A new survey from Manta reveals more than half of small business owners (59%) don’t see a return on investment (ROI) from their social media efforts.

The usual lineup of social networks—with Facebook at the forefront—are actively courting small businesses for advertising revenue, but the message is clear: Social networks need to communicate real value to small business owners.

Social Media ROI Cartoon“At first glance, social media may seem like a magic bullet for small business owners, offering free or low-cost access to new customers, new partners, and a large community,” says John Swanciger, CEO of Manta.

“However, while Facebook has a solid head start, none of the social networks have convinced small business owners that it’s worth a significant investment.

"Budget allocations indicate an atmosphere of testing among small business owners. As networks find ways to prove value, we might see social spend go up.”

Facebook Stays No. 1; Others Lag Behind

Manta’s survey finds that Facebook is the top choice for small business owners, validating Facebook’s recent announcement that the majority of their advertising revenue comes from small businesses.

Benchmarked against Manta’s 2013 social media survey, 53% of respondents ranked the social media giant as returning the most value to their business, up from 29% in 2013.

However, the value of other leading social networks for small businesses dropped significantly. Google+ comes in second with 15%, followed by LinkedIn (11%), while Twitter and Pinterest trail behind at 5% and 2% respectively.

Nearly half (47%) of small businesses that see ROI on social media report receiving less than $100 each month, so it makes sense that nearly half (49%) of small business owners are unwilling to spend money on social media promotion.

New Customer Gold Mine or Virtual Rip-Off?

When it comes to managing social media accounts, the percentage of small business owners with plans to increase time spent on social media has slowed to 34%, compared with 49% in 2013.

Still, small business owners continue setting social media goals.

None of the social networks have convinced small business owners that it’s worth a significant investment.
New customer acquisition hits the top of the list (37%), followed by driving awareness of or marketing for their business (17%) and generating leads or referrals (15%).

While small business owners are clear on what they want out of their investment in social media activities, it’s not always easy to decipher how to accomplish their goals.

Knowing this, Manta has a few tips to help small business owners get the most out of social media for their business:

  • Follow the 80/20 rule. Use social media to talk about your business 20% of the time, but beware: Going overboard with self-promotion can sink your social media credibility. Stay afloat and engage followers by talking about things other than business 80% of the time.
  • Don’t put all of your social eggs in one basket. There are endless places to engage with potential customers, so mix it up. Most business owners rely heavily on Facebook, but each social channel caters to a different demographic. Customize messages to fit the platform and think about how your audience uses different social networks to consume information.
  • Keep it fresh. No one wants to read the same post again and again. And since you should limit your words, think about the impact of each one. Keep messages persuasive and active.