In 2010 we ran our first small business Social Media Survey and I was stunned by the number of businesses which indicated their social media program was being run by an intern. Back then many companies thought social media was a relatively unimportant part of their marketing mix. Many weren’t convinced it would have any real benefit, so they relegated the task of managing it to an intern.

Fast forward to 2015 and this is no longer the case. We have seen a tremendous shift in attitude and resources over the last few years. As consumers of all products and services look to connect with companies, businesses have discovered social media is not on the fringe, but the center of their marketing mix. There are rewards for companies who get social media right and serious ramifications for companies who mishandle the tools.

14-who-controls-contebtThe data in our 2015 study clearly reflects this shift as compared to previous years. The number of business owners who say they are still managing the program is about the same as it was in 2012. Where we see the biggest shift is with interns.

Three years ago they represented more than 37% of the population of social media managers. Today, as companies have realized the risks are too high to leave this program in the hands of an intern less than 1% of companies are still trusting interns with this task.

Who stepped up to fill the void? Well as a company who manages social media, I was hoping the data would show small businesses were turning outside for help.  And  a small group, about 7% of the companies in our study are hiring outside experts.

For the most part  companies are keeping control of their social media in house. They are putting the assignment firmly in the hands of a staff member. This may not be a full time assignment, but as companies recognize the importance of consistency they are relying on someone who has a deeper understanding of the marketing objectives of the business than a temporary intern.

This insight is from our 2015 Internet Marketing Report. This is the most recent update in a five year project to study how small businesses (1 – 50 employees) are using emerging internet marketing tools. In addition to social media this year we looked at blogging, email marketing and online advertising.

What else did we learn in this year’s study? If you’re curious, you’ll have to download the report and find out.