In spite of the myriad success stories of business owners using social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, and now Pinterest to do everything from increase product sales to provide rapid customer support, there is still a small but adamant group of business owners who “don’t get” social media or its place in the new business world.

But a new study published by the Harvard Business Review validates what so many individuals already know: Social media has become as basic a business necessity as a business card. The study reported that 79% of businesses use or plan to use social media initiatives in 2013, and 69% of survey respondents stated their company’s use of social media will grow significantly over the next few years.

So why, according to the study, do more than 20% of businesses resist utilizing social media? Sprout Insights interviewed three business owners who previously held back on using social media. Here’s what they had to say about the misconceptions that keep one fifth of businesses from leveraging the benefits of posting, tweeting, and pinning — and what transformed their perspective on social media for their businesses.

Misconception #1: Social Media Has No ROI


Edward Hechter, president of PartyPail.com (an online retailer of party decorations), is a reformed social media resister. Founded in 2007 and despite leveraging a virtual team spread out across seven locations, Mr. Hechter acknowledges PartyPail was skeptical of social media’s benefit to its bottom line.

“I wasn’t about to see a direct correlation to investments in social media to sales,” Mr. Hechter notes. “It seemed that social media was more about people sharing personal information with each other.” As a result, PartyPail resisted social media until 2010.

Mr. Hechter reports it was PartyPail’s customers that inspired its social transformation. “We started getting people messaging us via Facebook, using Facebook instead of email. We noticed this correlation to a very rapid rise in the number of people visiting our website on mobile devices. When this happened, we started realizing we could do two things, we could interact with customers faster on their preferred method of communication, and we could learn more about what our customers wanted.”

PartyPail’s first experiment with social media was to host a photo contest on its Facebook page. As Mr. Hechter notes, the results were extraordinary: “We got over 1,000 customer photos which helped us see how our products were being used. We learned a lot about how others might use them as well.”

Today, PartyPail focuses its social media efforts on Pinterest and Facebook, and Mr. Hechter is officially a believer in social media as a business tool. “Social media now impacts almost 8% of our business. We generate hundreds of new visitors to our website each day from Pinterest and interact with multiple customers every day via Facebook.” In addition to utilizing social media analytics, PartyPail is also hiring new team members with strong social media skills to continually improve the company’s social media presence.

Misconception #2: Social Media Doesn’t Help Credibility


Erica Duran has been a Certified Professional Organizer and productivity coach for over 20 years. She has worked with individuals, female entrepreneurs, and large corporations on how to grow their businesses and build their company presence.

Ms. Duran assumed other people had similar experiences with social media as she did. “I resisted social media for years. Being a productivity expert, I thought it was the biggest waste of time,” Ms. Duran reflects. “I had not really engaged in social media socially. I dabbled when friends would invite me to their lists, but soon lost interest and would not log in for months on end.”

But in early 2011, she started to notice a growing trend of coaches and entrepreneurs engaging heavily with social media to build credibility with their markets. “I started seeing a shift in social media’s usefulness in business. If you don’t have any social media prospects, then you are not legit. People are skeptical.”

Ms. Duran also recognized that social media was a unique public platform to solicit and display testimonials. “I started to notice that social media would be an amazing tool to gain social proof or testimonials from real people who interacted with your content.”

Now, Ms. Duran uses all major platforms regularly and states she has obtained several clients from LinkedIn specifically. “Staying top-of-mind with my 6-8 posts a day on all sites has built relationships with my clients and prospects. It’s even resulted in business over time after they get to know, like, and trust me through interaction on social media.”

Misconception #3: Social Media’s Impact Isn’t Measurable


Though he was a relatively early adopter of social media for business, Adam Urbanski, CEO of TheMarketingMentors.com, had serious reservations before investing in building a Facebook and Twitter profile in 2008. “We teach our clients direct-response marketing strategies that generate an immediate result and can be tracked. So I resisted social media at first because I couldn’t see how to use it in a systematic way that could be measured and scaled.”

His perspective was completely transformed when a video he posted on his social media sites went viral. “I started receiving invitations to connect with people who I wanted to meet, but didn’t know how to make it happen. These were highly visible influencers in my industry. At first I had no idea what was going on. Why would those people, several of them each day, suddenly want to connect with me? Then I realized it was because of that three-minute video linked to my Facebook and Twitter accounts.”

Mr. Urbanski’s follow-up video series attracted 2,500 new leads and generated nearly $20,000 in business. His social media profiles now reach over 30,000 followers, friends, and subscribers around the world.

“I thought that it would be impossible to track and measure the results of our efforts,” Mr. Urbanski reflects. “But it’s actually very easy to see how my efforts on social media generate results. With so many tools available, we can pinpoint specifically where our leads and clients come from and how they found us.”

While Mr. Hechter, Ms. Duran, and Mr. Urbanski all said they didn’t regret their decisions not to engage in social media earlier, they all expressed significant enthusiasm with the results social media had produced for their businesses. With these misconceptions about ROI, credibility, and measurement debunked, we hope there isn’t anything holding back the resistant 20% from leveraging the potential benefits of social media for business.

Did you resist social media but change your tune? Are you still resisting? Tell us why!

[Image credits: Pat Castaldo, Daniel MoyleQuinn Anya, AMichiganMom]