Social media has eclipsed search marketing to become the primary marketing outlet online for small businesses, according to research carried out by American Express OPEN and Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO). Simply put, more small businesses use social media than search engine marketing or online advertising, and small businesses plan on contributing more to social media in the upcoming year.


The survey’s main conclusions are that, although websites are still the backbone of a small businesses’ online marketing strategy, social media has overtaken types of marketing that work in conjunction with the website such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or paid search. Social media marketing is now second (website is first), followed by mass email, SEO, search advertising, display advertising, video and blogs. What SMBs intend to put money into this year corresponds with the percentage of SMBs that use that form of marketing currently , so there are no clear trends. What is disappointing is the 25% of SMBs that are sitting on the sidelines this year, planning not to expand their online marketing despite a growing economy.

Also, while email marketing may not be the sexiest form of online marketing, mass email still holds its own as 35% of small business owners use it compared to 44% for social media. To me, even though a respectable proportion of businesses use email marketing currently, it definitely represents the most glaring part of online marketing where small businesses are not utilizing it to its full potential (supposing of course that they have an email list). Of all forms of online marketing, email marketing has consistently shown the highest return-on-investment.

Social Media’s Rise

The rise of social media marketing reflects general marketing realities.

Small businesses have taken lessons from traditional types of marketing and applied them to online marketing. Small businesses are well aware that word-of-mouth sets the standard for small business marketing and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Social media, although slightly more passive, shares many qualities with word-of-mouth marketing. Through social media, customers find out what people they trust like, even if they are less likely to have a direct conversation about a business.

Along with the way in which social media works marketing-wise, another reason for the influx into social media is its exploding popularity. Facebook has more than a half billion people. The number of Twitter users have multiplied many times over. Other services promise to have a similar influence and be even more marketing-friendly.

Additionally, for the basics, social media is cheaper and easier to use. Facebook and Twitter don’t really take much expertise, and other than time, they do not require much investment. Of course, being effective is another thing entirely, and I sense that many SMBs are not tracking, updating and improving their social media marketing. I wouldn’t, however, write off search marketing, or neglect search marketing for social media. It may be more expensive, but it may be just as effective (if not more so) than social media since it targets customers that are ready to buy.

One trend is certain: the Internet’s influence is expanding rapidly, especially in regards to marketing. It compels a small business to keep up-to-date with new services and strategies online, along with developing marketing campaigns tailored to Internet resources.