Research from credit card company Discover suggests that small business networking is moving online.
Discover's Small Business Watch surveys since 2007 have shown an increasing number of small businesses using the Internet to sustain and grow their businesses.
Here are a few interesting statistics from Discover regarding the move from traditional business networking to online business networking.
- The number of small businesses involved with social networking is on the rise. Three years ago, 22 percent of small business owners told Discover that they were members of an online social networking community such as Facebook, Linked-In, My Space or Twitter. Three years later, that number has more than doubled to 48 percent. Of those who are social networking, 55 percent say they have used social networking to promote their businesses, which is up from 45 percent in 2009.
- Most small business owners use a variety of social networking sites. In fact, 35 percent of small business owners who told Discover that they promote their operations through social networking use four or five sites; 43 percent use two or three sites; 20 percent use one site; and 2 percent use more than five sites.
- In-person networking sites are still more popular than online sites, but online sites are gaining momentum. In terms of which networking opportunities small business owners are most active in, online sites moved into second place at 14 percent, a jump from 8 percent last year. Other networking avenues include: Local, in-person networking groups – 26 percent; In person at conferences and organized events – 10 percent; Chambers of Commerce or trade associations – 9 percent; E-mail – 6 percent; Other forms of networking – 15 percent; Not sure – 21 percent.
- The biggest benefit cited by members of social networking sites is getting new business leads. 32 percent of owners cited new leads as the top benefit, followed by getting business tips, 12 percent; getting new suppliers, 2 percent; getting new employees, 0 percent; benefiting in other ways, 29 percent; not benefiting at all, 22 percent; and not sure, 3 percent.
- Online networking may be curtailing chamber of commerce growth. 78 percent of small business owners are not members of their local chambers of commerce.
- Industry-specific online communities are growing. 28 percent of survey business owners are members of an online community specific to their industries, up from 22 percent last year.