Less than 20% of small and medium-sized businesses offer a link from their website to a Facebook page. This shows that they are off the pace of their customers, but at the same time it does open up market opportunities.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, "liking" a photo, posting a comment on the page of a brand... These are just some of the practices which have more or less become routine for Internet users, including on company pages. But it seems that small and medium-sized enterprises are a long way off their customers' pace. VSplash, a US supplier of e-commerce and web-marketing technologies - which focuses on the small and medium-sized business (SMB) sector - has carried out a study together with analysts from BIA/Kelsey. The results of an automated analysis of a million SMB company sites from 14 countries (700,000 of them in the United States), carried out using the SMB DigitalScape search engine designed by vSplash, show that only 19.5% of them offer a link to a Facebook page from their official website. This finding may seem rather disturbing in 2012, but it also opens up new marketing opportunities to the companies concerned if they handle the situation in the right way.

Some reasons for reluctance

According to Pierre Miceli, CEO of the French company Someka, a consultancy firm working on social media strategies, there are various reasons for this reluctance on the part of SMBs - which are in fact not so very different from those of larger companies. It may be a question of ignorance, pure and simple, of the world of social media, or worries about the company's e-reputation, perhaps fear that they might not be up to handling Internet users' comments or needs in the right way, or just a lack of organisation and budget. "These companies very often question whether they really need to invest, and they’re reluctant to recruit people for this sort of job. But little by little they realise that the investment they need to make is in time and training," he explains. ROI is another concern. You have to be prepared to wait at least six months to see an improvement in customer relations. And watch out. "If your company is already suffering from problems with delivery, logistics, or dissatisfied customers, do not open Pandora's box by starting up your Facebook page!" warns Pierre Miceli. "Sort out the problems first."

Managerial backing and a website tidy-up needed

If a company is to be successful on the social media front, it's vital to have a senior company manager as sponsor. As it's generally the case that several people from different departments will be asked to take part in the online drive, it's a good idea to have someone to approve the content and editorial line from a strategic point of view. "It’s also important to keep an eye on what your competitors are doing, and also to check out your partners and resellers, in order to fills the gaps in what they are saying, for example." So where exactly does the official website come in? "You can't have one without the other," stresses Miceli. "Before starting up a Facebook page, it's sometimes necessary to rework the official site so as to improve its basic attractiveness and search profile." Which brings us back to the BIA/Kelsey-vSplash study pointing up the number of gaps on SMB websites. Six out of ten SMB websites in the US are missing either a local or toll-free telephone number on the home page, and nearly three quarters lack an email link on their home page so customers can contact the business. In these cases, it's not really Facebook that's the priority...