According to a May 2012 survey by Constant Contact, over three-quarters of small businesses agree on their primary goal: attracting new customers. Unfortunately, a more troubling statistic shows that many small business owners are missing out on a vital opportunity. According to a recent eMarketer post, only 32 percent of small business owners think social media marketing is an effective tool in today’s digital bazaar.

This perception needs to change. For many small business owners, social media is still largely an unknown quantity. Here are a few basic reasons that businesses of every size should invest their marketing resources in social media.

Five reasons social media marketing is important

1. It’s cheap.

Ultimately, the concern of all small businesses is getting the most bang for their marketing buck. Depending on how you approach it and what platforms you use, marketing through social media will either be free or very cheap. The biggest expense, at least initially, is likely to be time. Establishing a social presence doesn’t happen overnight, but it can create a wealth of opportunities for your business once it gets rolling.

2. It builds community.

Much more so than large, nationally recognized companies, small- to mid-size businesses are often deeply connected to the communities in which they’re located. Consumers like to add local businesses to their social media feeds, and platforms like Facebook continue to make it easier to filter news feed results by location-based criteria.

3. It expands your reach.

While your primary consumer base will inevitably be close by, social media offers ways for any business to broaden its borders and sell its products in the online marketplace. In social media, your community members double as your brand ambassadors. All they have to do is share some kind words about one of your products, and all of a sudden, you’re getting interest everywhere from Albuquerque to Dubuque.

4. It builds thought leadership.

One primary duty of businesses using social media marketing is sharing relevant content. Part of this process involves passing along useful content from others in your field, and part of it means creating your own content, whether it’s a blog, video, podcast, etc. By constantly sharing information, you will demonstrate that you are aware of the trends in your industry, connected to other important minds within that industry, and contributing new ideas to the conversation.

5. It gives customers a voice.

Every business owner at one time or another wants to know what their customers think of their company. Aside from things like surveys and comment cards, however, small businesses didn’t really have an affordable option to get customer feedback. Your customers will freely volunteer details of their experience through social channels—often without even being prompted. Sometimes negative feedback will sprout up as a result of this process, but the good news is that you will have a direct line to your customer to try and sort the issue out.

Is your small-to mid-size business engaging customers on social media? Share your experiences in the comments.

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

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