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48% of SMEs using social media say it is essential to maintaining their business

Published on 13/02/2023 by David Jani

Social media as a marketing tool provides businesses with multiple channels to enhance their brand image, create two-way channels with consumers, and determine audience sentiment towards their operations. But how critical is social media marketing for small business? GetApp’s survey gathers insights from 250+ UK firms.

small business owners consider social media marketing while sitting on giant hashtag

Whilst social network usage feels almost totemic in the 2020s, the ways businesses in the UK get the most marketing and commercial value from these platforms are always evolving. So, could 2023 mark a year of change in social media strategy for small businesses, or are tried and true trends still the go-to?

We asked 252 UK small-to-midsize enterprise (SME) owners, executives, and managers for their experience and insights into using social networks to promote their companies. From doing this, we hoped to learn the most up-to-date information on where the benefits of social media for business lie and how companies approach managing their online profiles in 2023.  

Our complete methodology for this survey can be found at the end of this report.

Facebook and Instagram still rule the roost 

Social media feels very normalised in 2023, and it’s not uncommon to find both large and small businesses on big networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. However, the 2020s have been a volatile time for many of these platforms.

Since rebranding as Meta, Facebook and Instagram’s parent company has seen a toxic mix in legal troubles, a fall in user engagement, and declining ad revenues during the last 12 months and has subsequently cut staff by 13%. There have also been major worries about the stability of Twitter since deep staff cuts were made following Elon Musk’s US$44 billion buy-out in late 2022.

Has any of this translated into businesses migrating away from older, more established platforms to newer, more up-and-coming networks?

Infographic showing which social media platforms companies used.

When we asked our 252 SME leaders what their social media strategy is for social networks, we found that the effects of these woes were currently limited. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter were still the most likely platforms for businesses to use for their social media profiles.

Outside the top three, there was also a healthy number of our sample who favoured using LinkedIn (50%), YouTube (43%), and TikTok (38%). However, this data didn’t tell the whole story of how British SMEs engage with social networks. There’s still a lot that can be learned by how willing companies are to invest in paid promotions on these social media platforms.

Do companies spend for social media success?

A social media platform can be used by companies completely free in many cases. However, to enjoy greater reach and better control over who can see their posts, paid ads can provide a welcome boost to performance.

We asked our sample to tell us if they used organic, paid, or a mix of paid and organic strategies to manage their social media profiles. From this, we hoped to learn where SMEs were most comfortable spending marketing budgets on social media promotion.

Here we saw a slightly different picture of where companies decided to dedicate their resources.

Infographic showing the proportion that companies use social networks for organic content, paid ads, or both

Whilst Snapchat and Pinterest were the least used by our wider sample, being favoured by 14% and 20% of our sample respectively, those that did use the platforms were most likely to spend marketing or company budget for ads. Over 71% paid money to some extent to promote their business on social media using Snapchat, whilst Pinterest comprised 60% in total. 

At the other end of the scale, businesses using LinkedIn and Twitter were far less likely to invest in paid campaigns on these platforms. 55% of LinkedIn users used organic strategies only, whilst 52% did so on Twitter. In the case of all other social platforms, over 50% of participants used a paid social media marketing strategy or a hybrid organic/paid approach.

Did you know:

The Federation of Small Business (FSB) offers guidance for companies on choosing the best social network platform for their digital marketing needs.

It advises firms to consider their target audience’s demographics (such as age, interests, professional or social status) and their competitors to choose the best platform for their unique requirements. It also recommends choosing no more than three social networks to focus on at a time so that resources can be properly allocated to the task of social media monitoring

Social media is a long-term habit for companies

Social media has been a prominent part of marketing for some years now. Since its huge growth from the mid-2000s onwards, brands have been eager to join these social communities to engage with consumers.

However, running a social media profile can be a time-consuming and dedicated task. For smaller businesses with more finite resources, this could make social a lower priority channel than others, especially in an SME’s earliest stages.

We asked our participants to tell us the amount of time they’ve been using social networks as a business to get a better idea of whether companies value these tools as longstanding options.

In general, we observed long-term use of social networks amongst UK SMEs.

  • 41% said they had used social media for over three years
  • 26% had been using it for at least two years 
  • 17% for between one-to-two years 
  • 16% of the whole sample had been using social media for less than one year

Do companies value their social media presence?

As our findings show, social media use is a long-term practice for our sample. However, whilst it is commonly used and, usually, for many years, we wished to learn more about the perceived level of value that it delivers for business users.

We asked our sample if they agreed or disagreed with several statements about how essential social media was to their operations. We found that, generally, there was a high level of importance given to it. 

Graphic showing the level of importance of social media for British SMEs

Nearly half (48%) of our participants regarded social media as essential to maintaining their business. A similar proportion (49%) said it was important but not essential, whilst only 3% said that social media wasn’t important for their company.

From this data, it was clear that social media plays a significant part in how small UK companies go to market and connect with their client base. Yet to investigate the value it generates more, we asked the SME leaders in our sample for their level of agreement with a selection of other statements about their social media use.

Graph showing how social media impacts business and strategies

Most of our respondents (94%) agreed with the claim 'social media has had a positive impact on our business success'. There was also over 90% agreement with other statements such as 'social media has proven to enhance our brand image' and 'we make an effort to have an excellent e-reputation on social media'.

The data reveals that companies have invested time and resources and, crucially, are reaping the rewards from social media. Whilst we predicted there could be concerns about the value driven by these networks, most of our sample has strong faith in social media marketing overall. 

Tips for SMEs

Companies often rely on social listening to get a better understanding of their audience, their brand image, and the trends in their market sector. This can help SMEs learn which social media platforms they should focus on or which sites are most relevant to their product.

Using social listening tools, businesses can gather, track, and analyse conversations happening online. This helps them learn more about where they stand in the market and target their audience more effectively.

For more information on social listening trends amongst SMEs, we go into further detail in the second part of this report on social media and small businesses.

83% of SMEs post social media content more than once a week

We’ve already seen how companies feel about social media as a business tool for engagement and advertising. However, there’s still much more to learn about how companies post on social media.

How SMEs strategise and create content on social media can reveal a lot about how small businesses get the best results from their online profiles. To investigate this further, we asked our sample how they post online.

We found that most of our sample had developed a specific business strategy for their social media content. 54% said they were following a set plan. This contrasted with 39% who were in the process of developing a strategy, 5% who were planning to develop a strategy in the future, and 2% who didn’t have a strategy and didn’t intend to create one.

When we delved a little deeper into the posting habits of our entire sample, we found that the vast majority (83%) published new content multiple times a week. Of this group, 43% posted daily or more.

Graph showing the frequency companies post new social media content

From these findings, it is evident that businesses post regularly to keep their audience engaged. Yet to understand the process even better, we then asked our participants what the topics of these social media posts tended to be.

Much of the content posted varied. Nevertheless, we found that most (64%) of the content UK SMEs shared was company or industry-related news and updates. This outpaced other popular types of published content, which included:

  • Events (60%)
  • New collections/product launches (60%)
  • Discounts/promotions (55%)
  • Behind-the-scenes content (50%)

The pattern observed revealed that companies focus primarily on content that concentrates on informing consumers about their services, products, and special events. There is also a strong emphasis on brand storytelling. 

How is responsibility for social media posting delegated?

UK SMEs in our sample are posting content regularly. This, of course, requires a good amount of time and resources to be put into the management of company-branded social profiles.

So who is the person behind the social media profile in a company in most cases? We asked our sample to learn more.

 Graph showing the different ways companies allocate internal responsibility for social media posting

We found that a marketing team was most commonly assigned the role of posting social media posts online. It was much less typical, though, for smaller companies to appoint a dedicated member of staff or a team to handle social media with no other side responsibilities.

However, it was interesting to note that nearly a fifth of our respondents (17%) reported that this task was performed by a company owner or director. This is likely due to the fact smaller businesses usually have fewer members of staff. Subsequently, it’s more probable for SME owners to multitask with these responsibilities in organisations with the smallest headcounts.

Short-form video is on the rise

One of the most important tasks for posting social media online is creating the content itself. As we’ve seen in the findings so far in this report, this most often falls to marketing teams within businesses and involves multiple posts per week. 

However, content creation is an ever-changing task as social networks evolve. Therefore we asked our sample what kind of social media they posted online. 

Rather unsurprisingly, the most common form of content posted is traditional/static posts. This was used by 71% of the SME owners and managers we surveyed. Yet, this was followed relatively closely by short-form video (such as TikTok videos or Instagram Reels), which 56% of our sample publishes. 

Tips for SMEs

Use our guide for creating a video marketing strategy to learn more about how to make your own video content as a small business. 

The newfound commonality of short-form videos is likely a response to changing age demographics online and the growing need to engage with Gen Z to remain relevant. However, this has many more requirements than simply posting text or images. This is a factor social media teams will have to consider as short-form video becomes more normalised.

Time costs are a major drawback for SMEs

We’ve seen some notable benefits of social media marketing for businesses highlighted by our sample, such as better brand awareness and online reputation. However, there are also some significant downsides reported by our participants.

When we asked our sample to identify the main drawbacks of social media for SMEs, three points stood out above the rest.  

Graphic showing the biggest drawbacks of social media for SMEs

The biggest concern for business owners was the time cost of regularly posting content, which was selected by 47% of the group. 37% of our respondents also disliked the time and resources needed to come up with creative ideas. Additionally to this, 29% expressed concerns regarding the time and resources needed to manage social media content.

Did you know?

Social media management tools can support businesses in organising, tracking, and publishing content across multiple platforms.

They feature functions that can assist in streamlining and automating processes such as posting content. They also include analytical tools that can help SMEs learn more about their best-performing content to optimise the timing, topics, and frequency of their posts.

Some other interesting but less common answers were the lack of immediate results (28%), the fact that bad reviews gain more visibility online (28%), and the risk of being hacked (27%). Nevertheless, a recurring concern seems to be the time and effort that is required to run social network profiles adequately. 

Considering our observations show that companies place a high value on having a social media presence and generally post very regularly, as well as a trend towards more time-intensive video content, these worries don’t seem unfounded.  

Social media is still a valuable tool for businesses

At the start of this report, we aimed to learn more about whether social media benefitted companies in 2023 and how they managed their online presence. From the data collected, we were able to discover the following learnings:

  • Facebook is still the most used platform for SMEs, with 81% using it for social media
  • 71% of SMEs on Snapchat use it for paid promotions
  • 48% believe social media is essential to maintain business
  • 54% of companies have developed or follow a social media plan
  • 83% of SMEs in our survey post content more than once per week 

In our second report on our 2023 SMEs and Social Media Survey findings, we will investigate common social media marketing trends such as:

  • How companies are allocating their budgets for social media purposes
  • The social networks businesses are considering adopting in the coming years
  • How and why SMEs use social media software 
Looking for social media marketing software? Check out our catalogue. 


Methodology

The data for GetApp’s SMEs and Social Media Survey was collected in January 2023 and comprises answers from 252 respondents. We selected our survey sample based on the following criteria:

  • UK residents
  • SME owners, executive managers, senior managers, or managers
  • Working on the board of directors, marketing, or administration departments in companies currently present on social media
  • Responsible or frequently involved in the design or implementation of the marketing strategies


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About the author

David is a Content Analyst for the UK, providing key insights into tech, software and business trends for SMEs. Cardiff University graduate. He loves traveling, cooking and F1.

David is a Content Analyst for the UK, providing key insights into tech, software and business trends for SMEs. Cardiff University graduate. He loves traveling, cooking and F1.