When we began building Smart Business, social networking was just taking off. Although the technology was nascent, we designed Smart Market to make heavy use of online communities because our research said that was a future direction.
While the explosive growth of sites like Facebook and Twitter have amazed even the most jaded IT observer, there is an ongoing question over who can be counted among this burgeoning throng of users. Everyone agrees that teens and young adults comprise the bulk of the early adopters. Some studies also indicate that seniors are outpacing the middle aged in their use of these tools. So where do small business owners fit into this picture?
According to the New York Times, small business owners are quickly moving to social networking tools, and for good reason. Small and medium businesses (SMBs) are always built on personal interactions and networking. Social networking sites—whether they are built for a broad audience or a specific niche—enable SMBs to do exactly that in the virtual world. These tools play into a small business owner’s strongest skills.
The Discover Small Business Watch, a monthly index of the economic confidence of the nation's 22 million businesses with 5 or fewer employees, reported in April, 2009 that 38% of small business owners are a member of an online community, which is up 22% since October, 2007.
In that same April report, only 37% of the respondents had web sites and 55% said that they spend 3 hours or less per week on social networking. So we can conclude that these respondents are not techno-geeks glomming onto the next big trend. These are mom-and-pop businesses who carefully budget both time and money. And they see value in social networking.
And that’s where IBM’s Smart Market comes into play. From the beginning, we designed the site to provide the level of interaction and the ease of use that small business owners are looking for. But we need your contributions. In order to create a vibrant community, we need our partners contributing their expertise and insights to the general forums, the product forums, and the blogs. Additionally, we need customer feedback on your products. Please encourage your existing customers to visit Smart Market and comment on their satisfaction with your solutions.
Feel free to respond to this blog with your experiences with online communities and social networking—let’s have a discussion!