How Small Businesses Use Social Media

Kelsey McKeon

Social media is an inexpensive, versatile marketing tool that allows businesses to engage directly with current and potential customers. Most small businesses (63%) use social media to build their brand online, but social media strategies are not one-size-fits-all. Small businesses should determine their social media goals and create a strategy that accounts for their unique needs and resources.

Social media allows businesses to present their brand to a wide audience without significant financial investment. Social media use, however, varies across businesses and industries.

Our latest report shows that 38% of small businesses choose not to use social media to promote their company.

Visual Objects surveyed 529 small business owners and managers to learn how they use and manage social media accounts, what types of content they produce for social media, and how they measure success. We define small businesses as having between 1 and 500 employees and limited revenue, which aligns with the Small Business Administration’s definition of small business.

Businesses can use this report to learn about the state of social media for small businesses in 2019 and better develop their own social media marketing strategy.

Our Findings

  • Nearly 40% of small businesses (38%) don’t have social media accounts despite the accessibility of the marketing tool.
  • More than half of small businesses (56%) rely on in-house employees to manage their social media accounts, and 37% use social media management software, which has limits.
  • Small businesses ranked engagement (24%) such as shares and conversions (24%) as the two most important metrics to track.
  • Nearly 30% of small businesses (29%) post images or infographics on social media the most, but experts recommend video for maximum returns.
  • Just less than one-third (30%) of small businesses share or engage with social media followers multiple times per day, a potentially challenging task for small businesses managing social media accounts in-house.

Nearly 40% of Small Businesses Don’t Use Social Media

Social media remains an accessible and affordable digital marketing tool for small businesses. Still, many small businesses choose not to operate social media accounts.

Our findings show that though most small businesses surveyed (63%) have social media accounts, 38% do not.

do small businesses use social media

Almost one-quarter of respondents (22%) say they plan to invest in social media in 2019 or later, but 16% are unlikely to use social media for business at all.

This is a change from Clutch’s 2018 Small Business Social Media survey, which found that 71% of small businesses used social media.

Jeff Gibbard, chief brand officer at From the Future, a digital agency in Philadelphia, says social media companies’ recent bad press may drive small businesses elsewhere.

Recent scandals such as Cambridge Analytica provoked significant negativity toward social media. Social media has been linked to issues with privacy, mental health, and the proliferation of false information.

“People are saying ‘I’ll find other ways to market my business to generate similar results without my mental health taking a hit,’” Gibbard said.

Given this bad press, small businesses may find other marketing channels more appealing.

Some small businesses may also find that social media accounts require excessive time and resources, straining smaller operations.

Leslie L. Jones, an independent digital marketer and entrepreneur based in St. Louis, Mo., chose not to create social media accounts for her business despite being a social media consultant.

“I chose not to have a social media presence because I simply don’t have time,” Jones said. “Most of my clients are Gen Xers or baby boomers who see the value in social media but have no desire to develop content or manage the social accounts for their businesses. I am so busy managing and creating for clients that my own social presence just doesn’t seem like a necessity at the moment.”

Jones chose to invest her limited time in her clients’ social media accounts rather than her own, but she plans to create social media accounts in the future.

Companies that skip social media miss out on a chance to market to large numbers of people who are active on social media. For example, 2.23 billion people worldwide log into Facebook every day.

“For the most part, they’re missing out on a large audience of potential customers they could be reaching,” said Shawn Alain, president of social media agency Viral in Nature.

Alain emphasizes that small businesses that choose not to have a social media presence forgo opportunities to connect organically with customers and build an authentic brand online.

Small businesses benefit from social media because it’s a versatile tool that allows for promotion across a wide audience.

Most Small Businesses Manage Social Media With In-House Employees

Social media platforms offer a straightforward, user-friendly interface that makes them approachable and affordable marketing channels for small businesses. Most small businesses are able to manage social media accounts internally with the help of social media management software.

More than half of small businesses (56%) use in-house employees to manage social media accounts.

how small businesses manage social media

More than one-third of small businesses (37%) use social media software like Hootsuite or Buffer to manage their social media.

Small businesses also look outside the company for help with social media management: 32% hire freelancers or consultants, 28% work with agencies, and 25% use influencers.

Gibbard believes social media accounts achieve the best results when managed by in-house employees.

“The best person to be the voice of the company exists inside of that business,” Gibbard said. “They’re the closest to the product, the service, and the consumer. They understand the brand.”

social media is best run by in-house employees

In-house employees provide the most authentic voice for a small business’s brand on social media, which increases valuable interactions and engagements with online audiences.

Small businesses can find managing accounts across multiple social media platforms challenging, though. In-house employees may not have enough time to support all social media channels properly.

“You really need an agency to manage [social media] properly and for the amount of time that you need it managed for,” Alain said.

Agencies and freelancers can bolster the effectiveness of in-house social media employees.

Gibbard said social media agencies especially provide value with tasks such as:

  • Managing paid advertisements
  • Producing content
  • Making sense of analytics

A good social media marketing agency will work closely with the small business to represent its brand online authentically.

“[Agencies] provide a better role consulting with the [in-house] social media resource rather than businesses [giving up] their voice,” Gibbard said.

Small businesses overwhelmed with their social media can seek out agencies and freelancers to provide valuable expertise.

Software Helps Small Businesses’ In-House Employees Manage Social Media Accounts

Social media software can help small businesses looking to manage a large amount of content across multiple platforms.

More than one-third of small businesses (37%) use software to manage their social media presence.

Software like Hootsuite allows small business social media teams to:

  • Schedule posts in advance across multiple channels
  • Monitor and track posts and engagement
  • Organize and manage campaigns and content

Ben Austin, CEO of U.K.-based digital agency Absolute Digital, says his team relies on Hootsuite to manage its content across multiple social media channels.

“Hootsuite is a fantastic platform which allows us to scheduled posts to be shared around the clock, enabling the team to reach and engage new audiences and provide our clients social media channels with the greatest exposure,” Austin said.

Hootsuite and other similar software platforms allow social media teams to schedule posts in advance and keep engagement steady.

Hootsuite is one option for social media management software for small businesses

On Hootsuite’s dashboard, users can see all posts in one screen and toggle between social networks.

Hootsuite offers both free and paid plans for small businesses, but Corina Burri, marketing lead at Ofri, an online service provider directory based in Zürich, Switzerland, says the free Hootsuite plan her company uses has limits, though.

“For instance, we can only use three social media networks with the free plan, and we don't get a fancy analytics dashboard," Burri said. "Generally, I think Hootsuite's free plan is a good tool for small businesses ‘getting started’ like Ofri.”

Though Hootsuite offers a free version for businesses, the number of channels and analytics features are limited. Small businesses have to pay to access the more sophisticated tools.

Matthew Ross uses a similar tool, TubeBuddy, to manage his YouTube presence for MySlumberYard, an online resource for mattress reviews.

“TubeBuddy integrates our YouTube accounts with our Twitter and Facebook accounts so we can automatically share new videos across multiple platforms at once,” Ross said. “This obviously saves us time and resources.”

Like Hootsuite and other software tools, TubeBuddy integrates social media channels to save time for smaller teams.

TubeBuddy also helped Ross’ team automate time-consuming parts of audience engagement such as responding to direct messages or comments on social media and maintain authenticity.

“[The software] allows us to set up canned responses so we can engage and thank subscribers quickly and efficiently,” Ross said. “This has been a huge help for us. Every time we get a new subscriber, we send them a personalized message thanking them for subscribing and recommending other videos to watch.”

Most small businesses use in-house employees to manage social media, establishing an authentic voice for their brand online. Agencies and software, however, can help smaller organizations manage behind-the-scenes challenges such as strategy and scheduling posts.

Small Businesses Measure Success by Engagements and Conversions

Successful social media campaign measurement depends on the goals of the business. Social media agencies can help small businesses identify their goals and determine which metrics are best to track across each social media platform.

Nearly one-quarter of small businesses use engagement (24%) such as likes, shares, views, or comments to measure the success of social media campaigns. The same percentage of small businesses use leads or conversions (24%) to gauge campaign success.

how small businesses track social media success

Other measures of success for social media include clicks through to the company website (18%) and audience growth (16%).

For agencies managing clients’ social media, the importance of metrics depends on the clients’ goals and the social media platforms they invest in.

“For most businesses, one of the things we ask them is ‘What’s your goal?’,” Alain said.

Small businesses should pay attention to what engagements are most valued by each social media platform’s algorithm. Facebook, for example, values shares and comments.

“[Facebook] wants you to spend as much time on their platform as you can,” Alain said. “In order to do that, they want to show you posts that they think you’ll like the most because then, you’re more likely to stay on Facebook.”

Facebook’s algorithm values shares above all other interactions on the platform. The algorithm sees shares as endorsements of content from users or brands.

Gibbard recommends comments as another way for businesses to engage thoughtfully with their audience.

“Well thought-out comments are an excellent place to get qualitative data about what people like and dislike about your content and potentially open up opportunities to engage people,” Gibbard said.

Comments are a useful metric to track engagement and customer feedback, but algorithms value shares as endorsements of a brand’s content, thus boosting the content’s visibility.

Brands looking to track metrics on social media should consider the types of engagement that matter most for their business and the networks’ respective algorithms.

Small Businesses Prefer to Post Images and Infographics on Social Media

Images and infographics are most common across small business social media accounts, but video content may be more popular in the future.

More than one-quarter of small businesses (29%) post images or infographics the most on their social media accounts.

social media content small businesses post frequently

Small businesses also post content related to offers and promotions (22%) and video content (16%).

Austin defaults to images when posing on social media.

“With more than 32% of marketers agreeing that visual images are one of the most important forms of content for their social media platforms, we believe that the use of high-quality images and video is the way forward,” Austin said. “They can get your audience’s attention and help them to remember your message while building a strong identity.”

Despite the reliability of images, Austin believes that video is the next popular trend for social media marketing.

“The integration of video is an excellent way to drive growth across social media including on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram," Austin said. "With Live Video becoming increasingly popular and more people wanting to watch a video that is related to the product or service before making a purchase, it's important to carefully consider what your audience is looking for.” 

Posting organic videos on social media presents an authentic version of a small business and helps online audiences experience a product or service.

For example, Absolute Digital posted a video on Facebook to introduce audiences to its new branding. The video received 7 shares and 617 total views.

small businesses can use video on social media platforms such as Facebook

Organic video on Facebook makes companies more inviting and relatable to potential customers.

Many social media platforms even prioritize video content in their algorithms, boosting the content’s exposure for small businesses.

“It’s pretty clear that all of the networks favor video,” Gibbard said. “Just about all of our analytics have validated that assumption.”

According to Recode, Facebook and Instagram acknowledged that their algorithms favored video in 2017. Videos, particularly if they run longer than 90 seconds, offer more opportunities for advertisers and are thus rewarded by Facebook with a higher position in the news feed.

For small businesses, however, the benefits of posting video content extend beyond social networks’ algorithms. Video content can be adapted to other mediums.

“Video lends itself to being repurposed more easily than any other content,” Gibbard said. “If you take a video, you can generally create a blog post out of that video, then take screenshots and turn them into Instagram posts. You can then create status updates.”

Video content is a worthwhile investment for small businesses looking to maximize the content they create. Video can be repurposed so that small business social media teams can strategize how to use it across platforms.

Although images are the most popular form of content among small businesses’ social media accounts, videos are an easy way to make content go farther and be more visible in platform algorithms.

Small Businesses Share on Social Media Multiple Times Every Day

Posting frequently on social media helps brands increase engagement with their audiences.

Our survey found that nearly one-third of small businesses with social media accounts (30%) share multiple times per day.

frequency small businesses share content on social media

Some small businesses (29%) post multiple times per week, while others opt to post once per day (16%) or multiple times throughout the month (10%).

Austin believes in the importance of consistent engagement on social media.

“When it comes to managing a social media channel, it’s not about quantity; it’s about the quality of the content that you post. While it’s important to post a couple of times per day on Twitter at least, it’s crucial to ensure that you are not posting without good reason to,” Austin said. “It all comes down to how you integrate your social posts with the rest of your digital marketing strategy.”

Small businesses that post consistently on social media will increase their brand exposure and odds of converting customers.

Small businesses face challenges when managing frequent social media engagements across multiple platforms, though. Because most small businesses manage social media in-house, they have fewer teammates to manage the content required to meet engagement goals.

Gibbard believes that the specific times a small business should post depend on their size, needs, and resources.

“If it’s a small business with only one person who is accountable for all of the marketing, it’s a tough thing to tell them [they] should be posting multiple times a day,” Gibbard said. “If you’ve got a small law firm that’s got a marketing team of four or five people, you can approach things differently.”

The exact frequency of posts varies based on businesses’ needs and resources, but digital marketing agencies can offer strategies and support for businesses looking to maximize their organic social media efforts.

Small businesses should keep audiences engaged on social media by posting frequently but still ensure their content remains compelling.

Social Media Uses and Strategies Vary Across Businesses

Social media channels remain a cost-effective way for small businesses to promote their brand online, but the best approaches to social media depend on business goals.

Though 63% of small businesses use social media, 38% choose not to integrate it into their digital marketing strategy. Social media accounts are an asset for many businesses but may not suit every small business’ individual needs and goals.

In-house employees oversee social media for 56% of small businesses, providing an authentic brand voice online. Many small businesses also use software to manage posts, and some even hire freelancers or agencies to assist in strategy or content creation.

Success is measured most frequently by engagements and conversions. Among common forms of social media engagement, shares are seen as most valuable.

Images and infographics are the preferred form of content for small business social media accounts, but many social media experts tout the importance of video content on social media, too.

Nearly 30% of small businesses (29%) share multiple times a day on social media, but they should ensure that the content remains high quality.

Social media is an important tool for small businesses looking to expand their reach, so small businesses should establish a social media strategy that meets their needs, resources, and goals.

About the Survey

Visual Objects surveyed 529 owners and managers of U.S.-based small businesses with between 1 and 500 employees.

More than half of small businesses surveyed (54%) had between 1 and 10 employees, and 46% had between 11 and 500 employees.

Most respondents were male (52%), and 48% of respondents were female.

Millennials (ages 18-34) made up 29% of respondents; 45% were Generation Xers (ages 35-54), and 27% of respondents were baby boomers (ages 55+).


Kelsey McKeon

Senior Content Writer
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