A year ago, CompTIA released a study showing that small and medium-sized businesses are becoming some of the fastest adopters of new technology. As social media is making its way into every SMBs online marketing budget, and prioritized ahead of search for some, we're witnessing SMBs getting ahead of the curve again.
According to a Network Solutions survey, the use of social media among SMBs has grown over the years, rising from 12 percent in 2009, to 24 percent in 2010 to 31 percent currently. These increases are occurring across all social channels, too. From June 2010 to January 2011, SMBs reported increased social media usage across the board, with the bulk of the growth focused on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Social vs. Search
Social media is cheap and even free in some cases, and with networks like YouTube providing a low-cost way to create viral marketing, social can have a huge reach. This explains why SMBs are flocking to social as a marketing channel.
If we use SMBs as a litmus test for change, research shows that more and more SMBs are turning to social media, and in some cases, before they turn to search.
According to a recent survey by American Express Open and SEMPO, SMBs find word-of-mouth a better source for customers than search, and more SMBs are currently or planning to invest in social media as a marketing tactic than search in 2011.
It seems like social media has finally crossed the marketing budget chasm from the early adopters market, SMBs, to the mainstream market, mid market and enterprises.
Another factor that has helped social cross the chasm to the mainstream market is how trusted brands are giving this new technology credibility with mainstream consumers, as well as companies trading traditional marketing methods for social media.
For example, Pepsi opted to use a social media campaign in lieu of a Super Bowl ad last year for the first time in 23 years. And, of course, there's the 71-year-old deodorant brand, Old Spice, who revitalized its image and appeal to younger generations with its now-famous "Old Spice guy" -- who stars in the company's viral YouTube video campaign.
Now, as we've seen in the past, larger enterprises that are seeing the impact, measurability, and ROI social media is making for SMBs and are following suit. Like SMBs, enterprises are using social not only for external marketing purposes, but for internal use as well.
A recent Wall Street Journal article describes the growing number of enterprises using social business applications, and the numerous tech companies chomping at the bit to develop them. Research firm IDC predicts that spending on these applications will rise to $630 million in 2011, up from $370 million in 2009.
What Does it Mean for Search Budgets?
With SMBs allocating more of their marketing budgets toward social, and less on search, the future of search is becoming questionable. Judging by the historic trend, will we also see budgets shift in the enterprise and mainstream markets from search to social as well?
There are multiple unanswered questions on this subject, but one thing is sure, search will never be the same again. Google's +1 release marked another huge step forward to the convergence of search and social, but now the search giant is taking a different approach to this convergence, trying to make search social instead of making social searchable.
What does this mean for your online marketing?
1. Refresh Your Marketing Mix
The world is changing. Staying competitive means keeping up to date.
As more marketers start to integrate social into their marketing mix, make sure you're staying on top of the latest trends, tools, and methods other businesses from your vertical are leveraging.
2. Reassess Your Online Marketing Budget
What worked in the past may now longer be competitive, optimized or relevant. With online marketing evolving at a record pace, it's critical for marketers to consistently measure the ROI of their marketing channels.
Let the data do the talking. Once you understand which of your channels are driving the greatest revenue, you can effectively judge whether your current budget matches reality.
3. Infuse Your Biggest Spend Items With Social Media
Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn must be a part of your search campaigns, email nurture, website development and customer support. Make sure that your spend gets you what you need to win in the social market place.
Social: No Longer Optional
It's clear that social has made the leap and crossed the marketing budget chasm. What remains to be seen is whether, like SMBs, enterprises and the mainstream market will start spending on social before search.
One thing we know to be true, however, is that social is no longer optional for businesses looking to compete in today's online marketplace. Social media is here for the long haul and marketers must stay on top of this dynamic, emerging space.