The latest Small Business Success Index indicates that companies don't feel like they're getting as much from technology as they did a year ago. Nevertheless, their interest in online business solutions continues to grow.The Small Business Success Index (SBSI) is an ongoing survey of small businesses, conducted every six months since December 2008 by Network Solutions and the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. (The latest results are from phone interviews from last June.) The Index aims to quantify small business "competitiveness" by measuring "the level of success a small business achieves in conducting the organizational activities critical to its short and long term viability." The Index is calculated based on survey responses in six areas: capital access, marketing and innovation, workforce, customer service, compliance, and computer technology. The overall index now stands at 73, down two points from all the other surveys -- and, coincidentally, the same figure recorded for the computer technology dimension. That's because while 60 percent of the businesses surveyed thought they were highly successful with technology last year, only 53 percent thought that this time.
Along with that decline comes a drop in the use of online marketing tools, such as online advertising and social media. Nevertheless, businesses still intend to get involved in those areas. For example, only 50 percent of the businesses surveyed have a company website, down 3 points from last year. But 17 percent say they intend to have one in the next two years, bringing the projected total up to 67 percent. Online advertising is likewise down from last year but projected to rise significantly in the next two years.
Interest in social media has held steady over the past year: only 24 percent report having such a presence now, but 14 percent intend to within two years (the same level of intent as last year). Of those who already have a presence, nearly three-quarters have a company page on Facebook or a similar site, 65 percent post status updates or maintain a blog, and more than half monitor customer feedback through social networks. The effort is more than many expected, however: 43 percent say that participation in social media took more time than they expected, and 29 percent were unhappy with the fact that it gives people a chance to criticize their business in public.
Only one percent felt that participation hurt their image more than helped it, though. The chief benefit businesses reported from social media is customer engagement: 64 percent reported that increased awareness of their company in their market, and 65 percent said it helped them stay engaged with their customers (and 53 percent said it helped them attract new customers).
The full report can be downloaded at the Network Solutions blog.