As marketing dollars flow from traditional to social media, more small businesses are leveraging social platforms in order to drive traffic and increase visibility.  Nearly 60% of small businesses surveyed plan on spending as much or more in 2012 as they did in 2011 on online marketing efforts, according to the 2012 AT&T Small Business Technology Poll.  An interesting finding is that male business owners are more likely to rely on their company website for marketing than female owners (65% vs. 58%), while female business owners are more likely to rely on social media than their male counterparts (48% vs. 34%).

Location-Based Social Networks & Daily Deals

Small business owners are slowly gravitating towards location-based social channels such as Foursquare.  Since 2010, the amount of small businesses using these networks to establish their brand has nearly doubled from 5% to 9%.

This marks a significant jump, but the more telling statistic lies not in how many small business owners are using these platforms, but in how many actually think location-based services will help them.  In 2010, only 2% of small business owners using location-based social media thought it helped them get the word out. Today, that number now sits at a much more robust 25%.

While such a positive jump in perceived usefulness is very encouraging, the fact remains that 75% of small business owners using platforms such as Foursquare still do not see the value these marketing tools bring to their businesses. If location-based media is going to continue to succeed, companies will need to keep pushing on this front to ensure not only that they’re delivering real marketing value to small businesses, but, more importantly, that these businesses recognize the benefits of these services.

Daily deals sites have still yet to catch on among most small business owners, despite the tremendous potential these platforms offer for increasing exposure and building a good buzz about new products.  Only 4% of small businesses use daily deal sites such as LivingSocial or Groupon to market their products or services.  Unsurprisingly, firms in the leisure/tourism/lodging industry represent 14% of those businesses.

LinkedIn & Facebook

It’s no secret that the LinkedIn community has experienced tremendous growth in the past couple years, as both businesses and individuals continue to expand their networks and seek out new networking opportunities.  Small businesses in particular saw their LinkedIn presence grow from 25% in 2010 to 31% in 2011, an astounding jump of 25%.

Small businesses still gravitate to Facebook more than any other platform, rising from 41% in 2010 to 44% in 2011.  Twitter actually saw small businesses begin to walk away from the service, although not at a very alarming rate. Small businesses using Twitter dropped from 19% in 2010 to 18% last year.

At any rate, businesses have also begun to recognize that each platform brings them a specialized set of benefits.  Simply put, Facebook is the best resource for public outreach, which is likely the reason more small businesses use this service than any other.  LinkedIn has always been a popular resource for recruiters, but small business owners are increasingly using the social forum for networking with other businesses to help them learn more both about their local community and their particular niche.

A Toolkit for Navigating the Bazaar

Today’s empowered consumer has virtually unlimited choices in our global bazaar.  Consumers now expect—perhaps even demand—to be able to interact with brands through social channels.  Spurred on by these savvy consumers who understand the tremendous power they wield—and who demand that brands must earn their loyalty—businesses are now shifting from traditional to social.

With a click of a mouse, today’s empowered consumer can take charge.  Brands need to be ready.  The urgency of businesses to become social has never been so demanding.  Understanding that small businesses need to maintain a competitive edge, AT&T Messaging Toolkit enables small and medium businesses to customize their marketing programs.  According to Ebrahim Keshavarz, AT&T vice president of Small Business Product Management, the toolkit “enables customized marketing programs that can be shared via multiple media at once, whether it be Facebook, SMS, email or more.”

Marketers are racing to achieve social success for their businesses.  Social media is no longer an optional enterprise, it is a necessity.  From the CIO to the summer intern, businesses both large and small must learn to accept the social business model, a model in which every employee acts as an ambassador to their brand.

Innovative companies that value customer engagement must first engage their own employees, coordinating marketing operations in a way that allows social branding to flow organically and enthusiastically from all areas of the company.  Only the companies who truly grasp and internalize this new philosophy will reap the benefits of increased revenues and unflappable customer loyalty.


This post was originally published on AT&T’s Networking Exchange Blog.

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