The study was based on an online survey in August of 338 business executives at companies with fewer than 500 employees. It examined which online tools SMBs use, how they use them to receive business information and the implications for marketers using Web 2.0 tools to reach SMBs.
"If you are a marketer trying to reach the SMB market, Web 2.0 offers tremendous potential for creating a one-to-one channel of communication," said Stu Richards, CEO of Bredin Business Information. "Web 2.0 allows you to present customized advice based on small-business owners' unique interests and requirements."
When asked to identify which online resources they use frequently or occasionally to manage or grow their business, the top response was e-mail newsletters (51%), followed by interactive tools such as online surveys and calculators (43%), community forums (28%), webcasts or webinars (23%), wikis (21%), social networking sites (20%), blogs (16%), RSS feeds (14%) and podcasts (12%).
If respondents said they never or rarely use online tools, they were asked why for each.
For blogs, the top reason cited for nonuse was "don't see its value" (57%), followed by "don't understand how to use" and "none of the sites I visit offer this format (both at 22%).
For social networking sites, the most common reason given for nonuse was "don't see its value" (54%), followed by "none of the sites I visit offer this format (25%) and "don't understand how to use" (22%).
When asked where they are most likely to start looking online for information to manage or grow their business, 48% said on a search engine,
33% said on "sites I know have good resources" and 19% said on the Web sites of their current vendors.
"If you look at some of the formats used in Web 2.0, they are not aligned with the formats SMBs use," Richards said. "Usually, SMBs have a pressing business need, such as how to better manage their cash flow or drive traffic to their Web site. They'll go online, ask a question on a search engine, find the answer and get out."
He added, "For these very specific intentions, a forum may not necessarily work. If they post a question, it may be a while before they get a response. Or it may take time to find a webcast, download it and listen to it."
The survey also asked small-and-midsize-business executives how they use online tools.
When asked where they listen to podcasts, 79% said on their desktop or laptop, while only 21% said on a portable device such as an MP3 player.
When asked how many RSS feeds they subscribe to, 51% said one to three, 19% said four to six, 9% said more than six and 21% said they didn't know.
When asked, "Do you prefer the sites that you visit for resources to grow or manage your business to be dedicated specifically to small and medium businesses, as opposed to broad informational Web sites?" 25% answered "yes, strongly"; 37%, "yes, but not strongly"; and 38%, "no, it makes no difference."
Richards said the survey has implications for marketers that are trying to reach SMB decision-makers with online tools.
Opportunity for better online tools
"There is a marketing opportunity to do a better job using tools that are more consistent with what SMBs are looking for," he said.
For example, he pointed to strong usage of e-mail newsletters and tools such as online calculators among SMB executives.
"When you find a format that is aligned with SMB preferences, then you really have an opportunity to connect with them on a meaningful basis," he said.
"Don't just do something because it's a neat new tool. Have a clear strategy, and know how you will solve a problem for SMBs through the use of these tools."