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IBM Bolsters Social Media For SMBs

Training launched to help companies weed through the options, understand how to use online networks as sales tools.
"Fifty percent of their [social media] time should be spent listening online -- what customers are saying; what competitors are saying. Depending on industry and size of company, it could be 30 days minimum for listening," added Carter. "The worst offenders are people who just go out there and start talking and don't listen to what people are saying."

Many business partners have made an initial social media foray, with 80% saying they have experimented with LinkedIn. Of those, 56% visit LinkedIn daily or weekly, she said.

YouTube is the second-most popular social media site: 77% of respondents have experimented with the site, while 56% leverage it daily or weekly, Carter said. Facebook ranked third, with 68% of respondents having visited the social media site and 46% using it daily or weekly, according to IBM. Half the respondents know how to use Twitter, with 29% logging on daily or weekly, Carter said.

"Unlike some customers we consult with on social media, where they have a social media team, here the smaller companies have executives who are leveraging social media. These are primarily the four tools they use," she said.

Concerns about privacy and security, coupled with time constraints, lead executives' list of social media challenges, said Carter.

Those solution providers that overcome these hurdles have seen business benefits, she said. In 2009, the Zobrist Consulting Group, for example, expanded beyond its tradition of e-commerce solutions to develop a social media practice, said Teresa Zobrist, principal at the nine-year-old firm, in an interview.

"We embarked on a mission to teach our customers how to leverage social media," she said.

Zobrist Consulting first used its burgeoning social media expertise to boost its own presence and sales, seeing a 700% increase in web traffic within nine months, said Zobrist. As a direct result, sales increased and businesses in the United Kingdom and Japan contracted with Zobrist Consulting, she said.