Small and medium businesses have been turning to cost-effective and practical means to reach their target niche. One of the most widely-used marketing tools today is social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Among the plethora of social platforms, Facebook is now considered a marketplace where businesses can turn users into consumers by simply building a followers base on their fan pages. It’s always a challenge for businesses to establish a social media presence and interacting with customers to make online purchases. Small and local businesses are now open to the approach of making themselves public through social media. Nowadays, broadening your reach means increasing awareness for people to be familiar with what you’re selling.

Recently, Merchant Circle, the largest online network of local business owners in the US, has shared the results of their quarterly Merchant Confidence Index survey of over 8,000 small and local businesses owners. The survey reveals that local merchants and online entrepreneurs have very limited time and budget for marketing; they opt to initiate their marketing for a meager of cost. With this in tow, local business owners turn to low-cost online marketing platforms such as Facebook and reliable methods like email marketing. The Merchant Circle survey also mentioned that up-and-coming online platforms like mobile marketing and group-buying sites have yet to be utilized by business owners.

Here are some key figures from the Merchant Confidence Index survey:

SMEs have Limited Budget. More than half of local merchants are spending less than $2,500 annually on marketing. 60% aren’t planning to increase their budgets for marketing this year. 37% are struggling with their current marketing strategies and have no time to accommodate new and unproven online marketing methods.

Social Marketing is now Top Marketing Strategy. Facebook has been the easiest and practical means to market their business. Aside from its popularity, its huge consumer adoption and low barrier to entry has made small and medium businesses utilize its vast potential for capturing their target niche. Most importantly, the social networking giant is FREE! Using Facebook for marketing has gone from 50% to 70% since last year. Facebook has now transcended Google (66 percent) as the most widely used online marketing method among local entrepreneurs. Location Marketing is gaining momentum as well. Google search got 40% while Facebook Places came up with 32%, up-and-coming Foursquare got 12%

Traditional Marketing Takes a Plunge. Conventional offline marketing methods have seen better days. However, as marketing becomes more digital, tried and tested marketing strategies have been experiencing steep decline. Over the course of 2010, use of print advertising dropped by 33 percent (from 40 percent usage to 27 percent); use of print Yellow Pages declined 18 percent (from 45 percent to 37 percent); and use of direct mail decreased 26 percent (from 39 percent to 28 percent). Such methods still deliver results for local merchants but not as popular as social media platforms where it’s considered a destination location for businesses and customers.

Conclusion

The decline of using traditional marketing strategies has resulted to a shift of channels. With the Internet becoming a destination location for businesses and consumers, the age of social business paves the way for fresh and innovative marketing strategies. Free social media platforms have been the new reliable for business owners who have small budget but would like leverage with social marketing. Social media presence is crucial for local business owners who want to entice and engage with potential customers. The biggest challenge is how businesses can yield significant ROI from social media outreach. Also, social media isn’t a one size fits all solution, which brings us to the question: How can small businesses customize a social media campaign for your product?