Are small businesses chugging social media Kool-Aid?

No, says one survey. Yes, says another. Problem: the survey that says "yes" only polled companies that have already joined a social network for small business owners.

In my in-box last week: "Citibank Survey Reveals Small Businesses Not Joining Social Media Conversation."

In my in-box on Thursday morning: "Survey: Nearly Half of Small Businesses Surveyed Have Profiles on Facebook and Twitter."

Um, do these add up?

Let's take a look. The first survey , conducted by Citibank and research firm GFK Roper, surveyed 500 small-business executives in the U.S. and found that 76 percent say they don't think social networks are helpful for "generating business leads or for expanding their business," and 86 percent "say they have not used social-networking sites to get business advice or information."

Yet the second survey, commissioned by research group Internet2Go and small-business networking site MerchantCircle, polled 2,000 small businesses in the U.S. and found that 45 percent already operate Facebook pages and 46 percent have either a business or personal presence on Twitter.

"We've known anecdotally that small businesses are using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter but these numbers are surprising," Internet2Go senior analyst Greg Sterling said in a release. "The conventional wisdom is that (small businesses) are unsophisticated but they're adopting social media tools en masse it appears, because there are fewer barriers to entry than other forms of online marketing."

Meanwhile, the Citibank survey: "Our survey suggests that small business owners are still feeling their way into social media, particularly when it comes to using these tools to grow their businesses," executive vice president of Citi's small business group Maria Veltre said in a release. "While social media can provide additional channels to network and help grow a business, many small businesses may not have the manpower or the time required take advantage of them."

The two, both of which classify "small business" as a company with fewer than 100 employees, really seem to serve up fairly conflicting results. But let's look a little deeper. The Internet2Go study, affiliated with a company (MerchantCircle) with an obvious interest in small businesses and social media, only polled existing MerchantCircle members. That means that those small businesses have already made at least one big leap toward trying to become more social-media-savvy.

Internet2Go senior analyst Greg Sterling told CNET News that the decision to only poll existing MerchantCircle members was made because it's difficult and expensive to pin down small businesses to survey them. The social network has "a large population of SMB users," he said in an e-mail.

That said, he admits the survey's results aren't totally random as a result: "These results should not be automatically generalized to the entire (small business) population," a blog post by Sterling explains. "They're qualified by the following: the survey targeted the most frequent content-publishers among MerchantCircle's small-business members. However, we believe these respondents may be a leading indicator of where the market is heading."

So it's more than likely that the Citibank survey shows the scenario closer to the current reality. Fine print, you know, can say a lot.

This post was updated at 10:52 p.m. PT with comment from Internet2Go's Greg Sterling.

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About the author

Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.

 

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