NEW YORK: A majority of US companies will boost their investment in social media in 2010, a survey by Marketing Sherpa has found.

The company polled 2,300 communications specialists, and reported that 79% of participants in the retail and e-commerce segment expect to heighten their social media outlay this year.

This figure fell to 63% for the publishing and media category, 55% for IT specialists, 54% for the services sector, 53% for packaged goods firms, and 52% for travel and leisure operators.

Some 60% of expenditure will pay for costs like staff salaries for blogging, content development and data monitoring, with just 20% going to external partners like agencies and consultancies.

"Social media is generally funded by either increasing the overall budget or, more often than not in the current economic climate, by shifting funds from other marketing line items to social media," Marketing Sherpa's study argued.

Nearly 60% of the organisation's panel stated that improved website traffic was both the primary aim and most widely-used form of measurement during the "trial phase" of using this emerging medium.

Better search engine rankings and higher sales revenues were cited by around 40% of respondents, with lead generation on 32%.

These areas remained pre-eminent in the "transition" stage, with totals rising by between 12% and 21%, while a third of marketers also looked to enhanced customer service and public relations at this point.

Similarly, the number of goals mentioned by over half of those polled climbed to six for the "strategic" stage, with web traffic on 88%, lead generation on 75%, and search engine rankings on 69%.

Upticks in brand awareness and product reputation delivered figures of 54%, with reduced customer acquisition costs and superior public relations also posting scores of over 40% each.

Building relationships with influential bloggers was regarded as the most effective strategy, but also the tactic which required the greatest amount of effort.

By contrast, establishing a presence on properties like Facebook, and "microblogging" on portals like Twitter, was seen as being the most simple method, but also recorded lower levels of efficacy.

A survey of over 1,300 consumers also revealed that 61% of "Max Connecters", or netizens with at least 500 social media "connections", chose to "follow" brands to learn about new products and features.

By contrast, 64% of more "typical" web users said their main reason for doing so was to learn about special offers and deals, with 62% hoping to discover information about innovations and introductions.

"Max connectors" also demonstrated a greater concern with issues relating to company culture, environmental responsibility and employment policies.

However, fewer than 40% of people in both groups became "fans" of a brand because the content it provided was entertaining, funny or insightful.

Data sourced froM Marketing Sherpa; additional content by Warc staff