Yesterday Vocus released a new study: Path to Influence: An Industry Study of SMBs and Social Media.  The survey questioned 400 decision makers working for small- and medium-sized organizations with revenues between $5 and $50 million.  The survey has a confidence interval of +/-4.9%.

I have an affinity for research, and have taken a look as several small business social media surveys on these pages, but there were a number of results in this new study that simply surprised me.

1. SMBs are growing dependent on social media marketing.  Fifteen percent of SMBs said that social media accounts for between 50% and 75% of their total marketing efforts.  Another 15% said it accounts for between 25% and 50% of total marketing.  Forty-three percent said it accounts for as much as a quarter of their overall marketing activities.

2. Social media is proving useful for SMB marketing.  Eighty seven percent of SMBs report has either helped somewhat or helped a great deal.  Of those, about one-third (29%) say social media has helped a great deal.  As one respondent wrote in an open ended question, “Social Media has helped to increase our annual sales, as we have more capability to reach out to more potential customers. Social media also gives us insight on our customers’ demands and requirements.”

3.  Bigger companies want bigger a following.  This is one statistic that simply floored me:  27% or almost one-third of respondents said, “We want a very large number of followers or fans on social media but don’t mind if there is little or no on-going interaction or further promotion of the organization.”   As John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing wrote, “The common social media wisdom of ‘more engagement over more numbers’ has some room to be challenged.”  It’s worth pointing out this segment of respondents tended to be from B2C-focused firms with $30 million or more in annual revenue; bigger companies want bigger followings. B2B companies, especially smaller firms were more inclined to strive for engagement.  In other words, these firms said, “We don’t mind a smaller base of followers or fans on social media but they should be people who regularly engage.”

4.  Google+ is on the up and up with SMBs. Google+ ranked fifth behind Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube on social platforms currently being used by SMBs.  However, it received favorable results in two areas: performance and future plans.  Of the 44% SMBs currently using Google+ – three-quarters of those respondents said Google+ had “helped a great deal” which by far exceed the confidence interval making this response statistically significant.  Of the social platforms SMBs are planning to use in the next year, Google+ and Instagram (owned by Facebook) were ranked the highest with 14% of SMBs saying they had plans to use the site.

5.  SMBs are focused on business outcomes.  If there’s any confusion that SMBs are seeking tangible results from their social media efforts, this survey is definitive.  Seventy-six percent of SMBs reported increasing web traffic as the number one measurement metric. New customers (think sales) were next with 70% and the less tangible measures, such as the number of likes or number of followers, was third with 67%.  Certainly SMBs see Facebook “likes” as important, but these metrics are subordinate to business outcomes.

This survey was conducted from July 18th to July 28th 2012 by an independent research firm. Vocus partnered with Duct Tape Marketing to analyze the results and draft the report which is freely available on the Vocus blog.