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Small businesses are becoming more comfortable with social media marketing and are using it more when engaging with customers, according to survey data from marketing specialist Constant Contact. The Fall 2011 Attitudes and Outlook Survey also reports that small businesses still rely heavily on in-person interactions and events in addition to email marketing and Website marketing to reach their customers, while mobile adoption remains slow.

In just six months, the survey of small businesses using online marketing tools revealed a significant reduction in perceived barriers to adoption of social media marketing among small business survey participants. The survey found increased awareness that social media marketing need not be time-consuming or difficult–clear barriers to adoption reported in Constant Contact’s Spring 2011 study.

When asked why they use social media marketing today, 83 percent said it is low cost (up from 72 percent in the spring 2011 study), 67 percent said it is easy to use (up from 54 percent in the spring 2011 study), 51 percent said their customers use social media channels (up from 38 percent in the spring 2011 study) and 45 percent said it didn’t take a lot of time (up from 31 percent in the spring 2011).

The survey also indicated small businesses are allocating more time to social media marketing to engage their targets. A full 81 percent reported using social media to market their businesses, up from 73 percent in the spring of 2011. Of those using social media marketing, Facebook continues to be the tool of choice for small businesses, with 96 percent reporting using the tool. Twitter is quickly gaining ground; usage surged in the last six months, from 60 percent in spring 2011 to 76 percent today.

Effectiveness scores also improved across certain key social media marketing channels in just six months, with 60 percent of those using Twitter finding it effective for marketing their business, up from 47 percent in spring 2011. More than half (55 percent) found LinkedIn effective, up from 47 percent in spring 2011 and 86 percent found Facebook effective, up from 82 percent in spring 2011. The survey found effectiveness scores remained flat for review sites, video sharing and location-based services, and decreased for photo sharing and MySpace.

“Small business are still learning how social media marketing can help them grow their customer relationships,” said Mark Schmulen, general manager of social media at Constant Contact. “Just six months ago, they were learning the ropes and finding out what social media marketing tools were available. Now, they are beginning to understand more about what social media marketing can do for them.”

One common gripe from consumers is feeling “heard” on social media platforms–and the majority of small businesses seem to understand that. The survey found that roughly 60 percent of small businesses respond to all comments on social media platforms, whether those posts are positive or negative. Those who don’t respond report that they don’t have time, they don’t think it’s necessary, or they don’t know what to say.

“Plain and simple, customers want small businesses to interact with them, whether that’s on email or via their social media platform of choice, be it Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn,” Schmulen said. “The great news for small businesses is that they already know all about providing a great customer experience, and they are showing that they can carry that over to the world of social media. It’s a great example of how small businesses are taking advantage of their smaller scale to make a huge impact with these tools.”

To read the original eWeek article, click here: Social Media Marketing Grows Among Small Businesses