The roughly 1.3 million small and medium businesses (SMBs) in North America generate a gobstopping $5.5 trillion in annual revenue. And according to a new study conducted by LinkedIn, social media is increasingly becoming the vital axis upon which this community turns.

LinkedIn partnered with market research firm TNS to survey decision-makers at approximately 1,000 North American SMBs -- or enterprises that garner between $1 million and $50 million. They discovered that 81 percent use social media to drive growth, while nine percent intend to use social media in the future.

Its uses are as valuable as they are varied. Ninety-four percent of SMBs said they use social media as a marketing tool, while 49 percent said they use it for educational purposes, and to derive business insights.

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The growth in new media is accounting for swelling budgets in the social sphere: 56 percent of SMBs increased their social spend over the past year, LinkedIn said.

The study also provided data about the kinds of shares that SMBs found the most valuable to consume. Seventy-nine percent sought industry-specific news, while testimonials and reviews from both customers and industry experts followed closely behind.

Finally, SMBs preferred practical guidance and news articles about other companies.

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The study also honed in on SMBs that are in “hyper growth mode, meaning they report a significant increase in overall revenue compared to last year,” LinkedIn said. These businesses are increasing their social spend at an even faster pace than other businesses -- namely 73 percent over the year prior.

And 90 percent of these companies called social media effective in building awareness.

Lastly, LinkedIn examined the impact of social media on how SMBs choose a financial provider. “Nearly two in three SMBs turn to social media for financial education or research in their path to purchase of financial products,” according to the study -- meaning that there is a tremendous opportunity for financial institutions to connect with small business owners via social channels.

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