Small businesses use social media platforms largely for promotion, to connect with customers, drive growth and find and hire new employees.
Those findings in a nationwide survey by Facebook Inc. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce provide a look at the role social media plays for small businesses today. The results also point to a need for increased training on the use of social media.
Three-quarters of respondents use at least one social media platform for sales and 80 percent use it to show products and services and to advertise, according to results of the survey conducted by Morning Consult, a Washington, D.C.-based research and technology firm.
More than eight out of 10 people said they engage with customers via platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Among them is Jarrett Blackmon, founder and head of creative at Damn Handsome Grooming Co. LLC in Battle Creek. Formed in 2014, the company takes spent materials from Michigan craft brewers to produce grooming products for men. The company’s products are sold online and at about 80 specialty, boutique and national retailers in 30 states, including at Urban Outfitters and Banana Republic.
Damn Handsome Grooming uses Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest to reach and connect with customers at both the retail and wholesale levels.
“It just creates a natural dialog,” Blackmon said. “For us, it’s just really basic. It’s just a form of natural communication to our customers and then to our business clients as well.”
Damn Handsome Grooming uses social media to push out content to customers about products and talk about day-to-day activities at the company, from packing the latest orders to discussing the ingredients picked up that day at a local craft brewery, for example.
“We want to talk to people and engage with them as if they were sitting right in front of us,” said Blackmon, who worked at a Kalamazoo marketing agency prior to forming Damn Handsome Grooming. “It’s just an extension of going to a dinner party and talking about what you do and your products. We’ve always approached it that way.
“If you know who you are trying to communicate with, it is a very logical process.”
The company set out to form a social media strategy right away — “even before we had a business card” or prior to attending any trade shows — because “we knew that’s where our customers are,” Blackmon said. He knew he could connect with prospective customers on social media essentially for free and without spending thousands of dollars attending expos or on advertising.
Blackmon even credits exposure on social media with getting the company’s products into Banana Republic stores. The friend of a Banana Republic executive bought a product from Damn Handsome Grooming after learning about the company on Instagram. He told his friend, who later contacted the company on Facebook.
That led to a partnership with Banana Republic’s parent company, Gap Inc., “which is insane,” Blackmon said.
“We would have had to put thousands of dollars into trade shows to have that connection 15 years ago,” he said. “I tell people all of the time: It’s really like being at a trade show or an event every day of the week. You have that reach, and if you’re very genuine and very honest about what you’re doing, that reach goes further and further.”
To gauge how small businesses use social media and digital platforms, Facebook and the U.S. Chamber last spring surveyed executives, vice presidents, directors and managers at 100 companies in each state. Researchers then conducted follow-up surveys in August 2017 with 1,000 small businesses.
Nationally, more than half of survey respondents said social media allows them to sell products or services in other cities, states, or countries, and 70 percent said the platform they use helps to attract new customers.
In Michigan, 62 percent of small businesses responded that they view digital tools as essential, and more than two-thirds said they believe Facebook helped them find customers in other cities, states or countries.
Beyond business development, survey results show respondents consider social media as a helpful tool for hiring and assessing job candidates. Among respondents, 62 percent said social media skills “were an important factor.”
More than three-quarters of Michigan small businesses answering the survey said a person’s digital and social media skills were important when hiring. That compares to 71 percent who believe the school or college a job candidate attended was important.
ADDRESSING A SKILLS GAP
Survey results point to a “pretty resounding uptake” in the use of social media platforms by small businesses, said Laura McGorman, a public policy research manager at Facebook.
A “skills gap” was one of the “most illuminating” aspects of the survey responses, McGorman said. Despite the high demand of employers, “very few candidates” have the social media skills they need, she said.
That skills gap offers opportunity for organizations — and even platforms such as Facebook — to offer training on the use of social media in business.
“Intuitively, many people recognize the increased role digital and social media skills have in today’s economy and the role that they play in people finding meaningful employment, but we were blown away that two in three small businesses are now looking for candidates with digital and social media skills,” McGorman said. “It tells us about our increased role in training people to compete in today’s economy.
“That’s an impactful investment we should make across the United States.”
Facebook has workshops scheduled in the Grand Rapids area this month and next at Restorers Inc., and in March and April at the Rockford Chamber of Commerce through a partnership with Grand Circus Detroit LLC, a computer training school. More workshops will come later this year in the Detroit area.
Facebook wants to use the partnership to train 3,000 people in social media marketing and coding skills, McGorman said.
The survey with the U.S Chamber of Commerce was the first time Facebook polled small businesses in an effort to understand how they use social media. Facebook plans to do follow-up surveys to see how the use evolves.
“We’d like to continue to understand, at least on an annual basis, how small businesses are using Facebook,” McGorman said. “More research is forthcoming and we will continue to invest in this space.”