a major hurdle to understanding its effectiveness.  Much easier for businesses to understand Facebook.
    #3 How are they tracking effectiveness?  Gut-level.  In my experience this is the way most SMB’s track, and it’s not a criticism.  Just points out the deep need for SEO providers (and Google itself) to prove their worth if they want to keep getting $$.
    #4 It’s entirely possible, and even likely, that a large % of these businesses have been burned by a sleazy SEO provider in the past.  Another real problem with our space.

  2. Greg says at


    200 alread socially inclined SMBs is a small and somewhat biased sample. But lots of SMBs still don’t get paid search or want it. SEO is different I think. 

  3. Alex Chang says at

    David/Greg – Fully acknowledge not a huge sample – and they are using our tool so have some affinity for social media. But still pretty telling IMO.

    I think there are a few factors here:
    a) To your point, social is easy to understand (Facebook) and frankly more fun for a local business owner than trying to be smart about SEM/SEO

    b) I think the experience for a local business of connecting with loyal customers over the social web is very different, and often more fulfilling, than dealing with blind, new, relatively unqualified leads who get to their website

    c) To a large extent Social Media is free (although it can come with big Time commitments that we’re trying to help soften).  Compare that to spending $ on your website, an SEO consultant and some ppc and it’s a lot more palatable

  4. Greg Sterling says at

    David: Their data show something very different for SEO

  5. David Mihm says at

    Hi Alex, I wasn’t trying to be overly critical of your survey.  The sample size was the only thing that really looked “funny” to me about it.  In our experience at Local University events, there’s plenty of demand to learn about social media, because of how accessible it is.  Even if the sample size was small/a little biased your findings are more or less inline with my gut sense of where SMB’s are.

  6. Mike Mueller says at

    Our firm has been inundated with requests with social media. Even in cases when we THOUGHT they wanted to talk about SEO, they brought up social first in the conversation. So the samaple size may be small, but I do think the trend is in that direction. But David is right, some of these SMBs are either confused by what constitutes SEO and/or have been burned by sleazy SEO providers. What’s interesting to me is how “social” is affecting “seo.” Social signals and personalized search results make it unavoidable for those of us who do SEO to NOT talk about social media.

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  9. earlpearl says at

    Greg:  I operate a group of businesses with partners.  A couple of different business types and in different markets.  I mostly do the SEO and PPC work with various social media input, run some social media;  track everything from every business, oversee different experiments and efforts–> all focused on trying to find ‘best results’.   A lot of experimentation.  A lot of different efforts.

    All the business types are niche businesses.  At any point in time only a very small percentage of the populations within those local metropolitan markets have demand for the services of different types.  We have operated some of these businesses for several decades.  We have tracked virtually everything that leads to sales for all those time periods.  

    They are all small with only a few key people.  None of the key people have the time to fully grasp all the elements of all these web efforts.  Yet everyone believes they are or should be keys to marketing.

    Keys to marketing and keys to revenues.   Each critical person or persons in each specific business believes that.  Yet—which elements work best? 

    Internally, everyone grasps and believes social media and particularly facebook is the best thing going.  Facebook is the web process that one can use both individually and for a business with a fan page.  It generates instant response.  Back and forth.  Its deeply social.  Its natural–it emulates you and your friends and family.

    Search is the furthest from that essence.  On its most basic, its entirely–NOT SOCIAL.  None of the staff or the key people get it.

    When a single FB fan makes a comment on your page everyone sees it.  It resonates.  All of the staff remember that.

    Alternatively not a single searcher leaves a comment within an easily visible public space.  Nobody sees anything.  None of the staff know what search term was used, how the term ranked relative to other competitive businesses, whether the visit was through PPC, organic, or in the Universal Maps and/or Merged listing.   A lead comes in though—and not a single staffer appreciates from where or how it arrived.

    I speak with small business operators who are our neighbors.  They all react exactly like the key staff in each of our locations.  None of them have the resources, interest, curiosity, or inclination to devote a lot of time to delving into what works best on the web.   If they put lots of time into this they would be sacrificing time to key operations.

    One of our key business operators is a partner and the operator.  He has put enormous time into mastering the technical bells and whistles of a CRM that we use.  That is great……except.

    He has shortchanged critical business operating necessities.  It costs him, his employees and his partners money.  Ultimately the business doesn’t do as well as it should.   Too much time away from the essence of the business.


    But what about results?   The bottom line–what is contributing to leads and revenues?

    For each different market in each type of business in different metropolitan regions–with different services–different marketing strategies and implementation on the web—SEARCH and/or PPC within Search are far and away the thing that brings in leads and sales.  

    Yet nobody understands it.  I have to go through a lot of data to get them to appreciate the difference.  

    When you run a small business time management is probably the most critical component of what you do.  On the other hand, fully learning about and effectively applying elements of search or social media is time consuming.  

    Digesting the information and understanding it is additionally deeply time consuming.   So if one is to truly try to master elements of web marketing and digesting the results its daunting.  It will take too much time and pull from the time necessary for whatever is necessary to operate the business.

    In sum, every critical operations person with whom I interact intrinsically likes, prefers and is oriented toward social media, and specifically FB as the best thing going on the web.

    The results of the survey are no surprise.   Meanwhile despite a variety of FB efforts/ in one case more FB fans than any other business of its type anywhere in the nation—-the results dramatically favor SEO and PPC.  

    The survey results are small;  the participants may be oriented toward social media by virtue of the way in which they participated; some SMB’s may have been ripped off by an unscrupulous provider (as David suggested)  (I’ve suffered from that)—but frankly unless the business operators have significant time to spend….they just won’t see the serious results.

    (at least that is my $0.02)  😀

  10. Greg says at

    Search is most efficient, social most intuitive.

  11. Greg says at

    Thanks Dave for your comments 

  12. earlpearl says at

    One other thing, Greg.  Edgerank is the FB measure for a page’s importance / penetration into an audience of followers.   I checked on the edgerank for a couple of business fan pages, including our own, and those of other merchants, some of who were saying their FB fan pages were great.

    In each case for the few FB pages I checked the Edgerank was vey low….way below average.   The implication is that except for regular commentators and/or recent commentators on one’s FB pages or followers w/ very few friends its probable that very few fans of an smb page ever see updates.

    It would be interesting if there was a public measure for edgerank….sort of like visual PageRank available for Google pages.   In other words it wouldn’t have to be 100% accurate for the entire world to see….but a rough indication as to the effectiveness of an FB fan page.   

    That would be deeply insightful…..and a killer marketing tool for the universe of people/businesses/marketers that are out there pushing social media….:D

    And a final comment:   One of the smb’s references updates of interest to customers both on our FB fan page and through an email campaign.

    The email campaign gets enormous response.  The FB page gets relatively little response.

    The particular business has more FB fans than any business of its type.  I’ve checked the responses on other FB pages for similar business types.  None of them get significant commentary.  My suspicion is they all have low edgerank rankings.  (could be the industry–could be the people w/in the industry –who aren’t that FB smart or creative  (myself included  :D)

    Could also be that the results of the survey represent intuitive feel as opposed to lack of hard knowledge.  I definitely suspect that is the case with the smb operators w/ FB pages with whom I directly checked. 

  13. Greg Sterling says at


    Yes the survey results are biased somewhat. But as you remark this is supported by anecdotal evidence and by other survey data (I’ve got) — at least in terms of demand for social media (vs. performance)

    In terms of edgerank comments:

    The low visibility/activity you describe . . . there was some data (initially released on AllFacebook) that showed only a small % of fans were seeing updates/posts on Facebook.

  14. earlpearl says at

    Thanks, Greg:

    I went back to your article.  I had skimmed it when it was first published but hadn’t read it in depth or digested it.  Then I went to the source for the data that you referenced;  AllFacebook.  That is a great and informative article.  I even signed up for the beta from its source…hoping to get better data.

    I’m not a social media expert,nor have I studied it as with SEO.  I haven’t spent enormous time studying best practices for FB.  Clearly its potential is enormous.

      Who else can claim 750 million users?  Okay….so its only about 1/2 the population of China and about 70% the population of India….but it is 2.5 times the population of the world’s third largest nation–the US.   😀    Facebook is simply GYNORMOUS.  

    The implications from these articles as I see them, and as they apply to our businesses are as follows:

    1.  Forget intuition–>  FB is not as effective as we like to think
    2.  Based on Edgerank and the data presented by you and AllFacebook–> we are probably doing far worse on FB than we imagine.
    3.  We could clearly learn a lot and most assuredly do better.
    4th:   I should probably spend more time reading your articles in depth than skimming through them.  😉

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