WILLIAMSBURG, VA: Over the past five years, social media has overtaken newspapers ads, events and direct mail as a source of new customers for local businesses, research has shown, with Facebook the main beneficiary.

A report from consulting firm Borrell Associates – Social Media's Impact on Local Advertising – was based on a survey of 7,564 US businesses that purchased local advertising and indicated that 85% had a social media presence, up from 57% in 2011.

And of those, almost all (96%) were on Facebook. Overall, nearly 80% of local businesses had a Facebook page and 62% were buying Facebook ads.

The social media giant's nearest rival in terms of penetration was Twitter, where 51% of local businesses on social media had an account.

LinkedIn (41%), Google+ (36%), YouTube (36%) and Instagram (34%) all commanded respectable shares, while Pinterest (20%) lagged and Tumblr (3%) barely registered.

The best source of new customers has not changed since 2011, Borrell reported, two thirds of respondents continuing to cite referrals.

Company websites remained in second spot although fewer local businesses appeared to be relying on these as much as before, as 47% thought them a good source of customers, down from 58% five years ago.

But the proportion selecting social media has more than doubled in that time, from 21% to 44%.

Other digital media have also advanced, with preference for online ads also doubling, from 10% to 21%; email marketing, meanwhile, has remained steady as the choice of 23%.

Print, however, has seen its influence wane significantly. Some 40% of local businesses saw newspapers ads as an important source of new customers in 2011; five years later just 24% did. Magazines, on the other hand, were faring better, being the choice of 15% of local business, up marginally form 14%.

Events are falling out of favour, now chosen by 28% of local businesses, down from 36%, while Yellow Pages are fast becoming an irrelevance (down from 19% to 8%).

In total there are more than 2.5m US businesses paying for ads or boosted posts on Facebook, spending on average $1,500 per year, Marketing Land reported.

Data sourced from Borrell Associates, Marketing Land; additional content by Warc staff