You can believe all the Forrester reports and eMarketer statistics you want, but the truth is when research firms survey people about social media, they normally ask social media people. Citibank asked more than 550 small business owners across America several questions about Internet and social media use for their companies. The survey, which wasn’t conducted by a social media-friendly company using social media tools to ask questions of a social media-adept audience, came back with some results many would find surprising.

Citibank, N.A.

They didn’t shock me. Wanna know what real businesses are doing with digital marketing? Here’s a few of the findings:

  • 81 percent don’t (that means DO NOT) use social media
  • 37 percent are not using their website to expand their business
  • 84 percent don’t sell their products or services online
  • 62 percent don’t use email for marketing purposes
  • 65 percent do not use online advertising

We gotta long way to go, kids.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is the founder and chief instigator for Social Media Explorer's blog and signature Explore events. He is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for CafePress, one of the world's largest online retailers. His opinions are his, not necessarily theirs. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • bretsimmons

    Strongly concur, Jason! I tell folks all the time that it is VERY early in the game. The race for unique competitive space is still wide open. Thanks! Bret

  • http://toddrjordan.com/thebroadbrush tojosan

    Incredible survey.
    Really gives me hope that there is room for more folks to work with companies, big and small, to help them get online.

    How to contact them is what I'm wondering. If those businesses need a hand, how do we reach out to them in the first place?

  • http://www.leader4hire.net Leader4hire

    From 1998 to 2005 I ran a web development and web marketing company and found out the hard way how few people were actually tuned into online. In the late 90's I would just ask if their website and/or email was on their business card. I very high percentage said no. Thus began the education of “the internet is where it's at”. I recall saying, “now days, people are more likely to make first contact with you via your website rather than your phone or store front”, wow, bold statements given youtube, facebook, twitter etc didn't even exist. So, my point, this doesn't surprise me at all.

    HOWEVER, the thing we have going for us now, that we didnt have 10 years ago is youth. The 90's kids are becoming today's middle managers, executives, business owners and leaders. In the next 10 years, I believe we will see those numbers decrease to the tune of 20 – 30% due to the proliferation of content, the overall success of those who are online and selling goods online, and the massive effort of all of us //// pushing people to where it's at ////

    One last thing. Ever business wants to grow, they just don't want to be scared into or while doing it. If you can help, encourage, and lead a business to the digital watering hole, you'll win (and they will too).

  • http://copywriteink.com/ Rich Becker

    Jason,

    I'm so glad you shared a survey that touches on the trouble with some of the surveys being put out for years. Great to see you outside the bubble on this one. Great share.

    Best,
    Rich

  • http://www.facebook.com/manuelstolte Manuel Stolte

    refreshing….

  • http://xeesm.com/carlosrhernandez CarlosHernandez

    I would be interested in knowing the age demographics of the surveyed small business owners. It is tempting to suspect that they are likely north of 40 years old.

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      For Carlos and Ari, plus whomever else is curious, this is what I can parse
      from the information they sent:

      - Poll conducted March 10-31 of this year. National random sample of 552
      small businesses drawn from Dun and Bradstreet. Decision-makers were
      interviewed from businesses with over $100K in revenue and no more than 100
      employees. Citibank was not identified in the questioning.
      - Ages: 18-24 less than 1%; 25-29 – 3%; 30-34 3%; 35-39 – 8%; 40-44 – 10%;
      45-54 – 32%; 55-64 – 33%; 65+ – 11%
      - How long has company been in business – <5 years – 11%; 5-9 years – 11%;
      9-25 years – 38%; 25+years – 41%.

      Since it was a random sample, there were no geographic distincitions called
      out.

      • http://xeesm.com/carlosrhernandez CarlosHernandez

        Jason,

        Thank you for excavating this information and my eyes are drawn to the 45-54 and 55-64 age brackets.

        The other compelling category is the business life span where 2/3 are between 9-25 and 25+ years old.

        Reads like an opportunity to keep on educating my peer group, i.e. fellow Baby Boomers.

        • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

          Agreed there, sir. It's also good for people to understand that this move
          toward social media isn't going to be an overnight thing. Executives 45+
          aren't going to just “get it” and certainly won't also retire or die en
          masse. This is going to take a while. Keep pluggin' my friend.

          • http://xeesm.com/carlosrhernandez CarlosHernandez

            This amplifies why I am calling my social media educational practice “Social Media for the Uncomfortable”.

            Most recently, US Congress Representatives Jackie Speier and John Garamendi hosted job hunting bootcamps for professionals and I was honored to have asked to share my love for social media to the job seeking community. Those who have had the mis-fortune of losing their jobs are more apt to have a change of attitude and heart to something that appears “risky” to them.

            These transformed individuals who are able to successfully implement the relationship enhancing aspects of social media into their professional careers will be viable evangelists.

          • http://xeesm.com/carlosrhernandez CarlosHernandez

            Here is a post from the other end of the spectrum, i.e. CEOs who are less-than-active in social media.

            http://mashable.com/2010/04/23/should-ceos-be-f

  • http://ariwriter.com Ari Herzog

    I would like to see the demography of the 552 surveyed businesses; what percentage are in large cities vs rural towns, for instance? How many are in communities with no or limited broadband?

    The survey results are not surprising to me, as the average John Smith assumes Facebook is for kids and Twitter is about text messaging. Introduce Yelp and TripAdvisor, and they're clueless people are reviewing their companies.

  • Brian Wallace

    Well said, and agree with the findings. Just because we're hanging out in social media all day doesn't mean that the majority of businesses are. The real question therein is what are these businesses doing? Yellow pages and traditional media, no doubt.

    I think you mean “business owners across America” though ;)

  • http://www.mikestenger.com Mike Stenger

    Holy crap Jason. 81% don't use social media? Man, the last stats I read was way way less than that. Further proof that it helps to look at different sources. Have a great weekend man!

  • http://www.smb-gr.com Sanjeev Aggarwal

    I did a study on use of the social media in small businesses also. They results and a deeper discussion on the results can be seen at:
    Interest in Social Media among Small Businesses Correlates to Number of Years they have been in Business

  • robpetersen

    Jason,

    Many thanks for these eye-opening stats. As it happens, I am doing a SM workshop for the US Small Business Administration this Tuesday night at UCONN in CT. This is very relevant and timely. I hope I may use and credit you. US Small Biz Admin is very interested in SM. For background on the workshop, it's at http://barnraisersllc.com

    Rob

  • http://edwardboches.com/ Edward Boches

    My only question is why put a big honking citibank logo on your post. Are they paying you to promote them? Man, they'd have to write me a serious check before I would do that for them. ;)

    • http://socialmediaexplorer.com JasonFalls

      Because they took the time and resources to produce research that was
      useful, shared it with me and it was one-click easy with the Zemanta
      plugin. No other reason. I don't even use them for my banking.

  • http://www.shashi.name/ Shashib

    Hi Jason,

    You may also be familiar with the Small Business Success Index the University of Maryland & Network Solutions conducted http://growsmartbusiness.com/small-business-suc

    Results 24% of SMBs use social media
    Usage doubled in one year ( 12% to 24% )
    47% of those polled were online

    All of us have a role in encouraging Small Business to choose and use new tools to not only explore new business but keep in touch with their existing customers. Also was thrilled by this story I read today ” Small Business the most trusted group in America acc to poll http://bit.ly/9jBs3d

    Great work Jason. Keep the coverage of small business coming.

    Shashi (disclaimer – Jason Falls is a friend )

  • Maguire09

    A lot of business still run on the old school method, advertising in print and word of mouth. It is kind of strange to look up a restaurant and not be able to pull up a current menu, these are things which can very quickly and easily be changed on the web. Looking for a dry cleaner near by? Good luck, they don't advertise or have a link to go to, just whatever a Google search can pull up. It is very odd to me, but I am not really all that surprised by the fact that 81% of business are still not using social media to expand their business, when so many aren't even using the internet at all yet.

    There is an interview series of social media specialists that you might really enjoy.
    http://www.ourblook.com/topic/social_media.html

  • ginidietrich

    Your title makes me want to sing The Carpenters…we've only just begun…la, la, la.

    This does not surprise me one bit. I speak to Vistage groups at least once a week, which are made up of 15-20 CEOs/entrepreneurs/small business leaders. I always ask what they use to communicate with their customers. Most use direct mail. Some use traditional advertising and/or PR. There MIGHT be one in each group that uses the Web to communicate, but almost no one uses new media.

    We have HUGE opportunity to educate business leaders on how to use what good, ol Al Gore gave us to drive business while we sleep. You're right…we have a long way to go.

    http://twitter.com/ginidietrich

  • http://twitter.com/abarcelos Anna Barcelos

    Ah reality Jason. Working for a marketing services company with both small, medium and large businesses, I can tell you that even the larger ones are still just “testing the waters.” It's easy to get lost on the social networks thinking everyone is doing it, but in reality (as the data proves) they are not.

  • oliversrussell

    I think we're still stuck in a sales led mindset – certainly here in the UK – I have just got people to ringfence a certain level of time a week to deal with Social Media – because it is as valid a sales tool as any other. The good news is that not more people have jumped on the bandwagon with nothing useful to say or offer – lord help us with that number waiting in the wings!!

  • beckyweiand

    Those numbers are scary! Social Media is what EVERYONE needs to be using to stay in touch with current clients and caputre new leads. We just started really using Social Media at my company and we have seen huge success in just a few months!!

  • http://blogforprofit.com Grant Griffiths

    More important than a long way to go. We have a huge opportunity here to expand our own markets and help these businesses get on board.

  • http://twitter.com/brandonchicago Brandon Andersen

    Those figures are just sad (but, as Grant said before, represent a great opportunity). FTA: “Sixty-three percent of respondents say word-of-mouth marketing is the most effective way to market their business and find new customers”

    Maybe if we stopped referring to it as “social/new media” and instead referred to it as “online word of mouth marketing” small business owners would pay a little more attention to it. :)

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  • http://www.blue-ferret.com/ BlueFerret

    I honestly can't say I'm surprised. I talk to small business owners & employees all the time. Some openly dismiss social media. A few, the Web in general! How does a software company not like online marketing? I have no idea, but I've met some who don't.

    I guess what this means is, always have some content you can give or send out. Print up case studies or flyers. Offer to email PDFs of your sales pieces, and tell them “you can print it out.”

    I like Brandon's renaming as “online word of mouth marketing” too. Good way to arouse curiosity.

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  • philsimonsystems

    As the others have echoed, I'm not surprised. Many people are only talking the talk at this point. Either the evangelists (like me) are totally wrong about social media or the laggards will rue their decisions to procrastinate down the road.

  • alexislamster

    I would have to agree to some degree with the survey results. As the VP of Customers for Postling, which is a social media management tool for small businesses, I've done a lot of market interviews to figure out exactly what these individuals are using on a daily basis. Some of them are just starting out, but the majority of them are at least signed up for Facebook and Twitter. However, they're not using it to its full capacity, which is sad to see. I'd love it if we could educate these small business owners on easy ways to connect with their audience of customers while also growing their businesses.

    Would love to hear further thoughts, feel free to email alexis@postling.com

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  • kellybriefworld

    The first item didn't surprise me, but the rest of the survey results certainly did! It clearly shows that companies are not utilizing what “online” tools are available to them, which is unfortunate since they could greatly benefit from these. As for social media use, companies are still on the fence as to whether social media is useful for business. This is perfectly understandable because accessing social media sites puts a company's network at risk. To help you understand the issues surrounding social media sites in the workplace (should you block social media sites or not, how to safely enable social media sites; etc) check out: “To Block or Not. Is that the question?” here: http://bit.ly/d2NZRp

  • kellybriefworld

    The first item didn't surprise me, but the rest of the survey results certainly did! It clearly shows that companies are not utilizing what “online” tools are available to them, which is unfortunate since they could greatly benefit from these. As for social media use, companies are still on the fence as to whether social media is useful for business. This is perfectly understandable because accessing social media sites puts a company's network at risk. To help you understand the issues surrounding social media sites in the workplace (should you block social media sites or not, how to safely enable social media sites; etc) check out: “To Block or Not. Is that the question?” here: http://bit.ly/d2NZRp

  • http://www.creditcardprocessing.net/ Credit Card Processing

    It is strange why so many companies do not sell online. It could be that the process of a sale is too complicated to do online. I'm sure that accounts for a large percentage of the companies in the survey. The other argument is that just several years ago, one needed substantial knowledge to be able to sell online which is no longer the case. Services like PayPal's make that so much easier than before but company owners don't necessarily know about that. What I'm wondering is how these results will look in 5 years =)

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