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Facebook, Twitter and Social Media Marketing

Facebook and Twitter see the highest adoption rate in social media marketing while customer reviews rank No. 1 for increasing sales and customer engagement, according to a study released Wednesday.

Retailers are revving up their social media marketing efforts as the past six months show aggressive adoption of the emerging trend with Facebook and Twitter leading the way, according to the report, "Community and Social Media Study," conducted by the e-commerce consulting firm the e-tailing group and online customer review firm PowerReviews.

The findings come at a time when recession-strapped companies are increasingly looking to social media marketing as a more affordable way to promote their products and services as compared to standard online advertising, and as interactive marketing overall gains purchase on traditional offline advertising.

The trend coincides with the uptick in the community base of these sites -- Facebook just passed the 300 million mark -- providing a large audience for retailers to tap with branding efforts.

Five out of 10 social media tools evaluated in the study are being used by more than 50 percent of brands and retailers, with the Facebook Fan Page topping the list with an 86 percent adoption rate, says the report.

Still, Facebook and Twitter aren't the only social media being employed by marketers to promote their brands.

The other top tools include Twitter Publishing with 65 percent saying they currently use it, customer reviews and blogs -- both used by 55 percent -- followed by viral videos with 50 percent.

In addition, the study found three-fourths of the 117 survey respondents have accelerated their use of, and commitment to, community and social media in the past six months.

"The integration of community and social networking within e-commerce has reached critical mass and as such is now a benchmark that we will be tracking annually," said Lauren Freedman, president of the e-tailing group, in a statement. "Customer engagement has become a metric to be reckoned with, where failing to engage consumers via community and social media will have brand and bottom-line implications.

"All merchants must test and understand how to effectively deploy it for their brands to retain customers, encourage sales, and avoid abandonment to competitors who've better embraced its marketing potential."

Fueling a stepped-up pace

While ultimately, increasing sales is the primary goal for adopting social media marketing, the study found that three concerns on the part of retailers are fueling the stepped-up pace in the sector.

First, brands want to be involved to put their own spin on their products and services and mitigate any "brand degradation" from consumers already using sites such as Facebook.

Second, retailers want to be seen as up-to-date in their online presence so as not to appear as using antiquated marketing techniques. The No. 3 reason cited by participants in the study is the fear that their customers will leave their e-commerce site for others that are more socially engaging.

These motivators, which Freedman says drove the last wave of social media adoption, will also be driving the next one in the coming year. Over the next 12 months, 31 percent of study respondents say they plan to adopt Facebook Connect while 26 percent say they will employ customer reviews and 26 percent will begin offering product suggestions.

Aside from increasing sales, the study also found the primary goals for using social media marketing is to increase customer engagement, "mobilize advocates to drive word-of-mouth" and to increase brand loyalty.

Regarding advocacy and word-of-mouth, the study found that Facebook is considered by brands and merchants to be the "single most effective tactic in mobilizing brand advocates and influencers to spread the word about products/services."

However, when it comes to driving sales and customer engagement, customer reviews came out on top by a wide margin, with 78 percent of those polled listing customer reviews as the No. 1 social media tool for generating sales and 61 percent listing customer reviews as No. 1 in driving customer engagement.