Social media marketing has helped businesses improve sales, but some companies struggle to asses ROI.

Industry data suggests SMBs should be using social media marketing to promote their offerings and find new customers. Here are five reasons why social media should part of your approach to online marketing.

1. Social conversations are key to brand perceptions – be part of them!

Consumers turn to social channels to talk about businesses. In fact, a Harris Poll shows that one-third of consumers use social media to “rant or rave” about companies. If social users are saying something great about your business, you can reward them – and if they're saying something less than desirable, you can do some needed brand reputation management. Regardless, it's important to show that you're willing to be part of the conversation.

Plus, social media can be a platform to demonstrate that your company is an industry thought leader, and thought leadership is highly important to shaping positive brand perceptions. ExactTarget reports that one-third of social users are “Info Seekers” and another 21 percent are “News Junkies” who look for the latest industry information online. Businesses that share up-to-date content related to their sectors and services across social channels can establish themselves as thought leaders among this audience.

2. Active social outreach can bring brand advocates.

Once you help set positive perceptions of your brand through social channels, you might find social media offers access to a large pool of ready-made brand advocates. For instance, 90 percent of millennials share their brand preferences online, and nearly one in 10 consumers are “megaphones” who look to actively engage brands and influence others online.

Consumers who identify as brand advocates like to use social networking sites to cull and share relevant brand info. Sixty-two percent turn to social sites to learn about businesses, and 58 percent use social networks to send brand tips and advice, reports Bzz Agent.

Why should you be so pumped about finding brand advocates? They're 50 percent more likely than other web users to create some form of content that will influence others' purchase decisions.

3. Social media is key to online shopping.

Social media efforts can translate into lead generation as social research is becoming a more important part of the online shopping process. A study from the e-tailing Group indicates that one-third of consumers consult social networks before they make purchase decisions.

One of the things users look for while doing social shopping research is active updates from brands. A report from eMarketer indicates that more than half of consumers are more likely to trust branded social information when businesses offer high-quality content.

Another thing social users look for are friends' insight. (Recommendations you get from social users pay off!) In fact, Performics reports that 60 percent of consumers are at least somewhat likely to act on social referrals.

4. Social marketing can translate into sales.

Once you've got social shoppers' attention, you might find they become customers. A study reported by Inc. magazine suggests that seven in 10 shoppers are more likely to use businesses with active social pages.

Moreover, ContentLEAD has reported that fans and followers closely consider the brands they are connected to online. Fifty-eight percent of consumers say they're likely to purchase products they follow on Twitter.

Marketers are noticing the impact of social on sales; according to HubSpot's State of Inbound Marketing report, 57 percent of social marketers have acquired customers through LinkedIn, 48 percent have gained clients via Facebook and 42 percent have found customers through Twitter.

5. Your competition is probably doing it already (don't let them scoop your leads!).

As ContentLEAD has reported, TheCMOSurvey.org reports that social media marketing budgets will triple this year, and small businesses will drive much of the growth.

Maybe you're not supposed to jump off of a proverbial bridge just because everyone else is doing it, but the truth is, social marketing is becoming pervasive. And unlike jumping off a bridge, your business might be more hurt if you don't dive into social media.

If these five reasons aren't enough, be sure to check out ContentLEAD's report on one social marketing campaign that helped a startup find its online audience. Social media marketing helped the company find much-needed customers who got its business off the ground.

Whether you're just getting started or have an established customer base, social media can help you build your business.