We recently asked European advertisers which site was most important to their social marketing efforts this year, and much to my surprise, Google came out on top. We know that respondents weren’t thinking of YouTube when they selected Google, because YouTube was listed separately in the survey. And they weren’t thinking of OpenSocial either because even though OpenSocial’s not a site per se, we listed that separately on the survey as well. They really meant Google, as a search engine. If you add in Yahoo and MSN, more than 1/3 of European social marketers chose a search engine or portal as being most important to their social marketing efforts — nearly as many as chose social media sites.

Which is pretty odd. Because the search engines and portals have been getting their butts kicked in social media. Sure, Google owns YouTube and Blogger, and Yahoo owns Flickr and del.icio.us. But those were all acquisitions. The truth is, portals and search engines have had no success at all in building their own social media offerings. (And Blogger, Flickr, and del.icio.us aren’t exactly hotbeds for marketing. Nor, really, is YouTube.)

So these findings tell me that social marketers are pretty confused — they still don’t know exactly how to make social marketing work, or even where they should be trying. Maybe that’s why most European marketers spent less than €10,000 on social marketing last year, and why less than 10% of European social marketers say they’re happy with their social marketing ROI.

It’s a complicated topic — one that’s hard to deal with properly in a blog post — but for those interested in learning more, we’ve just published a new report with lots more discussion and detail: Mining for Fool’s Gold: European Social Marketing Budgets Grow Slowly as Marketers Focus on Free Opportunities.

(And for anyone who’s curious, Facebook was #2 on the list of most important sites for social marketing. MySpace finished a very distant #4.)