Pew Research Center recently published their results comparing Social Media usage over the last 10 years. Their results reveal just how much social networking sites have affected our lives. In 2005, only 7% of Americans were using social networking, and most of them were youngsters. Ten years later 71% of all Americans with Internet access are active on Facebook.

The number of senior citizens who use Social Media has tripled since 2010. But it is the usage by younger adults that has soared: 90% of young adults (18-29) are active on social media; up almost 800% from 2005; for those 30-49 usage has increased by almost 1,000%.

Cell Phones Make Connections Easier

One reason for this phenomenon is that more than 64% of us own an Internet-connected “smart” phone. This means that we are no longer “tied” to a home computer or even a Wi-Fi “hot spot.” We can use our mobile devices anywhere at any time to access the Internet, including websites, social media sites and apps. In fact, for a growing segment of the population, their cell phone is their main access to the Internet.

The Trend Will Continue

According to an article in Growing wireless.com 90% of teens are active on Social Media. Cell phone use by all children is significant with 88% of teenagers 13-17, 56% of children 8-12 and 21% of children under the age of 8 accessing smartphones. Even more stunning: 38% of children under two years old have used a mobile device for media (e.g. YouTube)

Some Business Owners Are Slow to Adapt

We talk to a lot of business owners. While many of them tell us that they need to think about changing their marketing strategy, they are not sure they want to invest in a formal Social Media Marketing program. They are mired in the old ways of doing things and continue to take a “business as usual” attitude. They are often misled by aggressive sales people desperate to convince them that print directories (with and without online elements) are still viable. They still pay Yelp to get them more business or pay Angie for more exposure. They don’t understand that old-style SEO, still touted by some, is no longer effective. They are suspicious of social media sites that started as places for college kids. They believe that their older, more affluent customers are not there. (According to the latest Pew research, 78% of those living in the highest-income households use social media.)

Another obstacle is the fact that what was originally vaunted as “free” marketing actually costs money. Businesses that didn’t bat an eye at paying thousands for Yellow Page ads are unwilling to spend a fraction of that for a good Social Media Marketing campaign. What they are unwilling to recognize is that there are over 40 million small business pages with more than 2 million businesses advertising on Facebook. They may not be paying attention to the news that more people are searching for products and services on Facebook than on Google. Competition for the attention of potential customers has grown fierce, but many are slow to believe that the ability to reach a large and interested audience of well over 1.5 billion makes allocating a reasonable budget for social media marketing worth it.

Social Media Marketing Should be done as Professionally as Traditional Marketing

It is difficult to understand why some business owners, who understand that they need professionals to produce television commercials and print ads, seem to dismiss Social Media Marketing, believing that it can be done by people without marketing, graphic design or writing experience.

They may misunderstand the difference between “personal” accounts that should be spontaneous and folksy with “business” pages that may look spontaneous, but actually be well organized and planned.

The reality is that Social Media has evolved into a powerful way to reach – and sell to – customers. Most social sites now offer sophisticated advertising programs. They are following Google’s lead and have complicated algorithms that curate content, displaying only content that appears credible, appropriate and well executed.

Social Media professionals work with business owners to understand the company’s culture and its customers. They decide on a strategy that is unique to that company. Appropriate text and images are carefully crafted, sized and posted to the right social sites. The sites are continually monitored, and comments and questions referred to the business owner in a timely manner. Ads are written and targeted to attract interested customers at the lowest cost. Analytics are reviewed in order to make the adjustments needed to keep the page active and engaging.

Customers haven’t changed, but the way they choose to interact with companies – and make their buying decisions – has changed dramatically, and will probably continue to change. Agile marketing people who keep up with marketing trends and technology are important to any business interested in improving their bottom line.