This week, most people were buzzing about the holidays and making sure they were ready for Christmas and Hanukkah with all their presents bought, their tree and menorah lit, and their preparations made for some well deserved time off.

But those who were keeping an eye on the marketing world had plenty to talk about as well. Hot topics included the addition of Sponsored Stories into Facebook users’ news feeds and two new studies that showed Google+ users (what few active ones there are) are not following brands’ pages in large numbers.

Speaking of “hot” topics, Hotmail rolled out its much-touted “Graymail” features, which are intended to help users manage their overcrowded inboxes.

What were the takeaways from this week’s big news stories? Read on.

1. Hotmail rolls out “Graymail” features

This week, as part of its “Graymail” initiative, Hotmail began implementing changes and new features in users’ inboxes. Among those changes are the ability to flag emails and have them remain at the top of the inbox, categorization and filtering of messages (such as a “newsletter” category), and a scheduled cleanup feature that will automatically delete or file away old messages at specified times. One of the more significant changes is a one-click unsubscribe feature that makes it easy for users to remove unwanted senders from their inbox. “Hotmail takes care of all the details like telling the sender to take you off their list, setting up a rule to block messages from that sender, and even cleaning up your inbox if you want — all in one easy step,” Microsoft explained in a blog post.

Bottom Line: At first glance, these features sound like they present significant challenges to marketers. However, as with other email clients’ efforts to clean up users’ inboxes (think Gmail’s Priority Inbox), our advice comes down to relevant, well timed content. The more you’re wanted in a recipient’s inbox, because you’re sending the information subscribers want at a frequency that works for them, the less these changes will affect you.

2. Google+ users not quick to follow brands

BrightEdge, a research firm, recently looked at the Millward Brown list of top 100 brands (think Starbucks, Apple, Coca-Cola, Amazon, etc.), and found that 77 of them have a Google+ page. By comparison, 93 of them have a Facebook Page. More startling is the fact that the total number of followers for those 77 brand pages is just 222,000. In a similar study, Simply Measured looked at the Interbrand Top 100 Brands, and found that 61 of them had Google+ brand pages. Of those, only 13 had followings of 5,000 or more.

Bottom Line: Given that Google+ reportedly has 40 million users (or members, if you prefer), it’s clear that very few are interested in connecting with brands on the site. Our take on the struggling social network remains that small businesses and organizations should continue to focus on Facebook (and Twitter), where the majority of social media users are. Until Google+ gets some real traction, it’s not worth spending your time on it.

3. Facebook to add Sponsored Stories to users’ news feeds

Facebook this week announced that it would begin peppering users’ news feeds with Sponsored Stories, starting in January. Until recently, those stories appeared only in areas specifically designated for advertisements. Stories will be labeled as sponsored, thus preventing user confusion. Ben & Jerry’s has already signed on to have its stories included in news feeds.

Bottom Line: In 2007, Facebook tried a similar tactic and it was met with anger from users (mostly due to privacy concerns). It’s important for anyone who uses Facebook as a marketing platform to remember that people join the site to connect with friends and family, and to be social — not to be marketed to. The brands that are most successful on Facebook are the ones that remember that and try to interact with fans, not sell or intrude on users’ “social” time.

4. Does your small business have Klout?

By now, everyone has a presence on the web and/or social media. So how does a consumer distinguish between one business or organization and another? Increasingly, it’s by turning to sites like Klout and PeerIndex, which measure a person or brand’s “social influence.” Klout and PeerIndex take your social media identities (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Google+, blog, and others), look at your reach and activity, and produce a number that ranks you, in an effort to reveal how much influence you have relative to other people and brands on social media.

Bottom Line: While the merits of Klout has certainly been a hot topic of debate this year, according to a column by Tyson Goodridge that was posted this week, social influence shouldn’t be overlooked. He says small businesses should connect their social media identities to determine their score, focus on one area of expertise, and be open to fluctuations. Klout and PeerIndex scores may not be reliable metrics just yet, but as they get more popular, your potential customers and clients may determine whether or not to work with or buy from you based on your score.

5. Social media and ROI do blend!

If you’ve ever seen one of the amusing videos on Blendtec’s YouTube channel, then you know the company uses humorous content as a significant marketing tool. And it’s working: The channel has more than 440,000 subscribers and its videos have been viewed more than 181 million times. In addition, more than 86,700 people Like the business’ Facebook Page, and more than 7,400 consumers follow Blendtec on Twitter. But how do you prove ROI from videos that feature iPhones, skeletons, and other random objects being blended up? The company relies on Google Analytics to show where site traffic is coming from, and special codes for the coupons that are distributed on social networks.

Bottom Line: Great content is what will get consumers’ attention and turn them into brand fans — and more importantly, customers. “It’s not complicated,” says Nate Hirst, Blendtec’s global marketing analyst says. Rather than selling your products with a straight face, what can you do that will make your customers smile and make more people want to buy?

What news stories caught your eye this week? Share your thoughts in the comments below.