Small business owners recognize the power of social media for engaging customers, but most lack the expertise to apply the latest digital marketing tools to their businesses, according to a recent survey conducted by office products retailer Staples Inc.

Having a large Facebook community of fans was at the top of the small business wish list, the survey shows, ahead of marketing tools such as a celebrity endorsement and Super Bowl ad.

The Staples survey looked at how small businesses are integrating social media into their operations. Among the key results: 53 percent of small business owners/leaders are either novices or do not consider how social media can help their business; 40 percent of small businesses feel that their social media channel use has helped their business; and 61 percent of small businesses use at least one social media channel.

The most frequently mentioned goals for social media usage among respondents are engaging customers (50 percent), increasing sales (46 percent) and creating brand awareness (44 percent). Facebook and LinkedIn, followed by Twitter, are the leading social media channels used by small business owners, according to the survey.

To help small businesses master social media, Staples is awarding three small businesses $50,000 each in digital marketing as part of a new Push it Forward Contest on its Facebook page. The contest is the result of feedback and insight gathered from the Staples Succeed small business community on LinkedIn.

“Small businesses play a vital role in our [online] communities,” Alison Corcoran, senior vice president, Stores and Online Marketing at Staples, said in a statement. She says the retailer is providing digital marketing tools, tips and expertise through its new Staples Business Hub.

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