On the cold snowy hills of online marketing, everyone has a shovel, but few know how to use it effectively. And for small brands, marketers must endure the heavy lift of breaking through social media and other online marketing channels. According to a survey released last week by AWeber, most small business marketers admit that they have a lot to learn when it comes to online marketing. Whether this is a real gap in knowledge—or just a lack of confidence in online marketing prowess—remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: plenty of folks are making it up as they go – and that’s not good.

Small Brands are Not Pros

According to the study, while more than 94 percent said online marketing was very important to the growth of their business, only 12 percent identified themselves as online marketing “pros.” Also, 29 percent said they were a bit overwhelmed by online marketing, while 60 percent said they were better at using certain channels more than others.

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Despite a sizeable gap between online marketing and effective practices, small brand marketers remain energized and eager to plow forward with social media, email campaigns and other online marketing tactics in 2014. And while the momentum is good, the mistakes along the way can cause irreparable damage. On small misstep after another can paralyze a brand. But yet still, the number of potential marketing fatalities continues to grow among small brands:

  • 89 percent said they plan to increase their email marketing efforts
  • 74 percent said they’ll blog more
  • 76 percent plan to increase their use of Facebook for marketing
  • 60 percent will increase their use of Twitter for marketing

Eric Wagner, serial entrepreneur and Forbes contributor, talks about the five reasons why businesses fail. The number one reason is the lack of communication with customers through deep dialogue. Simply blogging more, tweeting and posting on Facebook is not enough. The content needs to connect with key audiences with meaningful conversations that build trust and confidence.

Some small brand marketers indicated they plan to explore more visual social media tools this year. The top three tools include Vine, Instagram and Pinterest. This is a good thing – particularly since images and sound bites are becoming the gold standard in online marketing. But to really gain traction, small brand marketers must become true online marketing pros across the board.