I think we all know that old familiar saying, “Keeping up with the Joneses,” but lately it seems to me that social media has taken this phenomenon to a whole new level. But if you are a small business owner looking for the best ways to market your business online, I suspect this might work a little bit differently. In fact, many small business owners are looking at the tools their peers use and how they use them, and then trying to go one step beyond.

The results of the recent 2013 AT&T Small Business Technology Poll were very revealing in the area. They confirmed that staying competitive is a key motivator behind using social media platforms and online tools. They also showed how businesses are using these tools and how this has evolved over time.

Here’s where the social networks ranked with the small businesses polled:

1. Facebook

No surprise here. Facebook is still the top platform among the business owners polled, despite a small drop in users (from 44% last year to 41% this year). The overwhelming majority use it to share news and communicate with customers.

2. LinkedIn

LinkedIn’s popularity among small business owners has received its share of media attention recently. This poll appears to support this, showing its use grew from 31% last year to 36% this year. Business owners use LinkedIn mostly to network with peers. With this increase, perhaps LinkedIn is becoming important as a way to customers for some small businesses.

3. Twitter

Only 17% of the business owners polled have a Twitter feed. While that number has changed little over the past couple of years, small businesses are becoming more savvy in the way they use Twitter, making it a tool for generating sales an important way to generate (19% this year vs. 13% last year).

4. Foursquare

Though just 6% of businesses use location-based services like foursquare, 29% of those who do see them as an important way to generate sales—a higher percentage than any other platform. Business owners can set up an account for free and begin posting specials to attract customers nearby—for example, a discount on a cup of coffee or a free dessert with a meal purchase.

This year’s poll also asked about relative newcomers Pinterest and Instagram. While the results indicate that just a small percent of small businesses use these sites now (5% and 3%, respectively), I think it shows promise in how they can generate sales and promote new products and services.

Email still delivers

Another key finding from the poll is that email—though virtually an ancient tool in the online world—is still the most common one that small businesses turn to for reaching out to their customers and prospects. A whopping 97% of those polled use it, and 53% of those who do say it’s the best way to communicate with customers. (Facebook and a business website came in at just 14% each.) Chalk up one for the little engine that still can!

While email’s dominance might seem surprising, it actually dovetails with an earlier blog post of mine, which shows consumers also still prefer email.

One finding that especially stood out to me, was that video conferencing services ranked as the second-best way to communicate with customers. The business owners polled indicated that they rely heavily on these tools to help improve customer service. With all that’s been written today about using social media for customer service, it’s refreshing to see businesses choosing to resolve issues face-to-face.

Ultimately, you should choose the marketing tools that are the best fit for your business, and not necessarily what your competitors are using. It’s important to monitor your progress through sales, customer response, website visits, or other metrics that are meaningful to you.

Which online tactics do you find most effective? Let us know in comments below.