Social media marketing is an essential part of every modern company's marketing plan (and if it's not, it needs to be).

Most marketers know they need to get in the social game, yet there are so many networks — and they evolve so rapidly — that it's difficult to know where to focus your efforts. This is especially true for budget-strapped smaller businesses that can't afford to give each one a test run.

Social Media Examiner recently released an epic report that explains which networks marketers should be using — and more importantly, why you should be using each one, backed by their data.

Here are just a few of the highlights and major insights from SME's Social Media Marketing Industry Report 2015. Make sure you download the full report at the end to dig deeper into their recommendations.

Benefits of Social Media Marketing

So how does this work? Well, SME surveyed 3,700 marketers with the goal of understanding how they're using social media marketing to grow and promote their businesses.

A significant 90% of marketers indicated that their social media efforts have generated more exposure for their businesses. The second major benefit was increased traffic, with 77% reporting positive results. Meanwhile, 69% of marketers are utilizing social medial to develop loyal fans and gain marketplace intelligence.

Changes since the 2014 report show that the order of these top three benefits has remained the same, but each has dropped 1% to 3%, with the exception of improved sales, which increased 1%.

Commonly Used Social Media Platforms

In comparison to last year, Facebook declined from 94% to 93% but remains the most commonly used social media marketing platform, while Twitter dropped from 83% to 79%.

Perhaps surprisingly, Google+ increased by 2%, taking over fourth position, while Instagram climbed to 36% from 28% in 2014. YouTube is commonly used by larger businesses (i.e. 71% of businesses with 100 or more employees used YouTube compared to only 38% of the self-employed.)

Most Important Social Platforms for Marketers

In one area, marketers were asked to pick just one single social platform they considered most important for their business. Because only one choice was permitted, the findings were quite revealing.

  • 52% –more than half of marketers– chose Facebook (down from 54% in 2014)
  • 21% of marketers chose LinkedIn (increased from 17% in 2014)
  • 12% of marketers chose Twitter (increased 1% over 2104)
  • 4% of marketers chose YouTube(increased 1% over 2104)

Clearly, Facebook is still the primary social platform chosen by marketers.

Social Media Platforms Marketers Want to Know More About

Marketers were asked which social media platforms they most wanted to improve their knowledge about. Facebook took first place, displacing Google+ as the 2014 first place. Linked has been piquing the curiosity of marketers lately and increased from 57% in 2014 to 62%, which isn't really surprising considering the awesome new features they keep rolling out.

Common Types of Content

It is indeed important to know what social media marketing platforms you should be using and learning more about. But the common types of content used in social media marketing that is proving it's value is also important, if not the most important.

You need a great avenue to reach your audience, but what is the best way for your company to do that? These are the content types marketers are finding most useful today:

As you can see, a vast 71% use visual assets, while blogging was a close second at 70%. Podcasting is considerably lower at just 10% of marketers and represents an opportunity for businesses to test and research.
To read the report in its totality, download it from the Social Media Examiner website (PDF).