How to effectively use social media to grow your business

Dec 15, 2014 at 7:45 p.m. ET

I have a confession. I don't believe in social media. Specifically, I don't believe social media is either the fastest or easiest way to generate new customers for small business owners and the self-employed.

In fact, I believe "doing social media" is a waste of time created by an army of aspiring social media gurus, marketing consultants and the advertising power of Facebook and LinkedIn to take advantage of the little guy. No offense to these fine folks, I am just skeptical.

Fortunately, here at Mightybell we host tens of thousands of small business owners and self-employed professionals in our How to Be Self-Employed professional network.

So we asked. We surveyed over 16,000 self-employed professionals to get a pulse on how they are actually using social media for their businesses. We were overwhelmed with the number of responses, providing us with results worth sharing.

There were no surprises as to why small business owners were using social media. The top two reasons they're using social media is to identify new customers and build stronger relationships with existing customers.

The surprises were in the details.

Small business owners like you are spending 6x more time on Facebook and LinkedIn than Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.

The majority of respondents invest more than two hours each day building their social reputations, yet almost 40 percent of these professionals aren't sure whether or not their efforts are working. That's 10 hours a week dedicated to the same imprecise science and guesswork of traditional advertising.

Three reasons to use social media that don't waste your time

As we followed up our survey with interviews, three things emerged as the most effective reasons for self-employed professionals to use social media.

  1. Strengthen relationships with existing clients. Focusing on existing customers is fast and measurable because it is well-defined. There is no guesswork in connecting with people you already know, so investing a half hour a day in this can pack a punch.
  2. Look legitimate to new and potential customers. It's clear to us that an active social media presence creates legitimacy when potential customers check you out. The great news is that focusing on existing customers can also help you build your legitimacy with new prospects.
  3. Rise in natural search results. We found 35 percent of respondents recognize and take advantage of search engine optimization (SEO) dynamics by using social media. In this way, social media can be very valuable, and it suggests those same 30 minutes a day can accomplish a lot.

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