But a new survey from BMO Financial Group reveals that while the overwhelming majority of Canadian small businesses that are participating in the social media revolution are finding value in the medium, only two-in-five firms have bothered to get in the game.
The survey, conducted by Leger Marketing, queried 507 small business owners throughout Canada and discovered that while 55% said they think social media is a valuable tool for raising their profile and interacting with customers, only 42% of small businesses use Facebook or Twitter for at least one business-related activity.
Of this minority that is participating, the top purpose cited was promoting their brands or reputation (31%) followed by eliciting suggestions from customers (26%) and selling products or services (26%). Another 21% were using social networking sites to track what people were saying about their company and 18% were using to monitor what was being said about the completion.
But a surprising 58% admitted they weren't using social networking or social media sites at all even though 55% of all respondents said they view participation as either "very" or "somewhat" important.
Compliance and privacy lie at the heart of most small businesses' apprehension as well as the costs associated with either hiring someone to serve as a social media coordinator or taking on the additional responsibilities with their existing staff.
This reluctance, which is particularly acute within the financial services industry due mainly to regulatory concerns and the fact that most clients still aren't comfortable engaging online when it comes to their most important financial interactions, is keeping financial advisors from expanding their client pool and relevance with younger investors.
This reality has compelled banks, wirehouses and investment platform providers working with smaller advisory firms and one-man shops to reach out with educational programs and applications to help light their social media fires.
"We recognize that small business owners can benefit from the interactive opportunities presented by social and new media," Cathy Pin, vice president of commercial banking at BMO Bank of Montreal, said in the report. "For example, we have nearly 100 podcasts available for business owners to listen or download that provide them with advice from top industry experts on everything from cash flow to the importance of social media."
In June, BMO said it will launch a small business social media community that will provide small business owners with a go-to resource for podcasts and blog posts offering financial tips and advice.
"Social media has proven to be an innovative and valuable resource for consumers and entrepreneurs to have conversations about ideas, products or services," Bal Sahjpaul, director of BMO Financial Group's eChannel Group, said in the report. "The small business community will provide a venue for small business owners to seek out the financial advice they're looking for, with an interactive approach so conversations can take place from virtually anywhere."
For those small businesses that have taken the plunge, Facebook is by far the most popular website (58%) followed by LinkedIn (24%) and Twitter and YouTube at 9%, respectively.
Among this group of early adopters, 61% say the main benefit they've realized from participating is increased awareness of their company and the ability to network within their field (55%).
Perhaps more important, 43% said their online endeavors have led to increased business and 52% said they've attracted new clients as a direct result of establishing an online presence.