Following the recent coverage about the dangers of social media, I wanted to write about its use in business.

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Say ‘social media’ and most people also only think of the two behemoths; Facebook and Twitter.

This is a shame, as it actually covers a wide range of activities including that unfashionable and highly underrated thing, blogging.

However I will concentrate on the first two.

This week I watched an hour long BBC documentary on Facebook, including an interview with someone setting up Facebook pages for local businesses. Interestingly the first thing she said, I agreed with, which was that being on social media means you can listen to what people are saying about your business. Unfortunately, the current hype can mean that people think they are missing out on something that will drive massive profits for their business.

This has not been proven yet, but clever businesses with the right product or service offering do use social media not just to listen, but to work with the people who pay the wages, their customers, to find out what they want and develop products and services around that.

A recent example of this is the Citroen C1 car, due to go into production in July, which was developed and designed in part by users accessing a specially designed app on Citroen’s Facebook page.

Social media - and the clue is in the title - taps into the basic human need to share and engage.

Whether it is photos, what people are doing or what they think about a brand or product.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating office said in February: “People don’t expect to be talked at anymore, they want to be a full part of the conversation”.

So let’s go back to the lady selling Facebook pages to local businesses. How many of those businesses are taking her up based on hype rather than careful business decision.

How many have thought about RETURN ON INVESTMENT (caps for a reason) and how they will link social media activity to the rest of their brand building and tactical marketing activities.

I am a massive advocate of social media and the benefits it can bring to businesses when used correctly. But I am the first to say it might not be for everyone.

You cannot just create a page and update once a month and think that’s it.

Likewise spending all your time and effort on social media and neglecting more traditional forms of marketing is equally wrong.

It will not sell a product like a TV, print or radio ad.

It also takes time and effort to do it properly.

Done badly with little engagement, does more harm than good.

So always first consider your objectives, whatever they are, from product sales, brand building or people through the door.

Then look at all the ways to do this and choose those that deliver the best return for the little time and reducing budgets we all have.

Facebook and Twitter are modern marketing tools and if you treat them as such, as just another part of the marketing mix, they may become a valuable part of your activities or one that is held until you can do it properly.

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant follow him @timyoungman

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