It seems that a lot of big companies today (with big marketing budgets) have managed to jump right into social marketing and successfully use sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in their everyday marketing activities. However, it also seems that small businesses are lagging behind the social marketing trend, even though it is a very low cost marketing channel that almost any small business can afford (the sites are free to use; all it typically costs is time!).

So why are so many small businesses hesitant about social marketing, or seemingly scared of using social networking sites as part of their regular marketing activities?

It could be as simple as not having the time to take on a new marketing activity, or maybe a lack of familiarity with sites like Facebook and Twitter makes them seem hard to use. It’s also possible they’re concerned about negative comments showing up on social media web sites, or worried about employees using these tools appropriately for business. Whatever the reasons, social media marketing is here to stay, and small businesses are going to have to face their fears if they hope to leverage its value as a marketing tool and stay relevant with their customers today.

If you are one of the millions of small businesses afraid of jumping in to social marketing, here are five good reasons you should overcome your fears:

1. Your customers already expect it – More than 86% of consumers recently surveyed by marketing agency Prodo said that they believe companies should incorporate social marketing into their regular marketing activities. Add that to the fact that Facebook now has more than 300 million users, Twitter has experienced quadruple-digit growth this year alone, and more than 50% of online Americans use social networking sites on a daily basis, and you can clearly see where your customers are spending their time. Put simply: you need to be there, too.

2. Social marketing has become mainstream – Think back a few years to when many small businesses didn’t have web sites yet. They thought “sure, it would be nice to have a web site, but it’s not really necessary for my business.” Now, of course, most small businesses have at least a basic web presence, and web sites are considered a standard part of doing business. The same is happening today with social marketing, and it won’t be long until it is considered just as standard as having a web site.

3. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time – When implemented properly, social marketing can be a quick, easy marketing activity that can be seamlessly blended with your regular marketing activities. By integrating your social networking profiles with each other, with your web site, and with your existing marketing initiatives, you can minimize the time spent on social networking while maximizing the return on your investment. It’s no longer an option to just do nothing – if you need help developing a social networking strategy, find a professional to help you.

4. Your message can reach a vastly larger audience – By using social marketing, you increase your reach online to potentially thousands (or millions!) of people who may not otherwise have a chance to see your message or know your company. Rather than waiting for visitors to find your web site and discover your business, social marketing allows your message to travel further through the social channels you use, as well as through viral events where people share your information with their own networks of friends and associates.

5. Ignoring social marketing will not make it go away – Like it or not, social marketing is quickly becoming the way in which smart businesses connect and communicate with their customers and potential customers. It not only improves a small business’ web visibility, but can also improve search engine rankings (Google already includes results from social sites, blogs, videos, and other alternative media along with regular web site results), and can help create “buzz” about a small business as well.

So if you have been apprehensive about adding social networking to your marketing mix, there’s no better time to face your fears and get serious about using this technology to enhance your online presence, reach new prospects, and meet your customers’ expectations with social marketing. The longer you wait to jump in, the larger the gap grows between “outstanding” and “overlooked”.