Love-Hate Relationship: 59% of SMBs Still Say No ROI from Their Social Media Efforts

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In 2013 Manta released a very interesting survey of its members regarding social media attitudes and adoption. The headline I pulled from the first survey’s findings was: 61% of SMBs Say No ROI from Social Media.

Now the company has done a follow up survey of 540 small business owners (also active Manta members), which was conducted between April 21 and April 28, 2015. The following are the questions and my comments on the responses:

Are you willing to spend money to promote on social media?

  1. Yes – 50.9%
  2. No – 49.1%

Comment: This question did not appear in the 2013 data so we can’t evaluate whether sentiment has changed. But the fact that half are willing to essentially by ads on social media sites is a positive indication for those companies. I would have expected the number to be lower.

There may also be a implied recognition (at least on Facebook) of the increasing challenges of organic reach.

Compared to a year ago, how has your social media activity changed?

  1. We have remained the same – 34.4%
  2. We have increased time spent on social media – 34.1%
  3. We have decreased time spent on social media – 7.6%
  4. We have a dedicated resource(s) in place to manage social media activity – 6.3%
  5. We have increased our social media budget – 6.1%
  6. We have decreased our social media budget – 4.6%
  7. Other – 6.9%

Comment: The percentage who increased their time on social media this year is smaller than in 2013 (but that’s to be expected as the base grows): 34% (2015) vs. 49% (2013). More interesting is the fact that there were increases in budget (6% vs. 3%), dedicated social media resources and, perhaps surprisingly, there were budget decreases as well.

All this suggests that more SMBs are more engaged with social media in 2015 than in 2013.

What is your primary goal for using social media?

  1. Acquiring and engaging new customers – 36.7%
  2. Driving awareness/marketing for my business – 16.7%
  3. Gaining lead generations/referrals – 15.0%
  4. Building community – 7.6%
  5. Retaining current customers – 4.3%
  6. Connecting with other small business owners/partners – 4.3%
  7. Learning about best practices to drive business growth – 2.6%
  8. None of the above – 8.9%

Comment: The responses above are largely consistent with the previous survey. However “Gaining lead generations/referrals” dropped 4% in this year’s survey. And “Retaining current customers” gained in importance for this year’s respondents. So while customer acquisition and engagement remain the top uses for social media by SMBs, there’s a slight broader range of goals and perhaps more nuanced understanding of social media and its uses this year.

Do you see return on investment from your social media activities?

  1. No – 58.9%
  2. Yes – 41.1%

Comment: This is literally the money question. In the first survey, as indicated, 61% said they weren’t seeing an ROI from their social media efforts. That number has declined slightly but it’s within the margin of error of the survey. So we can say at best there’s a slightly better social media ROI perception in 2015 vs. 2013.

Given the answer above — that 51% were willing to pay for promotion on social media — it’s not clear whether this “no ROI” perception is based purely on organic reach and exposure or whether it extends to advertising on social media sites. My guess is that most of the respondents were probably speaking about their organic efforts.

If yes, how much each month?

  1. Less than $100 – 47.0%
  2. $100 – $1,000 – 39.5%
  3. $1,001 – $2,000 – 5.5%
  4. More than $2,000 – 8.0%

Comment: The returns for the majority of those who said they were seeing an ROI (41%) are pretty modest. In addition it’s unclear whether the business owners are including the value of their time or that of third parties in this calculation. It’s possible that the social media efforts of the large majority are totally unprofitable, given these numbers.

The problem is that right now there’s no effective and economic third party social media solution that I’ve been exposed to. They’re either quite expensive or perfunctory and ineffective.

Which social media platform has generated the most ROI for your business?

  1. Facebook – 53%
  2. Google+ – 15%
  3. LinkedIn – 10.5%
  4. Twitter – 5%
  5. Pinterest – 2%
  6. None of the above – 14.5%

Comment: This also appears to be a new question without a 2013 survey antecedent. Facebook is the clear winner (but it also has greater participation probably skewing the outcome). Google+ is a surprise though. On question these responses beg is “how is ROI being measured?” It’s not clear whether these business owners are doing any analytics/tracking or whether this is all intuition and anecdotal information.

In 2013 Manta asked “Which social media platform is hardest to maintain for your business?” The top five in order were Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Manta and Google+. So the most challenging platform to maintain is the one also delivering the most value according to these answers.

Final comment: the big takeaway from these data are in alignment with other SMBs surveys and my anecdotal experience of SMBs and their challenges. They’re very interested in social media but they’re still quite challenged to “work it” effectively as well as understand the impact of those efforts. Accordingly they still need hand-holding and best practices education, as well as help with ads. But ads are where third parties definitely can (and will) be able to help.

What are your thoughts about these data. How do you interpret them?

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7 Responses to “Love-Hate Relationship: 59% of SMBs Still Say No ROI from Their Social Media Efforts”

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  3. Jack Jostes says at

    Hey Greg, 

    Thanks for sharing this. Why do you think this group of people have such a different experience with social media than those who participated in the LSA Digital Bootcamp survey?

  4. Greg Sterling says at

    In this case the LSA survey was pretty informal and a much smaller sample. Even though directionally consistent with other surveys, it’s not something (because of its nature) that could be representative of the larger market. Having said that these surveys yield different results based on how questions are formulated in part. As I believe I mentioned, there’s a gap between demand for social media exposure and knowledge of how to execute and measure. That’s partly what I think is going on here. While the LSA respondents did say that they thought social media were effective, “they [were] clearly expressing lower levels of satisfaction vs. usage.”

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  6. Perry says at

    The percent of businesses “willing to spend” on social is the biggest surprise in all of this.

    On the subject of ROI, I think Social is similar to the way businesses view word-of-mouth. It’s instinctively understood but never really measured.  WOM, of course, is viewed more positively than social since it’s more natural and organic.  However we know these worlds are fusing actively. I think businesses are JUST beginning to realize that spending on “digital WOM” provides an amplification opportunity for their “favorite marketing type” [SMB’s love to talk about how WOM is their best way of attracting new customers].

    Facebook stands to gain the most as this becomes more tangible, packaged and serviced.

  7. Dave Gonynor says at

    Hey Greg:

    Having worked with many restaurants across the US I think a better indication of “willingness to spend money to promote on social media” would be to ask, “have you spent money in the past twelve months to promote on social media”. I have always found a big difference between someone saying they are willing to spend money and actually spending it.

  8. Greg Sterling says at

    Agree that was a surprise.

  9. Mike DeLuca says at

    Greg, good insight here. Biggest issue IMO is authenticity. You cant run a social campaign for a merchant without being authentic. Authenticity requires exhaustive time and labor. Its very difficult for an agency to run effective social campaigns for advertisers while keeping costs contained. Its a big opportunity without an easy answer. btw- i dont thihnk this survey is all about ads. Its about overall social including profiles, interactions, etc

  10. Greg Sterling says at

    Thanks Mike. Agree I think this is mostly about organic but the “promotion” question clearly suggests ads. However it’s not always clear how people interpret questions. But I think this survey is a microcosm of the issues/opportunity — as you suggest.

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