It’s fair to say that SME marketing giant Sensis has yet to master the online world as it struggles to replicate the once glorious domination of the directories market.
Certainly its former majority owner Telstra agreed or it would have been less keen to offload 70% of its ownership stake.
Whilst it earns no revenue from it, one digital initiative Sensis has got right is its continued auspicing of its excellent digital business reports, the annual eBusiness reports and more recently the Social Media report.
In a market too small to ordinarily fund reports of this quality, Sensis’ investment in providing these reports mean that SME operators can get a sense of where they sit in the digital world and which trends might affect them.
SMEs abandon social media!
But those perusing this year’s Social Media Report might well have thought they were misreading graphs illustrating the adoption of social media by smaller Australian businesses.
Because despite the volumes of data illustrating increasing return on investment in business use of social media, adoption of the medium amongst smaller business actually declined in the last 12 months.
That’s right. Smaller Australian businesses are increasingly dumping social media as a marketing tool, as illustrated here.
Source: Sensis Social Media Report 2015
So why are SMEs leaving this much vaunted new communications channel?
According to the report, the primary reasons were because it took too much time or did not provide a return on investment.
But if you read between the lines, it’s fair to say that for many, social media is just far too complex for the time-strapped SME operator.
And who can blame them? Even if you do embrace social media, which component of social media do you utilise? Posting on your page, advertising, group participation, starting a group or a combination of these?
And which social networks are going to deliver the best ROI?
No Robinson Crusoe
Certainly, social media is no Robinson Crusoe when it comes to slow or poor adoption of ‘digital’ by SMEs. Proven digital techniques like websites, email marketing, search engine optimisation and others have all experienced slow uptake by SMEs as they have struggled to get their heads around these new kids on the marketing block.
Let’s face it, the smaller the business, the fewer resources it will have to dedicate to both marketing and technology.
Therefore it’s primarily left up to the business operator themselves to find time in their already packed day to understand, explore and finally master the digital world.
Time-consuming content generation
What’s more, as this blog has constantly surmised, even when the medium is grasped, you then have to find time or resource to generate the regular content required to make it sing for you.
Larger business is well accustomed to creating its own content for the various media to latch onto and in turn promote the business.
The Sensis reports themselves are great examples of this. And this blog is a great example of the good publicity that ensues.
But smaller business operators aren’t accustomed to the demands of the creation and distribution of so much content. Prior to websites, the biggest content project many of them have had to pull together was a quarter page ad in Yellow Pages or the local newspaper.
The baby or the bathwater?
Whilst the survey doesn’t drill into the specifics, it’s fair to say that another reason for the poor return on investment is because it’s been put in the wrong hands.
Often scared off by the cost of creating quality content, many smaller business operators assign the social media task to a well-meaning PA or family member, only to obtain moderate results at best and sometimes even damage to their brand, as we discussed here recently.
Unfortunately, those business operators who end up with a bad experience as a result of putting their digital tasks in the wrong hands often throw the baby out with the bathwater and abandon the idea altogether, instead of simply allocating it to a more experienced person or organisation.
But all the news is not gloomy for SMEs. One of the benefits of most digital communications tactics is that it is usually unnecessary to be locked into any longer term agreements. Most tactics can be experimented with without undue cost or commitment.
This means that business operators can afford to put their toe in the water with these media safe in the knowledge that they don’t have to throw huge sums at it to start generating results.
Given that most of their customers are enthusiastically embracing the digital world, it’s a bullet they are going to have to bite sooner or later.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.