Digital Marketing and Social Media Insights: 40% of SMBs' Social Media Strategies Are Only Semi-Effective
Rounding the corner into the end of the first quarter of 2022, the marketing industry is enjoying a resurgence after many industries reduced or even halted their marketing efforts in order to reduce controllable costs and focus on maintaining existing customer relationships. With many of the pandemic quarantine and social distancing mandates lifted and businesses in multiple industries having adapted to remote or hybrid work arrangements, it’s time we start taking a serious look at the emerging marketing strategies, especially those related to social media, to determine if they will be sufficient to support the recovery in progress across the economy.
UpCity wanted to better understand how businesses were leveraging digital marketing and social media, whether their budgets are sufficient to support their marketing strategies, and how active they are on social media in order to carry out their initiatives. To explore these questions, UpCity partnered with Pollfish to survey 600 small business owners and professionals working in Marketing- and Technology-related roles, with an even split of respondents working in businesses based out of the United States and Canada. We broke our findings down into three sections:
- Digital Marketing and Social Media Goals
- Small Business Marketing Budgets
- Social Media Activity
We’ve also featured thoughts directly from the digital marketing and social media marketing experts themselves. They’ve shared their own experiences, tips, and ideas for successful digital marketing and social media in 2022.
Digital Marketing and Social Media Goals
56% of U.S. and Canadian small businesses noted that they engaged in digital marketing and social media both pre-COVID and now in 2022
Digital marketing, and especially social media marketing, are powerful tools that provide a number of advantages for businesses that successfully leverage these strategies.
- Social media sites provide some of the more affordable digital marketing methods businesses can use to increase brand awareness.
- Effective digital marketing builds your audience and reach, resulting in increased inbound traffic.
- Increasing the number of social media accounts interacting with digital ads boosts your brand’s search engine rankings.
- Increased traffic and interaction across social media and search engines leads to increased conversion rates.
- Targeted content that composes digital marketing and social media content help to boost customer satisfaction and over time can boost brand loyalty.
- Your organization’s brand authority will also receive a boost as a result of the traffic increases and increased loyalty due to effective digital marketing, helping to further cement your organization’s role as a thought leader in your industry.
- The analytic tools that come along with digital marketing on social media platforms provide powerful insights into competitors and the state of your industry.
As the economic hindrances of COVID-19 continue to subside and consumer activity across social media channels continues to grow and evolve, it follows that pre-COVID avoidance of both digital marketing and social media would shift and more businesses would embrace at least the use of social media in order to boost client engagement and bolster the inbound funnel as a foundation for future marketing efforts.
|My company engaged in digital marketing and social media||56%||56%|
|My company only engaged in digital marketing, not social media||15%||15%|
|My company only engaged in social media, not other aspects of digital marketing||10%||14%|
|My company didn’t engage in either digital marketing or social media||19%||15%|
21% of U.S. and Canadian businesses prioritized social media pre-COVID. 20% of these respondents are still currently prioritizing social media compared to other digital marketing efforts.
The prioritization of social media isn’t new to the current marketing paradigm that’s emerged in the post-COVID business landscape. Prior to the pandemic outbreak, social media and business websites topped the list of marketing priorities for organizations across our survey respondents. Some might think it strange that email marketing ranks so high on both pre-COVID and future marketing strategies of our respondents, given how long the marketing channel has been in play.
However, the powerful ROI of email marketing remains one of the highest versus other marketing channels based on the low-cost tools allowing the execution of email campaigns to be automated. A slight rise in content marketing and video marketing also follows the trends we see across social media and digital channels as both are increasingly being leveraged to meet the growing demand from Internet users for informational and educational content as well as video-based content online.
Our respondents come from a diverse array of industries, but we wanted to cast our net even wider to find out what channels marketing professionals are prioritizing and how their strategies have changed since the spread of the coronavirus. Interestingly, the growing focus and reliance on video content and continued leveraging of email marketing are clear from the responses from marketing professionals.
“In 2022, the digital marketing channel we’re prioritizing the most is TikTok as we see the opportunity for huge potential. Prior to COVID, most of our traffic came through Facebook. However, we, as well as a number of my business owner friends, have seen huge headwinds in the space such as Apple’s iOS 14.5 privacy update. This is leading to a decrease in Facebook effectiveness across the board. As the business landscape evolves, we need to evolve with it or die.”
—Philip Pages, Founder, PostPurchaseSurvey.com
“We are prioritizing email marketing. As a B2B, SaaS company, our marketing doesn’t have to be flashy. Because we are trying to convince other businesses that our service would improve their operations, our marketing strategies revolve around demonstrating our expertise and potential value. We want to bring in new clients and build professional relationships with them, and doing so via email is much more effective than a social media post. Before Covid, we still prioritized email marketing, but we most heavily prioritized SEO. Now, since we’ve built up a much larger network of clients, we have the information and resources to reach out directly to potential clients, which is why our focus has shifted slightly.”
—Kyle MacDonald, Director of Operations, Force by Mojio
“With the nature of social media being what it is, as a digital marketer, you need to be able to adapt to new industry trends. The adjustment we made to our digital marketing strategy that has made the biggest impact is, not just including TikTok in our content mix, but making TikTok our number one social media priority. For companies just starting up like we are, TikTok is the best social media platform to grow organically right away. The way their algorithm works, you don’t need a large following or to pour thousands of dollars into ads to reach a wide array of consumers in your niche. To this point in 2022, 85% of our sales have come directly from customers who discovered us on TikTok.”
—John Williams, Founder & President, Devicore
58% of businesses say that digital marketing is very important for their business in 2022. 42% of respondents feel confident that their current digital marketing strategy will be effective in helping them achieve their goals.
Respondents to our survey were shown to be very aware of the importance of digital marketing and its role in their future success. This stems largely from the benefits digital channels provide to businesses as consumer demands shift towards educational and informational content. Digital ads provide brands with the opportunity to tell more effective stories across multiple channels and engage customers where their attention is focused.
54% of small businesses consider social media to be very important in the success of their business in 2022. However, 40% of respondents noted that their current social media strategy is only somewhat effective.
While a majority of respondents tout their overall digital strategy as effective, when you take the aggregate of those that feel their digital marketing efforts are lacking, more than half of our respondents felt that their digital marketing efforts were lacking or weren’t positive that the social media strategy they have in place would support their goals. This speaks largely to the constantly evolving complexity that surrounds digital marketing, the range of tools that can be deployed to support digital marketing efforts, and businesses reducing their workforces and relying on outsourced specialists.
40% of small businesses leveraged Facebook most heavily pre-COVID. 34% of respondents still use Facebook most often but at a 6% decrease.
The shift in social media platforms used by small businesses post-COVID is interesting, as it reveals a shift in B2B and B2C towards video content and content marketing, while still maintaining a strong presence on Facebook. Given the interconnectedness of social networks, it makes sense that most brands focus their effort on the more than 3 billion Facebook users, as their content can proliferate from Facebook to other platforms and long-form posts on Facebook can be converted into multiple short-form pieces that can be shared across other, appropriate platforms and increase the reach and impact of a digital marketing campaign. Leveraging Facebook provides vital benefits to small businesses.
- Powerful data analytics tracking and reporting tools
- Support for ad formats of all types to allow brands to create targeted advertisements
- Audience targeting tools allow digital marketing to be tailored to specific buyer persona
- Provides a direct channel for businesses to direct traffic back to their website
Business owners and professionals in the field largely mirror the prioritization of Facebook and video platforms as they pivot towards the end of the first quarter of 2022.
“Before the pandemic started, we were heavy users of Facebook. We’ve continued our focus on Facebook, which has proven to be highly effective especially since we have joined Facebook groups related to our business niche, sports betting. However, when COVID happened and more and more people spent more time on social media, we had to cover all bases and start investing more resources on other social media platforms. Nowadays, we are focusing more on LinkedIn and TikTok. We use LinkedIn to reach out to a more professional audience who engage in sports betting while TikTok for a more general, upbeat, and fun audience who are new to sports betting.”
—Scott Hasting, Co-Founder, BetWorthy LLC
“Instagram continues to dominate marketing attention despite the emergence of TikTok, which should be a priority given its usage and cultural significance. Not everyone needs TikTok promotions, and Instagram already has a far larger audience. You can also reach a broader audience by using Facebook, the most popular website. Maybe Facebook isn’t cool anymore, or marketers are displeased with the app’s outcomes. In either case, if these reactions are right and Facebook becomes less of a priority, it may open up new chances for contacting your target demographic within the app. Prioritizing one app does not necessitate deprioritizing others. It’s fascinating to learn about where marketers are looking and how applications are changing corporate priorities.”
—Mark Valderrama, Owner & CEO, Aquarium Store Depot
“Videos may take more time to create than basic social media postings, but they are well worth the effort. Customers go to YouTube to view videos on a wide range of products, particularly those that require assembly or instruction. Short videos on Instagram or Snapchat may pique a prospect’s interest, but longer, informative videos on YouTube will pique their interest even more. While businesses joining the YouTube realm face a longer learning curve, it is well worth investing in producing high-quality videos.”
—Joanne King, Director, ICMP
Social media platforms are custom built to provide marketers and advertisers with the necessary tools and insights in order to maximize the strategic impact of campaigns you plan to execute across each digital channel. As print and visual advertising budgets shift to digital formats, organizations are seeing much stronger results from digital marketing efforts, allowing businesses to set more ambitious goals for recovering in 2022.
Small Business Marketing Budgets
Most U.S. and Canadian respondents noted monthly budgets of less than $500 for both their digital marketing and social media strategies. This budget range was utilized by a majority of respondents before the pandemic. This trend holds moving into 2022, but with 6% shifting to other budget levels.
In our survey, our respondents were largely small businesses with limited revenue streams. As a result, many of them have extremely limited budgets to dedicate to strategic marketing and advertising initiatives. Our data shows that pre-COVID marketing budgets were maintained for many of our small business respondents below $500 a month.
While this seems like a minuscule amount, with the right low-cost or even free social media management software platforms, a small business could achieve amazing results through digital marketing. It’s interesting that the 6% decrease in respondents with budgets under $500 is matched by upward shifts across other budget categories, showing that some of our respondents experienced great growth throughout the pandemic and can now afford to increase their marketing efforts to grow leads and engagement.
|Less than $500 monthly||40%||34%|
Monthly digital marketing budgets varied by region, with Northeastern businesses decreasing their budgets from $500–$1,499 Pre-COVID to less than $500 in 2022.
Digital marketing budgets were impacted by COVID-19 quite differently depending upon the region from which they operate. In the Northeast, budgets were reduced as organizations focused on client retention and largely restructured in order to focus on retention and engagement. In Southern and Western areas, budgets shifted upwards slightly, with a majority of respondents’ budgets increasing to the next expense tier. Respondents in the Midwest maintained their small-sized budgets.
U.S. Regional Digital Marketing Budget Breakdown Pre-COVID & in 2022
|Northeast||33% – $500-$1,499 monthly||33% – Less than $500 monthly|
|South||38% – Less than $500 monthly||34% – $500-$1,499 monthly|
|Midwest||49% – Less than $500 monthly||46% – Less than $500 monthly|
|West||43% – Less than $500 monthly||34% – $500-$1,499 monthly|
Most regional social media budgets remained less than $500 per month, with Northeastern businesses increasing their budgets to $500-$1,499 for 2022.
The shift in Northeastern states in digital marketing budgets above is offset by an increase in dedicated resources being shifted away from other channels and filtered into social media marketing specifically. This reflects an understanding of the rising importance we’ve discussed in earlier sections of social media platforms with the gravitation towards these channels by online users throughout the pandemic. Maintaining budgets towards social media marketing in other regions shows that businesses throughout the rest of the country were more focused on establishing and maintaining the status quo during the pandemic.
U.S. Regional Social Media Budget Breakdown Pre-COVID & in 2022
|Northeast||34% – Less than $500 monthly||35% – $500-$1,499 monthly|
|South||48% – Less than $500 monthly||37% – Less than $500 monthly|
|Midwest||46% – Less than $500 monthly||44% – Less than $500 monthly|
|West||47% – Less than $500 monthly||34% – Less than $500 monthly|
Atlantic Provinces-based businesses had a $1,500-$1,999 digital marketing budget pre-COVID. These businesses now have a monthly budget of less than $500.
Like in the United States, Canadian businesses across provinces and regions had very different budgetary responses to the pandemic relative to digital marketing. The country’s respondents were fairly evenly split across regions, with the Atlantic and Prairie Provinces decreasing their digital ad budgeting, while Central Canadian and West Coast businesses were able to increase their budgets throughout the COVID-19 outbreak.
Canadian Regional Digital Marketing Budget Breakdown Pre-COVID & in 2022
|Atlantic Provinces||29% – $1,500-$1,999 monthly||24% – Less than $500 monthly|
|Central Canada||31% – Less than $500 monthly||30% – $500-$1,499 monthly|
|Prairie Provinces||40% – $500-$1,499 monthly||29% – Less than $500 monthly|
|West Coast||47% – Less than $500 monthly||34% – $500-$1,499 monthly|
|Northern Territories||29% – $500-$1,499 monthly||33% – $500-$1,499 monthly|
A majority of Canadian regions continue to have a monthly social media budget of less than $500. Northern territory-based businesses increased their budgets from $500-$1,499 to $5,000+ in 2022.
Similar to the trends in the United States, there is a split in regional responses to the pandemic relative to spending on social media. The most interesting shifts occurred in the Prairie Provinces and the Northern Territories, where spending shifted up to higher tiers as businesses in these regions embraced social media marketing strategies to drive engagement and build sales.
Canadian Regional Social Media Budget Breakdown Pre-COVID & in 2022
|Atlantic Provinces||44% – Less than $500 monthly||29% – Less than $500 monthly|
|Central Canada||33% – Less than $500 monthly||30% – Less than $500 monthly|
|Prairie Provinces||36% – Less than $500 monthly||31% – $500-$1,499 monthly|
|West Coast||34% – Less than $500 monthly||32% – Less than $500 monthly|
|Northern Territories||33% – $500-$1,499 monthly||29% – $5,000+ monthly|
We explored these shifts in budgetary focus through several inquiries targeted at business owners and marketing experts across US and Canadian regions, and their responses supported much of what our survey found.
“The truth is that Birding Hub hasn’t had a massive digital marketing budget to play with, and so we’ve had to be very clever about where we have decided to use that budget. We have always set out to be heavily involved in our community and so it made sense for us to focus on social media, where we can engage with our audience in real-time and in meaningful ways. We saw very exciting returns in our social media spend in 2021, especially when it came to our ability to reach new audiences and so we have decided to increase our social media spend over the next 12 months, as we believe it will encourage significant growth.”
—Garrett Hayes, Founder, Birdinghub.com
“My digital marketing budget has increased since the pandemic. As the government tightened lockdown restrictions, it became difficult to reach our target audience via traditional marketing channels. My advertisements can now reach target audiences beyond my locality, which helps increase my visibility in the digital realm. I spent a significant portion of my expenses on SEO and PPC marketing campaigns. We have invested heavily in digital marketing to ensure our company’s survival. We haven’t had to adjust our social media spending during the pandemic.”
—Alan Duncan, CEO, Solar Panels Network
“Our monthly digital marketing budget has changed since Covid-19 hit us. Our budget has increased in order to reach out to a larger audience and boost engagement. An increased budget allows us to use better digital marketing tools and software to improve our strategies. Our monthly social media budget has also changed since Covid. We have now increased it, especially for paid promotions on sites like Instagram and Facebook. The increased budget also allows us to reach out to different influencers for marketing. Thus, increasing our customer engagement and boosting sales.”
—Carl Panepinto, Marketing & SEO Expert, Motion Simulation
32% of small businesses had an annual ad spend of less than $500 before the pandemic compared to 27% now in 2022. 52% of respondents plan to increase their annual ad spend this year.
The shift in consumer behaviors and expectations has businesses completely rethinking and restructuring advertising and marketing strategies across their social media presence to respond in kind. Knowing that consumers are seeking out informative material and willing to share brands and content they are invested in with others in their network, increasing annual ad spend is guaranteed to put more eyes on the brand.
Increasing ad spend should also be a tactic taken for ads and marketing campaigns that have performed well, so as to increase their reach and impact on traffic increases and lead generation. On many platforms, you can also target similar audiences or retarget visitors who have reached a certain point in the conversion process but haven’t become a customer yet. Increasing ad spend to reach these customer segments can greatly increase sales over time.
|Less than $500 annually||32%||27%|
“It’s not surprising to see more small businesses investing in digital marketing strategies as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Small businesses are not only realizing that the digital marketing landscape is a vast and competitive space, but are recognizing the value of investing more of their marketing dollars in these channels. It’s not only the businesses who are responding to these global changes, it’s also the consumers who have adapted to a primarily digital shopping experience as a result of the pandemic. I think what we will see moving forward is that small businesses will be embracing an omnichannel marketing strategy in order to maintain an engaged and loyal customer base. It’s important that brands and marketers remain innovative and responsive to evolving consumer behaviors.”
—Ashley Ismailovski, CRO Operations Manager, SmartSites
With the shifts in digital advertising and social media ad spend, it stands that businesses would be reassessing and adjusting their overall annual ad spend, and we wanted to get more insight on the trends revealed in our survey from experts in the field.
“In 2022, I intend to increase my annual advertising spending. Paid advertising has been a lifesaver for my business since I began using it after COVID, which increased social media users. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram provide businesses with the opportunity to generate a significant return on ad spend. Ads are more effective than other marketing channels at converting word-of-mouth recommendations into customers in targeted demographic areas. Increased ad spending will allow me to control who sees an ad, how frequently they see it, and which demographic they reach (age group, gender). It will also provide me with the advantage of appearing on the first page of a wide range of search pages with minimal effort.”
—John Tian, Founder, Mobitrix
“We plan on keeping our ad spend status quo in 2022. We’re investing more into content writing and SEO. It’s a big initiative for us to get more earned traffic as this is more profitable in the long run. We’ve invested more into digital marketing since COVID. Since there aren’t tradeshows and there’s less face-to-face interaction, it’s so important to have inbound leads coming to your business. In order to get inbound leads, you need a strong advertising and marketing strategy.”
—Jason Parks, President, The Media Captain
“We have seen a significant increase in leads from our automated PPC campaigns so we are planning on increasing that throughout the rest of 2022. Since the COVID pandemic, we have only started to automate ad spending, and they have been more effective than our previous campaigns. This is one of the primary reasons for our change in opinion on how much spending we will be doing in 2022. The main reason for this increase in leads from automated PPC campaigns is because it allows us to closely track customers’ online habits and optimize our ads accordingly. We hope to use data from these automated campaigns to improve the effectiveness of future customer acquisition efforts.”
—Gergo Vari, Founder & CEO, Lensa
As with any other business practice, effective marketing strategies require sufficient investment and oversight to generate the projected return. While the onset of the pandemic resulted in many businesses contracting operations and cutting spending significantly, the subsequent reignition of the economy signals that it’s time to reassess your budgeting strategy and shift to maximize customer engagement. Increasing annual ad spend across digital marketing and social media will ensure your efforts match consumer expectations and behavior.
Social Media Activity
A majority of respondents’ social media activity remains the same since pre-COVID, with 45% of businesses posting content and engaging with followers daily.
A majority of respondents who are using social media channels understand the importance of daily posting and follower engagement. Keeping a regular posting schedule and ensuring you interact with visitors who like or comment on your posts confers a range of benefits similar to dedicated social media marketing campaigns in general.
- Engenders brand loyalty
- Improve customer engagement and subsequently overall customer satisfaction
- Educate and inform visitors with meaningful content
- Increased user activity expands brand awareness
- Activity on social sites results in more traffic to your site and other online assets, improving your search engine results
- Increased traffic on social media leads to new customers through improved lead generation and conversion rate improvements
- Engagement will drive further interaction with your brand across other channels, generating valuable data that can be used to shape future advertising strategies
|I post content and engage with followers daily||43%||45%|
|I post content and engage with followers weekly||38%||20%|
|I post content and engage with followers monthly||19%||15%|
“The amount of posting and engaging on social staying the same doesn’t surprise me. We’ve had steady monthly social clients, but we’ve had an influx of small businesses looking to advertise on social media platforms. Anecdotally, it seems like there is a rise in paid social while the organic posts and engagement is steady.”
—Nathan Williams, Principal/Owner, Baseline Creative, Inc.
It’s important to highlight and share social media posting best practices, as a healthy and consistent posting routine will ensure your related marketing efforts will perform well across all channels. Feedback from the community shows that some brands understand the importance of being consistent while others ascribe to any number of guidelines and strategies.
“When it comes to my social media content, I prefer quality over quantity. I don’t post every day. In fact, I prefer to post content just 2-3 times a week. However, I believe engaging with your audience is what matters most. I reply to comments daily and will often reply to the most frequently asked queries on my stories. I utilize Instagram stories often since I feel my viewers like the personalization. Regular stories instead of Instagram posts have helped me directly engage with my consumer base and have helped me better understand their expectations of my brand.”
—Lattice Hudson, Founder, Lattice & Co.
“How often I post content depends on the platform. Our business at its heart is a content creation business, so posting regularly is critical to our success and the success of the brands we work with. Our most successful social platform is TikTok, and I find that posting multiple times per day is the best way to improve engagement. On days where I post 5-7 videos, one of those videos becomes my highest performing video for the month, but I usually average about 2 videos/day. That being said, I do respond to TikTok comments throughout the day because video replies to comments are usually the best performing videos for me. I frequently favorite comments that could provide additional content in the future, so I always have a topic I can post about.”
—Taylor Palmer, Owner, Roam Away From Home
“In the tattoo and art world, posting daily on social media is vital to catching new collectors or fans spending their time online. In fact, 2-3 posts a day to showcase our work/products as well as who we are as individuals and a business is ideal. We respond to every comment and message we get to humanize the interaction. Our studio is not too big to care or interact with the people that support us. And that’s where real connections and customers are created. People love to work with and recommend people or businesses they like. So we just try to be the company we would want to work with every single day. If all eyes are on social media, then that’s where we will be too!”
—David Meek, Owner, Art & Sol Tattoo Gallery
Consistently engaging with your social media platforms regularly keeps your audience engaged and active, and over time, benefits your brand in ways that positively impact your bottom line.
Social Media Strategies Are As Effective As You Make Them
Small businesses use social media to accomplish a number of business goals, but like any business tool, social media only provides value when used properly. Our survey reveals how powerful digital marketing and social media can be as marketing channels to build brand awareness and loyalty and over time improve lead generation, client engagement, and conversion rates. As important as active engagement across your marketing channels is, it’s just as important to ensure your annual ad spend matches your expected return on digital marketing and social channels. To learn more about how to successfully craft your strategic digital marketing approach, you can explore potential B2B partners and content on UpCity’s social media hub and digital marketing hub.
UpCity’s Survey Method
UpCity used Pollfish to survey 600 small businesses across the United States and Canada. Fifty-eight percent of the small businesses are B2B and forty-two percent are B2C.
A majority of survey respondents have been in business for 3-5 years. Forty-three percent of the small businesses surveyed earn less than $500,000 per year.
Twenty-two percent of the respondents work in a team size of 2-5 employees. Fifty-seven of the respondents are male and forty-three percent are female.
About the author
David J. Brin
Having recently escaped a 20-year career in Food & Beverage operations management, David is now a Facility Director for a Code Ninjas franchise, a STEM-education concept that uses game development to teach children how to code in various programming languages. David got his start writing professionally as a communications assistant for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, and has been a freelance copywriter providing white-label services to clients since 2016. His clients operate in industries ranging from managed IT services and software development to marketing and advertising.