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From Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to company blogs, community sites and forums, businesses' use of social media is on the rise, according to a recent survey, and it's changing the ways partners engage with their customers, with many small businesses leveraging it to get a leg up on the competition.
Sarah Coish, marketing and communications manager at Vision33, an Irvine, Calif.-based SAP partner, said she definitely thinks growing businesses are taking more advantage of social media today.
"It's a cost-effective tool that gives a wide, open platform for growing business where traditionally they would have required a large advertising spend to have their message heard," Coish said. "We have a strong inbound marketing strategy that's been successful for us as an SAP Partner, and social media is a key component of that."
Though the company is present on various social media platforms, including Twitter and LinkedIn, its main driver of content is its blog, according to Coish.
"Our blog is the central hub of our social media strategy and producing really relevant content that helps drive our target audience back to our website," Coish said. "We answer questions and repackage the content through social media. Our referral traffic has grown significantly this year as a result of the blog and LinkedIn and led to a higher conversion rate on our corporate website."
While some channel companies have taken a more hands-on approach to social media, others are still testing the water in terms of focus and strategy.
Jane Linder, managing director at NWN Corporation, a Waltham, Mass.-based systems integration company, said its social media use is more "ad-hoc" at the moment, as they "wade in" and experiment with different strategies.
"We don't really know what the goals are for us yet, [but] conceptually the goals are absolutely clear: to be in conversation with our customers and our business partners," Linder said. "In a way, social media for us is a conversation, and any way the customer wants to talk to us -- we're going to listen."
Over the course of the last five years, social media use in a small-business setting has rapidly expanded, according to Constant Contact, a Waltham, Mass.-based engagement marketing solution company for small businesses.
In its May 2013 survey, the company found that 87 percent of the 917 small businesses surveyed currently use social media as a marketing tool -- compared to 10 percent five years ago.
Mark Schmulen, general manager of social media at Constant Contact, said adoption of social media marketing has been "very much in line" with consumer use of the networking sites.
"If we look where five years ago Facebook had somewhere between 50 and 100 million users [and] today Facebook has over a billion users worldwide," Schmulen said, "it's not a surprise to see more and more businesses have implemented social media."