By Max Clarke

More than half of professionals report a direct boost to their business as a result of their social media usage.

This is according to the results of an online survey of business decision makers, carried out by Fresh Business Thinking.

Some 83% of the respondents surveyed possessed a LinkedIn account, closely followed by Facebook at 79%, with 70% using twitter. Further, one in four reported spending more than five hours a week on the various sites, while just 1% of respondents did not use any social media platform.

Social media has crept into every facet of business,” said Rebecca Rocca, PR Manager at Mango Marketing, “and those not utilising it are at a very definite disadvantage.”

Of those whose businesses had benefitted from the platforms, the survey results revealed how each outlet was used in a specific way to target certain benefits: LinkedIn emerged as the favourite for business-to-business networking, while Facebook was preferred for business-to-customer liaison.

Twitter was favoured for establishing brand awareness and for updating potential customers about events or developments in real-time: one business development solicitor reported how tweets and retweets of his business’ seminar resulted in 100 extra delegates booking for the subsequent session.

For all its plusses, however, as yet not everyone stands to gain from the social media explosion and four in ten respondents reported no such boost to their business. “One of the fundamental problems seems to be that Facebook (in particular) and Twitter (to a lesser degree) are banned by many of the companies I seek to gain business from,” explained the proprietor of a business insurance company that has reaped no benefits from any platform.

"If you're not seeing any benefit from social media then chances are you're going into it without a strategy, or without clear goals,” said Jemima Gibbons, author and Social Media Strategist for AAB Engage. “You might be diving in, and maybe panicking a little, because you're not seeing immediate "results". But social media doesn't work like other channels: it's like a dog - not just for Christmas! Your online social presence needs care and attention over time. People overestimate the initial cost - it's relatively cheap to get started - and underestimate the long-term overhead in terms of human resources. A lot of companies don't realise they need to commit to this at the onset."

Other barriers to better deploying social media in order to boost business, as cited by respondents, included a lack of a dedicated social media strategy, lack of time or, as the marketing manager from an architectural society put it, “we need to do more to make social media work but we lack the expertise”.

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Engage and interact with your customers — or someone else will! The Fresh Business Thinking Guide To Social Media looks at how businesses can harness platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube etc to engage with customers, employers and others. The event will be held at the Microsoft HQ, in London on 28th June 2011 and will feature a number of social media experts who will introduce you to the mechanics and benefits needed to survive in today’s connected world.

To find out more, please visit Fresh Business Guide To Social Media