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Though recent research on how small businesses market themselves suggests that the majority of US SMBs are not using social media and do not have websites,? there is a growing segment of online small-business owners who are aggressively promoting their businesses with social media, especially on Facebook and Twitter, according to a recent survey by Internet2Go and MerchantCircle.

The survey, which targeted the most frequent content publishers among MerchantCircle’s small businesses members, found that 45% of this leading-edge group have a presence or profiles on Facebook and Twitter and use social media to promote their businesses online.

The survey presented a broad range of questions about traditional and online marketing and asked SMBs to indicate the relative effectiveness of different media they were using to promote their businesses. Results indicated that survey respondents are, in many respects, typical of the broader SMB market (i.e., marketing budgets, headcount) but in other ways represent a more “engaged” segment of small businesses.

Additional survey findings:

  • 79% of respondents report annual marketing budgets of less than $5K per year with 44% spending less than $1K annually on advertising and marketing.
  • 80% of respondents have four or fewer employees
  • The top-two biggest complaints about online marketing are that it is? too costly (26%) and there isn’t enough time to do it well and still manage the business (15.9%).
  • 75% say they monitor online reviews of their business. The most common method was by visiting specific review websites (47%) and by searching on their business name (44%).
  • Despite its popularity,? social media showed the biggest gap between SMB adoption and perceived effectiveness as a marketing platform.

“We’ve known anecdotally that small businesses are using social media sites like Facebook and Twitter but these numbers are surprising,” said Greg Sterling, senior analyst Internet2Go. “The conventional wisdom is that SMBs are unsophisticated but they’re adopting social media tools en masse it appears, because there are fewer barriers to entry than other forms of online marketing.”

Sign of Things to Come?

Though the survey was conducted among a sample of businesses who already are online and it does not offer any statistics about US small businesses at large, the study’s sponsors believe the results offer a glimpse into the future of SMB marketing. “We believe the behavior exhibited by these small business owners is a precursor of things to come – that small business owners will increasingly forgo expensive advertising options and embrace publishing their unique content across various social media outlets,” said Darren Waddell VP of MerchantCircle.

Other research suggests this belief may well be true. A study by Borrell Associates found that SMBs are poised to triple their website spending in the next several years, and also invest more heavily in local online advertising. In 2008, America’s 14.6 million small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) were responsible for more than $6.7 billion in locally generated, locally targeted interactive advertising. Borrell Associates predicts those numbers will grow significantly as activities continue to shift online.

About the survey: The survey was fielded online, between September 8 – 18, 2009, and sent to MerchantCircle’s active member base. An incentive was offered to complete the survey. There were 2,591 total survey responses, with 2,403 qualifying as “small business” defined as having fewer than 100 employees. Active MerchantCircle members are those that have done one or more of the following: created an enhanced profile, uploaded pictures, created a blog, coupons and newsletters and/or connected with other merchants through the MerchantCircle website.

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