As we creep up on another new year, many of us will be focused for the next few weeks on figuring out which parts of our businesses we could be making stronger. This is especially true when it comes to online marketing. Not only is it always a tough item to budget for, but in this tight economy, it’s more important than ever to make sure that the time and money you’re spending are bringing the maximum possible return.

While it’s impossible to predict what any new year will bring, there are some easy bets as to which current online marketing trends will continue to get stronger in 2012. What’s important about each of them isn’t that more and more companies are taking advantage – it’s that customers love them. By making them a bigger part of your marketing mix, you can keep growing your sales and revenue at a time when your competitors are struggling to get by.

Here are four Internet marketing trends that should be a bigger part of your plans for the upcoming year:

Social Media. Occasionally, a business owner or executive will wonder aloud what’s so great about social networking. Given that isn’t designed specifically for business, it’s a fair question. The first thing to realize is that there are hundreds of millions of people who log into social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn every day. Since one of the easiest ways to market your product or service is by going where people already are, they represent a market you can’t ignore.

The other great thing about social media marketing is that it allows you to reach potential customers in a different way than you would through traditional advertising. Because social sites are based on relationships, not products or pure information, you can start two-way conversations that enable you to build brand loyalty or explain solutions that are more complex. The best way to figure out how that could work for your company is to give it a try, so make sure that social media is a point of emphasis in 2012.

Mobile Websites and Apps. This is another area where the numbers don’t lie: In the next few years, more people will access the Internet via iPhones, Droids, iPads, and other Web-ready mobile devices than they will with desktop and laptop computers. Overseas, the percentages will be even more lopsided, as lots of newer Internet users will skip computers altogether for reasons of cost and convenience.

At the very least, that means that creating a mobile business website for your company is something you should strongly consider. Or, you might even look at adding custom apps into the mix. If you can find one that makes life easier for buyers, they could give your sales figures a big boost.

Local search marketing. Although many experts feel that sites like Google and LivingSocial killed the Yellow Pages, evidence suggests that smart phones had a role in the crime, too. By making it simple for searchers to find local vendors, nearby restaurants and retail shops, and other businesses based on their location – complete with maps, customer reviews, and contact information – they created a system where print directories couldn’t keep up.

There’s no reason to think this will end anytime soon. With Google sharing that roughly one-fifth of its two billion daily searches have a geographic component, you can bet that customers are going to keep going online, even if what they’re looking for is right down the street.

QR codes. How did we ever get by without these little barcodes offering product details, ordering information, and buyer reviews with a simple scan from a smart phone? That’s the question a lot of marketers, and more than a few shoppers, have to be asking themselves these days. From product brochures to billboards and retail shelves, QR codes are popping up everywhere. If you haven’t tried using them to increase your sales yet, give it a shot. They’re quick and inexpensive, and you might just find a whole new way to interact with customers.

When the New Year comes, most of us will be too busy to keep reflecting about what’s going on around us. With that in mind, make a note to yourself to embrace and integrate these increasingly important Internet trends in 2012. Better yet, meet with a good creative team who understands them. By finding out a little bit more about you, your business, and your goals, they should be able to help you hit the New Year running with some new tools and tactics on your side.

How are you using new tools and media in 2012? Please share your comments.

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