The Social Network, a film about the founders of the social-networking website, Facebook, hits the cinemas this week. In response, Howard Scott, digital marketing director at digital agency Sequence, discusses how the network is changing and offers top tips on what Facebook can provide brands.

Many brands still look at Facebook as simply being ‘a social community’, and they don’t take it seriously as a business tool. Just 40 per cent of brands in the Deloitte Top 50 have a Facebook presence, with just 24 per cent managing to build an active community.

Dismissing, or under-utilising Facebook is a mistake for you and your business, because Facebook has evolved into an intelligent consumer model that offers so much potential for savvy brands, including yours.

Some brands use their Facebook community as a customer engagement and research tool and even as a direct-sales channel. Others have employed Facebook “fan” pages, for their customer relationship management (CRM). Examples include Dell, Domino’s and Coca Cola, who are all committed to addressing customer concerns, and responding to fan comments.

Increasingly, brands are using Facebook in a smarter way, and are reaping the rewards of this.

Recently, IKEA promoted the launch of a new store through a Facebook fan page. IKEA cleverly uploaded pictures of IKEA rooms and the first customer to tag their name in the picture won the product.

Lovefilm meanwhile, uses its Facebook fan page to engage with customers, post videos and run competitions, while Dove uses the social network as a research tool, recommending items to "fans" and requesting feedback on these products.

The examples above highlight that your brand needs to do more than simply have a presence on Facebook. The social network provides you with many opportunities to engage with customers, present a more human personality, and gather feedback from your audience, and you should look to gain from these wherever possible.

So, how does your brand you go about making the most of what Facebook provides?

1. Build a Fan page. Facebook allows your brand to interact with fans through fan pages. These pages can be used by your business as a blog, a research tool or as a communication device to post messages, respond to issues and solve customer problems. Fan pages also provide your brand with the opportunity to stream live events, post videos and pictures, offer coupons, and run polls and competitions. If your brand is not doing any of these things, you are under-performing on Facebook.

2. Who likes your brand? Facebook has introduced a Like button that lets users share pages from a site to their Facebook profile with one click. You should implement ‘Like’ on key pages of your website. Doing this allows people to tag your website with a ‘Like’ which then shows up on their wall. Friends can see that link, click on it and be led directly to your page. This should be a priority for your brand, as it’s simple to apply and allows customers to promote your brand for you.

3. Facebook Recommends. Your brand should consider implementing The Recommendations plugin, as this offers users personalised suggestions for products or pages on your site they might like. This button also enables your customers to publicly endorse your product or service on Facebook and share this with all their friends. Customer recommendations are often a key marketing and sales tool for businesses, so ensure your brand is taking advantage of this.

4. Has your brand logged into Facebook? Facebook Login shows profile pictures of user’s friends who have signed up for your site. This tool will become increasingly popular, (especially with ecommerce websites) as more people login to Facebook through websites, and could be a powerful aid for your brand in spreading awareness and driving sales.

5. Make sure your brand is in credit. Facebook Credits are a virtual currency users can employ to buy virtual goods on the Facebook platform. This provides the opportunity for your brand to sell products using Facebook Credits, turning your Facebook page into a revenue generator. Taking a step further, you could even offer deals unique to Facebook, such as special offers and promotions. Credits opens up new ways for customers to engage with your brand on social networks, and you should be looking to take advantage of this.

It is evident Facebook provides your brand with many new and innovative ways to engage with customers, drive awareness and implement revenue streams. Because of this, your brand should no longer dismiss Facebook as just being a social community, but instead, look to embrace the tangible benefits it can provide. Otherwise your brand may find itself in the very real danger of being defriended by your customers.