It is a simple question, but the answer is not so simple.  Where should you play in social media?  It depends on the industry your are in. We recently completed another social media survey and found some interesting trends as  business owners answered questions about where they are spending time on social media.  A copy of the complete report can be found here.

In the 2010 Small Business Social Media Study, we focused on the most common business networks, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Plaxo.  In 2011 we added Foursquare, Stumble, Flicker, YouTube and Friend Feed to the list of networks.  Even with the longer list, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are still the most common social media networks among small business owners.   YouTube and Foursquare each have solid communities which seem to be leaving Plaxo in the dust.

A year ago, Linked in barely edged out Facebook as the most popular network, but it seems to be declining just a bit as Twitter comes closer to the two leaders.

More than 30% of the respondents indicated they have a profile on Foursquare.  This is much higher than the actual market share of Foursquare but it makes sense given the business emphasis of this study.  Also, the growing popularity of video as a business tool is reflected by the fact that more than 40% of respondents indicated they also have a YouTube profile. 

Primary Profile

It is easy to set up multiple profiles, but simply having a profile doesn’t mean a person is actively engaged in the community.  There is, after all, only so much time, so where are business owners really spending their time?

When asked which their primary network was, Facebook is clearly still the preferred choice. More than 45% of the respondents identified Facebook as their primary network.  This is not surprising, since the simple user interface makes it easy to transition from business to personal.

The big change, year over year is clearly the growing acceptance of Twitter which is now the primary network for about 26% of the survey pool.  Most of the growth of Twitter seems to have come at the expense of LinkedIn.

Responses Varied by Industry

primary by industry bin2011We had responses from a wide range of industries, so we took a look at some of the larger groups to see if usage varied by industry.

As expected, the more regulated industries, financial services, accounting, and legal, are most comfortable on the Linkedin Platform and 68% of respondents in these fields identified LinkedIn as their primary platform.

In contrast 57% of advertising and marketing businesses in our study indicated they are most active on Facebook.

Artists, with the need to showcase their products visually, clearly prefer Facebook (75%), while IT professionals, coaches and consultants seem to be fairly evenly split between the big three. The industry with the clearest choice was construction and home repair, with 100% of the companies who responded indicating Facebook was their primary network.

Is there a payoff by network?

Does investing time in one network pay off more than another?  To a great extent, the choice of network is driven by the target customer as you saw in the data above.  Companies with a retail or consumer product will find it easier to generate results on Facebook while a business-to-business company will be more likely to see results from Twitter or LinkedIn.

We evaluated results compared to primary network.  In general, LinkedIn, the least interactive of the primary networks, also has the lowest conversion to sales. This may not really be an indication of the capabilities of the network, but the fact that in this study Linkedin was most popular among industries which are not necessarily known for their marketing ability.  As we talk to business owners, most have profiles, but few are aware of the advertising, event sharing and discussion features which are a part of this robust business-to-business platform.

Conversely, Twitter seems to be delivering the strongest results, but it is also more popular among the marketing and tech communities who are most likely to understand how to use the medium to generate sales.

What type of results are you seeing from your social media activity?  We would love to hear from you.