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B2B, B2C SMBs say size matters

Thirty-eight percent of B2C small and medium-size businesses (SMBs) prefer large social followings with little consumer interaction, while 42% of B2B SMBs prefer small, engaged communities, according to Vocus Inc.’s Paths to Influence: An Industry Study of SMBs and Social Media study.

“The folks that were in B2B segments, and especially some of the smaller companies, those are the folks who said ‘I want a smaller community, and I want that to be more tight-knit. Engagement is very important to me,’ says Vocus Director of PR Frank Strong, who put the survey together with the help of Duct Tape Marketing System creator John Jantsch. “That’s probably reflective of the type of business they are. In B2B, you’re going to have a longer sale cycle, the deals are going to be more complex, and it often can be more relationship driven.”

While customer engagement may seem like the obvious approach, the study reports that 55% of companies with large, unengaged social communities rated social media as “very helpful” compared to 19% for small, engaged communities. “What this is proving is that social media is unique and that every organization’s adaptation of social media is going to be unique, as well,” Strong says, adding that, in general, big companies tend to lean more towards a larger following, while smaller companies are more drawn to intimate engagement.

“I think the challenge that those folks are facing is when you get to that $30 million stage, they’re looking for growth. They’ve gotten to be that size, and now they want to get even bigger,” Strong says. “The challenge that a lot of marketing and social media people face is having a large following creates the perception of influence and that becomes very desirable.”

The study also found that SMBs are investing in social media marketing. With SMBs spending approximately $845 per month on social media management tools, it’s no surprise that 73% of SMBs have tacked on social media to existing marketers’ responsibilities to save money. However, people perceiving social media as free to the company was the highest ranked barrier for both B2B and B2C SMBs, according to the study.

“That takes work, and it takes effort,” Strong says. “Then when people start responding to you, especially your audience, and [your] community grows, that requires time…. People are going to start asking you about products, which requires research, or they may be looking for customer support, which again requires research.”

Yet most SMBs think social media is worth the time and effort; 84% of respondents intend to increase their social media efforts, according to the study. While 73% of SMBs currently use Facebook, only 7% that don’t intend to incorporate it in the future. SMBs listed Google, Instagram, and Pinterest as the social networks they intend to invest in. Strong says the social shift results from a desire for success replication and a desire to increase search engine results through social signals, such as with Google+.

“If they’ve used Facebook and they’ve used it effectively, and the survey indicates that they have,” he says, “then it would be natural to say [with] what other sites can we replicate these results? Where else can we go? Where else are our customers participating in a community that we might want to be involved in?”

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