Is time running out for establishing your social media strategy?


By Kerry Gorgone, {grow} Contributing Columnist

If you want to jump ahead of the pack in digital marketing, you’re running out of time. Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are adopting channels like social media, SEO, and interactive websites in greater and greater numbers.

A new study from Inc. and Vocus on the State of Digital Marketing for SMBs found that 78% of SMBs with $1 million or more in annual revenue use social media for marketing, and smaller businesses aren’t far behind. More than half of the businesses surveyed use some of the most popular digital marketing tools, including social media, SEO, email marketing and blogging.

More than one-third of respondents rate websites as their most effective digital marketing tool, although “digital marketing tools that incorporate social interaction online are emerging as a much more powerful and effective alternative,” according to the Hart Roberts, marketing manager at

Judging by the study, which analyzed responses from 408 marketing decision makers, adoption has lagged for “more sophisticated approaches” like ecommerce, mobile, paid banner ads and search terms, and custom content creation. To stand out from the competition, business owners should master these approaches, and use them to bring users to on-site content that nurtures a genuine connection between the company and its audience.

Create “owned” content that invites engagement through polls, images, share links and other interactive features. You might bring people to your site through paid channels, but if they like what they see, they’ll share, which will amplify your message through earned media.

The study attributes increased adoption in part to the lower cost of using digital marketing channels, as well as increased awareness about them. Analytics have also proven to be a powerful lure: robust audience data helps companies to better understand their customers’ needs and preferences.

The ROI of social media and other types of digital marketing continues to be a topic of debate, but the businesses surveyed prioritize one key metric: sales. They may like “likes,” but they love leads. Sales received an average importance rating of 4.45 on a scale of 1 to 5. Other goals include raising brand awareness and reaching new audience segments.

Despite the perception that social media marketing is free or low-cost, the time and attention these channels require demands adequate staffing. The majority of SMBs reported having between one and five full-time employees working on digital marketing, but 1 in 10 of the $1-million plus businesses have no full-time employees assigned to digital marketing. Just over 5% of businesses outsource their digital marketing.

In order to effectively use social media and other digital channels to their best advantage, SMBs need to ensure that someone within the company has responsibility for digital strategy and performance. Even if the businesses outsources its digital marketing, someone in-house should work with the outside agency. If no one “owns” an organization’s digital marketing strategy, efforts will be haphazard, and results lackluster.

Businesses already have to break through a huge amount of noise online to grab the attention of their audience, and things are only getting noisier. Nearly all (90%) of companies surveyed said that they were “very” or “somewhat” likely to increase their digital marketing efforts and spending over the next three years.

The bottom line: SMBs need to embrace online social interaction, and take a data-driven approach to marketing strategy. The trailblazers in these areas will gain a competitive edge over companies that maintain the status quo in their marketing mix.

For more information, download the complete study or check out the infographic.


kerry gorgoneKerry O’Shea Gorgone, JD/MBA, teaches New Media Marketing in the Internet Marketing Master of Science Program at Full Sail University in Winter Park Florida. Follow her on Twitter: @KerryGorgone

 Top illustration courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Jason Ozur.

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  • RandyBowden

    Great read Kerry! So many are missing the opportunity to “create ‘owned’ content that invites engagement” and opting for a lazy approach relying on rapid curation and spew. Very hard to break through the noise when they are not using their own voice. It is the business of marketing, take advantage of the outlets, budget for it and reap the rewards!

  • Kerry O’Shea Gorgone

    Thanks, Randy! I agree. If you’re going to spend the money, it only makes sense to devote your attention to creating the best possible experience for users. We all know that getting people to your site is only the first step. In the Pinterest era, that site needs to be visually interesting, with options for interaction.

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  • Peter Odryna

    Kerry, great article. I was confused by one set of data points you quoted:

    “The majority of SMBs reported having between one and five full-time employees working on digital marketing, but 1 in 10 of the $1-million plus businesses have no full-time employees assigned to digital marketing. Just over 5% of businesses outsource their digital marketing.”

    I read this as > 50% have 1+ FT employees doing digital marketing, 10% has 0 FT employees, and 5% outsource. From our experience, the 50% number seems high unless their idea of digital marketing is that they have a website and post some information either in a blog or in some web pages. Having a website, either with or without a blog, usually isn’t considered digital marketing. Do you have any insight here?

    BTW, your article posted as the #1 social marketing article for 6/28. Highly shared by the top influencers monitored by SocialEars. That’s how I found it. Congrats.

  • This is a great article Kerry. I agree with Randy, that creating ‘owned’ content is a missed opportunity. ‘owned’ content is what make things personal..makes the reader believe they are dealing with a real person or people.

    I also agree that social media needs to be approached with a strategy just like any other marketing.

  • Do you find that different amounts of attention are given based on which social media server businesses are using?

  • Kerry O’Shea Gorgone

    Thanks, Brandon! Social can bring people to your site, but they need to have a reason to stay there. 🙂

  • Kerry O’Shea Gorgone

    Thanks for the heads up about SocialEars, Peter. That’s very cool! As regards your question, having a website was considered digital marketing for purposes of the study. In terms of staffing, most companies have someone who’s in charge of digital marketing, although that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s their only job. (It probably should be, but employees often fill multiple roles at smaller companies.)

  • Peter Odryna

    Thanks so much on the clear answer, and the great article. I’m looking forward to your future posts!

  • Hi there! I’m actually surprised by “Just over 5% of businesses outsource their digital marketing”. Maybe that sounds too low to me, but on the other hand I’ve seen companies that are very reluctant in giving over their brand to someone who is not an ‘insider’. I’ve also seen companies not really understand digital marketing, so they feel uneasy outsourcing something that they have no control over. Even when they assign an employee to manage or “own” the digital team that employee now has a second job and has to learn things that they have never used before.
    The best thing for digital consultants or agencies is their credibility. Hopefully, more companies will entrust the right people to do great work for them.

  • This must be frustrating for some. I feel like most who take on this extra role have to learn new skills/software and for the same pay. Hopefully the outsourcing team does a great job, so the employee doesn’t go too crazy! 🙂

  • Kerry O’Shea Gorgone

    Absolutely, Tiana! No doubt some people find it difficult keeping pace with advancements in digital marketing when they have an entirely different set of duties, as well. I would view the additional work as an opportunity, though. Whether or not someone wants to change careers and become a full-time marketing professional, understanding how digital media works can help anyone build their network and their personal brand so, ultimately, find a better job doing whatever they do want their primary career to be.

  • Yes, completely agree! A client seems to have picked up on it fast. At first she asked so many questions and now she at least knows what I’m talking about. 🙂

  • It’d be an amazing thing that, if a company picks and existing employee to do digital marketing, they make it their only job providing the resources and training for it.

    I find that sometimes it’s taken as a little side project that will help us along with other stuff…it doesn’t seem to have its own spot light.

  • I’ve been reading the conversation. Thanks for all the great inside Kerry, Peter, and Tiana.

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